can I write to my wife’s boss and ask him to promote her?

A reader writes:

Thank you very much for being a sounding board. My wife has been working at her current position for over five years in an A/R and HR capacity. However, she isn’t trained in this, and she has a master’s degree in an unrelated field that is actually the primary focus of the company. Because she is hard working and competent, however, her boss refuses to see her as a fit for positions within the company that she is actually trained in. She has stated her desire to move into this other arena, but so far it has fallen on deaf ears. I’m afraid that as an owner/manager, he sees her as a cog that is keeping the wheels turning, and that’s all he really cares about, especially since her position has seen a lot of turnover in the past.

As her husband, I want to see her happy, and she is not. She is incredibly intelligent and very gifted, and it bothers me greatly that she isn’t working in the arena that she is trained for. At this late stage, I would like to write a letter to her boss on her behalf, but I don’t want to jeopardize her job. Is this a bad idea? I just want to help if I can, but I don’t want to make the situation worse for her either.

Oh no, no, no, no. Do not do this.

It’s very sweet that you want to help your wife, and of course you’re frustrated to see her unhappy, and maybe you’re additionally frustrated if you feel that she’s not doing or saying the things that could improve the situation. But reaching out to her employer yourself will not help, and it will absolutely hurt.

You will make your wife look like she can’t handle her own career. She is a professional adult, and these are her battles to fight (if indeed it even needs to be fought at all; she may simply need to change jobs). There’s just no possible scenario where it would be appropriate for you to ask her employer for anything on her behalf (aside from time off if she’s in the hospital and unable to call them herself), let alone a change in job responsibilities.

If you reach out on her behalf, you’ll be effectively ruining her reputation at this company, as well as with anyone they speak with about her in the future. This is a story that would get told and re-told, believe me, and she will forever be the person whose husband asked her boss to give her more interesting job duties.

And there’s no way she’ll get what she wants from this company after this. No sane manager is going to respect her or see her as someone they want to retain once this happens. Employers deal with employees, not their spouses, parents, or children. Their relationship is with her, not her family.

But what you can to is to support your wife in handling this on her own. Talk through options with her, point her to sources of advice if she wants them, encourage her to explore other jobs if she’s not finding what she wants at her current one, and generally be a supportive sounding board.

And frankly, it’s also probably worth thinking through why you think that you’d be a more effective advocate for your wife than she would be for herself, to the point that you’re seriously considering interfering in her professional dealings. Do you not trust her to speak up for herself effectively? Do you see her as less capable than you? It’s not crazy to think that you might be better at this kind of thing than she is — that happens in couples — but you can’t respond to that by infantilizing her. You’ve got to find a different approach there.

Those are all constructive things to think about and talk about. But she needs to handle her own career, and you need to stay far, far away from her boss!

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. KC*

    Yikes. If my husband did this (especially without consulting me first), he would be toast.

    Over the course of my dating life, I’ve dated guys with the “fix it” mentality. Where I’m just trying to vent about my crappy day, my crappy job, my crappy coworker, and the gears in his head are already turning, trying to find a solution to the problem.

    My advice: let the lady vent, sit on your urge to “fix it,” and let her handle her own career. If you try to step in you’ll make her look bad, you’ll make you look bad, and you’ll probably piss your wife off in the bargain.

    1. JC*

      I’m the one with the gears in my head turning trying to fix the problem when my boyfriend vents to me…but I’ve become aware of it recently, and I’m going to work on it!

      It’s not that I want to show off by telling others what they’re doing wrong, it’s just that the solutions pop into my head, and I want to make things better.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Me too. It’s hard. It’s probably exacerbated by the fact that I write an advice column so I’m in advice-giving mode even when I shouldn’t be. (You didn’t think I just did it to you guys, did you?)

        I would love to hear from people who have successfully thwarted this tendency in themselves.

        1. Elizabeth*

          The question I always ask is “Are you venting, or are you looking for a solution?” The answer I get is how I know if I should rein in the impulse to Fix All The Things. It can be hard, but it is worth it.

          1. Esra*

            This is a good one! I think establishing what kind of talk it is at the beginning of the conversation is key.

          2. khilde*

            Yes, this one is a good one. I’ve used it with my husband and it helps. Another one I’ve found useful is “what would you like me to do with the information?” Obviously, that last one has to be said with a sincere tone of voice; anything else and it will sound pissy.

          3. Heather*

            I ask the “are you venting or looking for a solution?” question too. I’m not too bad the first few times but when people complain to me continually about the same things it’s hard not to tell them to fix it.

            1. Elizabeth*

              Maybe, in that case, wait until a time that the person isn’t currently so caught up with the emotions (if they’re on a real rant, it might not be a good time!) and say, “I’ve noticed that you complain about X kind of a lot, and it sounds like it’s causing you a bunch of stress. Do you think there’s something that needs to change about the situation? Would you like to talk about what you might be able to do to change that?”

