ask the readers: my husband is awful at job searching – and gets cranky when he needs to

Per Thursday tradition, I’m throwing this letter out to readers to weigh in on:

My husband is a master’s level professional who is working in “soft money.” So every one, three, or five years, he’s looking for a job again. Oftentimes he’s lucky and he just gets “rehired” (really more like transferred) to a similar or the same job. It looked like that would happen with this position, but the federal money disappeared (like it has for so many scientists doing important work) and he’s on the hunt again.

The thing is, despite being a very accomplished, master’s level, 4.0, rave reviews professional, he turns into a grumpy, annoyed, persnickety, imposter-syndrome-ridden human whenever he has to apply for jobs. He fusses, drags his feet, misses opportunities, and generally is miserable until he’s settled in a new job. He can’t easily exit soft money, the obvious solution. I’ve encouraged him to talk to his therapist about how he feels, but besides continuing to work on his self confidence and self perception, is there anything else you’d recommend? Both for me, and for him?

I’ve tried being involved (getting leads, forwarding, proofreading, etc.) and it doesn’t seem to help. I’ve tried being completely uninvolved and it also doesn’t seem to help.

(I think its the combination of the two issues. If he was just bad at job searching, I could figure out how to best assist him. If he was good with searching but just a crankypants, I could probably manage that as well. But put it together and he’s just flailing and nothing I do is helpful.)

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. Laurelma__01!*

    Feel for you and your husband. Job searching is so demoralizing. When some spouses