          4. twentymilehike*

            The question I always ask is “Are you venting, or are you looking for a solution?”

            OMG, Elizabeth, you are brilliant! I think you may have just saved my marraige …. :)

          5. Anne*

            YES. When I vent to my boyfriend, he always asks me – “Do you want advice, or sympathy?”

            It is one of the best things about him.

        2. Dana*

          Any response you get will be suspect since just by answering this they are essentially offering advice. It’s a catch 22 type of question. :)

        3. Esra*

          I had a boyfriend where we both would do this and what worked for us was starting a vent or problem discussion with “Right now, I really just need someone to agree that they are jerks/this problem sucks/etc.”

        4. aname*

          In non work stuff I tend to write a basic letter or email for hubby to amend and choose whether he wants to send it or not.

          The only time I’ve done it with work is a redundancy situation and we worked through it all together but it was ‘his’ response and not mine.

          With work I might suggest a “you could possibly” or a “have you tried” but other than that just treat it like a vent. :)

        5. Jamie*

          I’m not great at thwarting any inherent tendencies, so I guess I’m lucky that with the huge exception of my kids I was born with a very dominant copy of the “Not my f**king problem” gene.

          With my kids it’s so hard, because I just want them to learn from my mistakes to save them heartache whenever humanly possible. And I know people learn from their own mistakes, but when the choice is to let them grow or keep them safe my inclination is always towards safe…they can grow later. Fortunately they are all push back experts (stupid me put a huge value on critical thinking while rearing them – so no blind allegiance in my house) and their dad is a lot less likely to want to cover them all in bubble wrap.

          But you know, for all their independence and self-growth when my baby who is almost 18 and towers over me cut his foot the other week and needed stitches…he still wanted his mom with him in the ER. Although I probably shouldn’t have referred to it as his owie in front of the cute nurse. Learning process for both of us.

          Digression…sorry…back on topic whenever other people complain to me I always assume they’re venting. My default is to make sympathetic noises and listen and I’m usually surprised if asked directly for advice. Unless it’s about their computers…then I know they are waiting for me to offer help and outside of work unless we share DNA that offer won’t be forthcoming. You need to ask. And pay me.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I’m lucky that with the huge exception of my kids I was born with a very dominant copy of the “Not my f**king problem” gene.

            I have on my white board something I saw in a political cartoon last year: “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to stay sane.”.

            I fix problems, and I make things better. If I can’t fix the problem, I try to find a way to at least make it less painful. If nothing else, I will bake cookies and apologize that we can’t make it go away completely.

            I have to protect my sanity, so I can’t be the fix-everything-at-all-times person anymore. I have to reserve the sanity-shakers for the stuff that I can have an impact on. Or at least can help save someone elses sanity.

        6. Anonadog*

          I find it’s always helpful to have empathy first. “Wow, they took away the chocolate teapot project from you without telling you ahead of time? That must have been so hard to hear.” And then after they’ve vented, you can ask if they’d like help finding a solution: “Do you want to brainstorm on this together?”

      2. LMW*

        I have the same issue. I’ve really learned to just agree and say “That’s too bad” repeatedly…unless they keep going on and on and on, in which case I sometimes can’t restrain myself from offering advice. I really try not to in my personal life, but oddly it was my professional life where this got me into trouble (but who wants to work someplace where people just complain and don’t try to find solutions?).

        1. Laura L*

          That’s weird. I’m definitely a venter, but being offered solutions only bothers me in my personal life (and only if I haven’t asked for it).

          I wouldn’t be upset if someone offered me a solution at work.

  2. Lily in NYC*

    OP, I am asking you sincerely because questions like this always surprise me. May I ask why you thought this would be a good idea? I would like to understand the thought process behind doing something like this. I can’t imagine one situation where it wouldn’t harm the person’s career, let alone help it. It’s noble to want to help someone you love, but you would be infantalizing your wife to her workplace, which is never a good thing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      OP, if you’re willing, I’d love to know too! I mean that sincerely; I’d be truly appreciative of getting a better understanding of where you were coming from.

      1. fposte*

        My subset of this is wondering why you thought your view was one they’d consider. Is there a connection for you there? Or some kind of precedent–like has your wife weighed in with your boss on your job?

      2. clobbered*

        I’m not the OP (or his spouse, thank the gods) but I can guess. It sounds like he suffers from the misconception that errors happen due to lack of information. Folks like that think that merely by conveying information to a recipient, the recipient’s behaviour will be changed (in their fantasies even accompanied by a forehead slapping “But of course! How did I not see this before! Thank you for telling me!”). So in this worldview, if only the spouse’s boss would realise X, Y and Z, then the problem would be solved – so why not tell him?

        The trouble is that this kind of thinking is *sometimes* true, so it’s hard to convince somebody not to do that. But it can have catastrophic consequences resulting in really wrong advice (the scenario “The bully hit me” “Have you explained to them that this hurts you?” doesn’t end well).

        I do have a tendency to think like that sometimes (being an engineer – oh wait, is that cause or is it effect?) but at one point I had to get it in my thick head that humans aren’t like that. People hold beliefs for a *huge* range of reasons, and lack of information is rarely the dominant cause.

    2. CoffeeLover*

      I’ve never been the one to think of doing something like this, but I have discouraged others from a similar path a couple of times. I think it comes from different perspectives. What I mean is that in an office, and from the wife’s coworkers perspectives, the fact that she has a husband and another life outside of work doesn’t really matter. She is a stand-alone, independent being. From the husband’s perspective, the wife’s work is a big part of HIS life because she is a big part of his life. So while the husband thinks there’s nothing strange about being involved with something that’s a big part of his life, the coworkers will wonder who this random, crazy guy is that’s contacting them.

  3. Runon*

    Things you can do that will be helpful:

    1. Listen, pour a glass of wine over dinner and listen to her vent about her day.
    2. If she asks (only if she asks) suggest solutions for her.
    3. Make a No Work Space (physical or temporal). Sometimes saying we never talk about work on Sundays and then both of you stick to it, or we never talk about work in the bedroom can be really helpful for both involved in a situation like this.

  4. Darcie*

    Agreed. Men don’t seem to understand that women don’t go to them looking for a solution. There’s a value in simply getting off your chest.

    However, it’s really awesome that the OP wants his wife to progress professionally! Take that enthusiasm and put it towards a positive attitude to finding a new job.

      1. some1*

        I have to agree, actually. There have been letters and examples on this blog from over-involved wives.

        1. Just a Reader*

          I would be SO offended if someone I knew thought it was just super that my husband encouraged my career. We’re equals. The thought of this is so condescending.

          1. AMG*

            I didn’t read it like that. My husband supports my career and I support his. Because we are married and BFFs.

            1. Claire*

              I think that’s the reason it sounds condescending…it should be assumed that you and your SO are equals/besties who are equally supportive of each other. To say “ohhh how GREAT that your husband supports your career!” implies that he’s doing something above & beyond by doing it, which is insulting to both you and him.

              1. twentymilehike*

                To say “ohhh how GREAT that your husband supports your career!” implies that he’s doing something above & beyond by doing it,

                Unfortunately, this is actual reality for a lot of traditional couples. Even in the really progressive place that I live, so many women are still in a situation where their husband dictates how they spend their time and energy. Not saying it’s right or wrong, just saying it still happens and there are a lot of people that still have this mindset.

                It might be insulting to you or I, but not to them. Personally, I don’t take insult to it without the person knowing about me personally, but I do consider myself lucky that I am in an awesome marriage where my hubby and I are mutually supportive of each other and he doesn’t think he can tell me what to do. But I’m not going to judge other people who are fine with or like being in a differnt type of relationship.

                Sorry for the rant … just wanted to point out there are all sorts of relationships out there and none of us can really say another is lucky to be in it or not. I didn’t think the comment was “so” condescending.

              2. Rana*

                Yes. It’s like praising fathers for “babysitting” their own children, instead assuming that, being parents, of course they will be involved in the care of their own children.

                1. Min*

                  Oooh, I hate that. “Babysitting” involves other people’s children. If they’re yours, it’s not babysitting, it’s parenting.

      2. Natalie*

        The desire to vent versus problem-solve isn’t gendered, either. My (male) partner does a lot more verbal processing than I do, which was very frustrating early in our relationship as I was forever offering ideas to fix whatever problem he was complaining about.

        1. Jamie*

          Mine done almost zero verbal processing. I usually know about his problems after he’s already implemented a solution. I guess I could be kind of insulted that he doesn’t need any of my awesome ideas…but it’s just the way he works.

      3. Revanche*

        Absolutely it shouldn’t be a gender thing.
        Anecdata: I definitely have a “here’s how you fix it” mentality towards everyone including my spouse and have to actively stop myself from giving advice because I’ve been working and developing a multifaceted career longer than my cohort. But I’d NEVER EVER step in for him, either in the workplace or his leadership role with his hobby. I just give him advice or perspective.

      4. Original Dan*

        Unfortunately, it is a gender thing. I’ve read that the general tendency is for females to offer a sympathetic ear and for males to offer a “fix”.

        Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but if you poll 500 of your best friends, you’ll probably find it holds true.

  5. Joey*

    Ooh. It’s always interesting to me how these types of questions even get asked. I’d be curious to know if the the op truly thought it would work? And why?

    1. Anonymous Accountant*

      Agreed! I just don’t understand it either.

      Learning how to help your spouse be a more effective communicator and ask for what s/he wants, absolutely! But to contact their boss and ask them to promote them? Very glad that questions was asked to Alison for her guidance and feeback.

  6. Just a Reader*

    Wha…? These types of questions blow my mind.

    I do help my husband when he asks for it–I did his resume, helped him write cover letters, etc., but that’s because writing is a strong suit for me, not because I didn’t think he could handle it.

    I think the sentiment is sweet but I would be livid if my husband thought he had to fight my battles for me.

  7. Bess*

    This is certainly filed under “who does this????” for me, so I second the above question for the OP: Why do you think this would be a good idea?

      1. Jen in RO*

        I immediately thought of that too, but this husband seems to just be misguided. And there’s also the difference between ‘I want my wife to get a promotion’ and ‘I want my wife to quit working altogether’.

        1. Jamie*

          ‘I want my wife to quit working altogether’.

          Some days, when I’m going through a particularly bad patch at work, I want one of those husbands. Unfortunately I got one of the other kind – the kind who likes being able to pay the mortgage and still have money for food.

          In all seriousness, I am married to a fixer who quite frankly has a completely different career and doesn’t understand that his proposed solutions would be unworkable for me. I realized I was venting way too much and once I made a concerted effort to break the bitching loop I was in he “advised” less and I was actually a lot happier. For me talking about problems led to dwelling on them and me over thinking stuff is a recipe for disaster.

          That said, I can’t imagine him ever inserting himself into my work stuff. Unless I was physically assaulted, otherwise his involvement is limited to telling me, in the privacy of our home, how much crap not to take. And how I’m worth 2x what I’m being paid, even though he has no grasp of the market for my position in the private sector at which point I just take it as a compliment and stop listening.

          1. twentymilehike*

            I just take it as a compliment and stop listening.

            Haha … I like that approach :)
            I’m the “fixer” in the marriage, and DH is more of the venter. If I had the opportunity to support us both and have him stay home, oh boy, would I! He was in a bad accident a couple of years ago and was home on disability for four months. Once he could walk again, he was So Happy and I came home to dinner ready, and laundry done and happy smiling hubby. He is So Good at being House Husband …

          2. Job seeker*

            Your husband Jamie sounds like a great guy. I learned long ago, men are fixers. If you share a problem and just need a listening ear, they still feel like they need to fix it. I have a husband that really does have good ideas on how to solve things. I think with my heart and he thinks with his head.

          3. Laura L*

            “Unfortunately I got one of the other kind – the kind who likes being able to pay the mortgage and still have money for food.”

            I hate those types of people!

  8. Gobbledigook*

    ZOMG Back away from the stationary!

    Please, please do not do this. I’m so glad you wrote in and asked before doing this. That is a good sign. Your heart is in the right place but please heed Alison’s advice.

  9. some1*

    Speaking as a woman and a professional, please don’t do this. If your wife is really unhappy that she can’t get another role in that org, help her search for a new job. Scan job listings, give advice about her resume and cover letter, let her practice interview with you, and give opinions on interview outfits.* You know, be a normal supportive husband, nothing more.

    I remember several years ago I was having issues with my then-boss. I went over to my then-BF’s mother’s house for dinner, and she asked, “So how is work going?” in a tone that indicated she knew all about it already. I was mortified and angry by just my BF talking about my problems, I can’t imagine how I’d feel if my partner did what you are suggesting.

    *assuming she wants your help with this.

  10. hubby*

    Dear manager to my wife

    My wife is smart, funny and not to shabby in the sack.

    Please give her a promotion as she totally deserves it.

    Oh, and please give her a raise while you are at it.

    Hugs and kisses, the bestes husband. XOXOXO

    1. fposte*

      Dear hubster–

      You make excellent points. We have made your wife CEO. How much should we pay her?

      The Wife’s Job

    2. ThatHRGirl*

      You jest, but I have had a similar situation happen in my org… An employee kept referring his wife for positions using our internal referral site – and although she had never actually been employed before, he reasoned that “she is a very special individual, with an integrity second to none, and I love her very dearly. I feel that she deserves this job”.
      All very sweet and nice, but does not make one qualified to be an accountant… admin assistant… training manager… etc. And yes I remember the referral text word-for-word because he pretty much submitted her to every single opening for almost a year.

        1. ThatHRGirl*

          Oh yes. I also offered her an entry level position in our warehouse (light manual labor) since she had no job experience and no post-secondary education, but he declined ON HER BEHALF because “she is above that”. Mmkay. I said, “Well, that’s currently the only position that we have that would be a fit for her. Sorry!”

          1. ThatHRGirl*

            Oh – and I had his manager *officially* clue him in that he needed to stop focusing so much energy on finding his spouse employment during his own work time. So that finally put a stop to it.

            1. some1*

              Wow. Imagine how much better off the wife would be if he put that much energy into helping her study for her GED!

                1. ThatHRGirl*

                  She did _ however I should also add that she went to highschool in a tiny eastern European country and was not entirely fluent in English, so…. there was that too.

      1. fposte*

        I get a little wistful about that kind of devotion, to be honest. It’s sweet despite the inappropriateness of its manifestation. (I don’t *want* it, but it’s still sweet.)

        1. Job seeker*

          Yes, this is sweet. I would not want this either though. When my husband and I were first married we were in the middle of a job transfer to another state. It was Christmas and I had left my real job and had a Christmas job at a store until we moved. I remember when he came in when I was getting ready to go home and stepped in for me. There was another girl there trying to figure out the schedule and my husband said “well you are going to have to figure out something about the hours because she is off that day”. That is funny thinking back on it. Honestly, as a woman it felt so good that he was trying to watch over me. But, like I said this was only a temporary Christmas job until we moved. If he tried to step in my job search now it would be very embarrassing.

        2. some1*

          I would like it in a birthday or anniversary card or a toast. Or a love note. Or a text. Not on a job reccommendation.

        3. Jamie*

          This is what I want…

          I want the human equivalent of that. When I asked my husband if we were dogs in that situation would he travel miles for me his answer? “How do I know what I’d do if I was a dog. I’m not a dog.”

          Thank you, Mr. Science.

          It would have cost him absolutely nothing to affirm that yes, if we were dogs we’d be like those dogs. It’s not like we’re going to go all Freaky Friday with our pups and test the theory!

          I can use a little less brutal honesty and a little more humoring me.

          1. Esra*

            If dating resumes were a thing, I would totally hire the guy who had the following bullet point somewhere on his:
            • Knows when to humour my partner

          2. A Bug!*

            Your husband missed an excellent opportunity to break into the chorus from that Proclaimers song.

            …Which is now stuck in my head. And I blame you for it.

          3. PuppyKat*

            What a great story! And now I’ve asked my own husband if he would do that if we were both dogs. Couldn’t resist….

          4. The Snarky B*

            Jaime, your husband sounds just like my boyfriend.
            -“Baby, would you still love me if I had a unibrow.”
            -“But you don’t have a unibrow.”
            -“Yeah but if I did, it wouldn’t be a big deal right?”
            -“You’re asking me to use my imagination.”
            -“WOW what an ordeal I’ve caused you!”

          5. Jessica (the celt)*

            I just asked my husband (apropos of nothing, which he is sadly used to from me), “If we were two dogs in an animal shelter and we fell in love and you were adopted and I wasn’t, would you trek back the 10 miles in freezing cold weather just to be with me in the animal shelter?”

            Him (from the other room): “Yep!”

            I continue reading comments on this post.

            Him (calling out again from the other room after a pause): “Did that really happen? With dogs?”

            See, this is why I love that guy. He knows that I could probably make up something completely weird like that, but still wonders, “Did she make that up, or did that really happen?” ;~)

  11. khilde*

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments, but wanted to say this while it’s on my mind. I liked Alison’s question of the OP at the end (“it’s also probably worth thinking through why you think that you’d be a more effective advocate for your wife than she would be for herself…”). I’ll be curious to see what OP says. For me, I am a person of action: if something’s wrong, I fix it. Or I work toward fixing it. My husband, on the other hand, is a muller. And a drag-his-feeter. He doesn’t move nearly quickly enough for my tastes when it comes to solving a problem or taking charge of his own destiny. If this is a similar case for OP, then I can totally sympathize with his desire to just DO SOMETHING. I totally get the need to want to fix it, especially when it looks to your eyes like someone isn’t fixing it for themselves.

    There have been times in the past where I’ve driven my husband to act (on his own behalf) and it didn’t go over very well. I have learned that if I can just gently encourage and gently bring up new ideas he can mull it over and act in the way that’s most natural to him. My style of acting is much different than his style. When he tries to do what I suggest anyway it doesn’t usually go that smoothly. He needs to find his own way to do it.

    Of course I feel like a shrew for saying all this. Like I’m his mother. I promise we have a very egalitarian relationship. But it’s true that I feel this way sometimes when it comes to his own career. When a person of action is married to a person of…..slower action….it’s maddening.

    1. aname*


      I do get frustrated when hubby sits on something and keeps moaning about it. I tend to get it out of my system by writing /suggesting something and handing it over to him to actually use or not use.

      At least its out of my brain then!

    2. The IT Manager*

      I’m a muller, but I think my decision over quietly and only tell people once I have made my decision. I have found myself very frustrated by a friend who seemed (to me) to make decisions and never follow through. Then I realized that she was not really annoucing her decision, but was simply talking about possibilities aloud without having made decisions yet.

      I had to keep reminding myself about her different personality while supporting her after she found out she was to be laid off.

    3. fposte*

      This isn’t completely unrelated to management, actually. It’s important to be clear on the difference between “not doing this the way I would” and “doing it in a way that hurts the organization.”

      I also think that there are often partnership divisions on certain kinds of characteristics: the old school one was that the wife is the one who keeps up the social contacts, but I think we’ve all known partnerships where one was in charge of assertiveness or apologies or whatever. A lot of times it works out very well within the partnership–but you really can’t bind the outside world to your private agreements.

    4. Anon*

      I second the frustration of being a do-something person in a room full of mullers. I’m very proactive in my career, and by the nature of my job, many of the people I serve are meander-ers-on top of being married to one. Sometimes I just want to take over their lives for a few years, or be their boss like that episode of Friends where Monica made all of Rachel’s decisions. I especially connected to “especially when it looks to your eyes like someone isn’t fixing it for themselves.” Yes. Exactly. But it’s nonproductive at best and patronizing and damaging at worst, so I reign it in. I did think the sentiment was sweet though. This isn’t an overbearing husband, it’s a guy who loves his wife and wants to fix her problem. Good for you for writing, OP. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. ;)

      1. Drew*

        OMG I laughed so hard! I read it out loud to my boyfriend, but he wasn’t as entertained. He is probably still deciding if it was funny himself…

    5. Revanche*

      Yep. I can’t make my husband do anything he doesn’t want to do. I can suggest that he take certain actions, or advise he take a certain course but in the end, it’s up to him. And I would expect the same consideration unless it’s detrimental to either of our wellbeings or our relationship. Like fposte said: Is it wrong or just different to how you’d do it?

  12. Lisa*

    You say …”She has stated her desire to move into this other arena, but so far it has fallen on deaf ears”

    What makes you a better person to articulate the same information? Do you think your wife isn’t being heard because she didn’t assert herself enough? Do you think you can talk to her boss man-to-man? What is the reasoning behind thinking the boss will hear you when he didn’t hear her? With my bf, he dances around what he wants rather than outright asks for things. He sugarcoats his words because he doesn’t want to appear entitled or rattle the cage. If you think its because of how your wife communicates, then you should coach her on a different approach, not skip the middle women, and go straight to the boss.

    Let’s turn this around. Would OP be ok if his wife talked to HIS boss about getting a promotion?

  13. Lexy*

    Gah… a friend of mine’s husband wrote a letter to our big boss (we worked together) when she left critisizing his handling of her transition. IT WAS THE WEIRDEST. And she… didn’t have as much of a problem with it as she should have.

    I WANTED TO DIE. I wish I could tell you guys what he was thinking but his logic made no sense to me and so I don’t remember it. I did ask him straight up: “WHYYYYYY?????????” but like I said, it made no sense to me.

    At least in that situation she had left so it wasn’t like she needed to worry about still working there. It was so weird. And I was ALMOST worried about it impacting MY reputation because the boss knew that i was really close with her. Gah. Weird. Ugh.

    1. fposte*

      Wow. That’s pretty wild. What did she think of his action, do you know? I mean, even if I didn’t have to worry about working at that job I’d be pretty ticked off at him. To put it very, very mildly.

      1. Lexy*

        I’m not really sure… she was really embarassed but didn’t seem mad? I would have murdered my husband. Of course he would never do that… so there you go.

    2. Anonymous Accountant*

      Wow. It sounds like he may have burned that bridge for her. (correct choice of words?)

      If she would reapply to that company in the future or cross paths with her former boss, that’d be super awkward and his actions would certainly stand out for all the wrong reasons. Honestly, I can imagine a company would rethink rehiring her in the future after her husband did that. It sounds like a case of over-involved spouse in all the wrong ways.

      1. Lexy*

        Yeah… she definitely did… or he did I should say. It all ended up working out (so far… it was only a couple years ago, so I guess it could still come back to bite her). But it was FOR SURE a risky move.

  14. VictoriaHR*

    If you want to help your wife, role-play with her as her boss. Have her come to you (pretending to be the boss) and work out with her what she should say to make her case.

  15. Jules*

    I thought you were kidding when I saw the headline.

    To be fair, I am spineless and my husband has to listen to me moan and groan over everything when the best thing is for me to spine up and talk to whoever it is that I have issues with and deal with it. I think it’s hard for a significant other to listen about how their loved one is getting yelled at/screwed over/etc at work and do nothing about it. Especially when you know they will take it and not find something else anyway.

    Coaching me to speak up was better then my husband sending a hate letter to my manager. Maybe that is what OP should do if he is concerned. I am not saying that he should treat his wife like a child but sometimes when I am upset, words escapes me. Practicing a few basic first reaction would help. Strategize together what would be a communication plan should be is a great idea. Jumping right in on her behalf is a terrible idea.

    Of course it’s easier but long term it’s harder. Eventually, we all need to learn on how to deal with our issue because you can’t always pull the spouse card. Personally, I pull the spouse card to avoid sticky social invitation though…

  16. OP*

    To all who have replied: Thank you. I assure you, I’m not an irrational, patronizing meddler who feels my wife is unable to handle her own affairs effectively. Quite the contrary. She’s very capable. But as someone who has been self employed most of my life, when there is a problem my natural inclination is to want to try to fix it. I just want to help. Having been away from corporate life for a long while, I realize now this was a very dumb idea, but that’s all it was, an idea. I’m glad I was able to come here to ask for advice, and I appreciate all the feedback.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      I’m an ideas man myself. Sometimes it takes putting the idea up on the whiteboard and having people throw darts at it to realize the implications.

    2. tangoecho5*

      Suggest to your wife she look for a new position with a totally different company. She has taught her boss how to treat her. You said she’s said to her boss how she wants to move into other areas in line with her training and interests and he blows her off. So what does your wife do? Continues to come to work and do a job she dislikes. So her boss rightly thinks that while your wife might be unhappy, she’s not unhappy enough to actually leave the company because she hasn’t so far even though he keeps telling her no. So he’ll keep saying no in the future and she’ll keep coming to work and nothing will ever really change. So since she has no control over her boss, the only thing she can do is find another job.

    3. Bess*

      I’m still somewhat baffled as to why you thought this would be a good idea. You say you didn’t realize it would be a bad idea because you’re self-employed — but would you expect your wife to talk to clients on your behalf (assuming she’s not involved in your business, as your letter indicates)? I’m self-employed as well, but if my husband took it upon himself to speak to any of my clients about the business — for that matter, if he took it upon himself to speak to my clients ever, unless he was informing them that I couldn’t complete my work because I was either dead or dying — I would be incensed. In fact, I would be so furious I would seriously begin to reconsider whether I wanted to stay married to such a person, because by assuming that he could speak for me, about my business, better than I can, he would be indicating that he didn’t respect my ability to do my job, and that instead of discussing said reservations with me, he thought it was a better idea just to do my job for me, indicating that he didn’t believe that even by discussing the issues, I could possibly do the job better. Which would mean he didn’t respect me, and why would I want to stay married to someone like that?

      In other words, OP, I think you should really sit down and think about why you don’t think your wife is capable of dealing with her own career like a fully responsible, independent adult.

      1. Ellie H.*

        I think saying that the OP doesn’t think his wife “is capable of dealing with her own career like a fully responsible, independent adult” is an unfairly negative jump to conclusions. Presumably the OP’s wife has asked him for advice about this, he didn’t just decide all by himself that it was a problem she was incapable of fixing on her own. It was just a bad idea, which fact is now apparent to all.

        1. Bess*

          But it’s a huge jump from “giving advice” to “doing it for you”. The latter means that the person who is asked for help assumes that the person with the problem is incapable of doing it –whatever “it” needs to be done — themselves.

          1. fposte*

            But he didn’t do it for her. He *asked* about doing it for her. And when he was told hell no, he said “Okay. Yeah, that was going too far.”

      2. Josh S*

        Wow, you’re reading quite a bit into this, Bess. I think OP is coming from a place of “How can I be helpful?” in response to his wife’s complaints. This was an idea that occurred to him, and before he broached the subject with his wife or even took the first little step toward executing it, he ran the idea past an expert who writes an advice column to see if it was reasonable. (First line he references ‘sounding board’ meaning he realizes that he needs some outside perspective before he does anything.)

        Clear answer: “Oh no, no, no, no. Do not do this.”

        OP has responded with nothing but “Ack! Gotcha. Will not do this. Was just trying to be helpful and this is not the way!”

        I’m in the same boat as the OP. If my wife, who is an awesome employee, complains about her job, I want to help. Now, I’m not going to go to her boss, since I kind of know better. But I’ll talk through her issues, give her ideas for how to address things, help her re-write her resume (being concise is NOT her strong suit, and even she knew her 5-page resume needed to be shorter…lol) — but ultimately we both know that she is in charge of her career as I am in charge of mine.

        I don’t patronize her — I help her. Same as I’d help a friend looking for work, same as I’d help my boss by giving candid feedback when asked, same as I ask for help from my wife. We all have blind spots and weaknesses, and sometimes getting advice and soliciting help from people we trust is simply helpful. No ulterior motive. No hidden thoughts of “she must not really be competent or professional.” Just … how can I assist this person in being as awesome as I know they are capable of being. Because who wouldn’t want that for someone they love?

        1. CatB*

          Yeah, there are moments when I wished I commanded thunders, like Odin or Zeus. I can feel what OP feels – been there. I stopped just short of smacking wife’s boss squarely in the face (just for clarity – some of his subordinates didn’t just consider, they took action). But yes, sometimes I felt the urge…

  17. OP*

    I should also add, my initial query here did not use the word “promotion.” I think that was inserted in the headline for effect. I thought of it more as a lateral move, but regardless, the points here are well taken.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I struggled with what word to use in the headline and finally settled on that as the closest thing that would work, but point taken!

    2. ThatHRGirl*

      That’s pretty much irrelevant though, because it wouldn’t matter if you were writing a letter to her boss to ask her for a new office chair/extra Splenda in the breakroom/employee of the month award… ANY request or communication from you, to her boss, would be inappropriate (with the exception of a medical emergency, which Alison noted).
      I think, as others have stated, your intentions are pure and true – but you just need to understand there are hard set boundaries that you just do NOT cross.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, there’s no “for effect” there, OP. We were responding to “Can I write to my wife’s boss about her career in any way, shape, or form?”

        P.S. to Alison–I just got an error message telling me I was “commenting to[sic] fast.”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Okay, you just motivated me to try to track down where that message is coming from, and I found it and edited it. It’ll still show up on occasion, but now it will be spelled correctly, which I find a great comfort.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Maybe it was suggesting a new diet plan: commenting to fast. If you feel the urge to snack, comment on Ask A Manager instead so you get distracted from eating.

          1. Elizabeth*

            (Though, on second thought, that’s still a problem, as a commenting system that thinks it’s appropriate to give unsolicited eating advice needs a lesson in manners!)

  18. Anonymous*

    And who says chivalry is dead? You heart is in the right place, OP. It’s just some battles need to be fought themselves.

  19. Cathy*

    Contacting your wife’s boss is definitely not a good idea. I will never forget the time I got a phone call from an applicant’s wife wanting to know why we weren’t considering him and accusing me of discrimination (he wasn’t a student, and the position was for a part-time paid internship in conjunction with a local university). This guy’s name is burned into my brain, and when he applied years later for a position I was filling at a different company, his resume went straight into the “No” folder.

  20. Your Mileage May Vary*

    I kind of admire OP. He asked a question, got an answer, and took it and other advice graciously. A world of difference from the last poster whose husband wanted to write her boss for her.

    OP, you say your wife’s boss sees her as a “cog that is keeping the wheels turning”. Does that mean the boss thinks your wife is indispensable? That may be a compliment right there. However, that doesn’t mean your wife has to stay there. Perhaps she can go to her boss and have a conversation about what she needs to do to transition into the area she wants to be in. If the answer is that the boss truly doesn’t see her in that position (either because he doesn’t feel she’s qualified or because he doesn’t want to go to the trouble to fill her current position), then she knows her real status. And she can feel free to brush up her resume.

    1. jmkenrick*

      Agreed. I’m impressed with the prompt & polite reply. Internet criticism from strangers can burn. Especially when someone isn’t aware of context and made an innaccurate assumption.

    2. Canuck*


      Something like this happened to a friend of mine a few years ago. She wanted to be in marketing/advertising, but was doing mostly HR and contract management work for a small (10-person) company. She had the relevant background education – business/communications – and had mentioned her desire to move into such a role several times to the owner of the company. Over the course of a few years, several marketing jobs were posted, and always filled with external applicants.

      Finally she sat down with her boss, and asked explicitly what she needed to do to get a marketing role, or if it was just not in the cards for her at the company. Turns out, the owner was planning on semi-retiring, and wanted to hand over a lot of the day to day operations to my friend – hence why he kept her in an HR role. He realized that he had not communicated his plans to her very well – he thought he had, but she had interpreted those conversations as just general talk, not about her taking over running the business. In my friends case, it worked out well and she is now basically running a successful company!

    3. Liz T*

      Cogs are important but easily replaceable; it’s annoying extra work when a cog breaks, but there are always other cogs. I took it to imply that the boss thinks the OP’s wife is an inanimate object meant only to serve one specific function, rather than a valued individual who should be kept satisfied and used to her fullest ability. What is he gonna do, call the factory for another cog? That could take days!

    4. Min*

      I completely agree with YMMV. I was really impressed with the OP’s response to the comments.

  21. HR Guy*

    This type of thing could totally be made into an dramatic movie.

    *In teary-eyed, pleading voice*
    PLEASE. DON’T. CONTACT. YOUR WIFE’S BOSS. No good can come from this.

    1. Chloe*

      Wow, I read that question & comments before the OP came and answered. I missed a LOT. That was one crazy thread. Sometimes, you just can’t make someone see the other point of view.

  22. Anon*

    And this is why I have never given my mother my boss’s contact information or anyone’s work phone number ever (I’m in my late twenties).

Comments are closed.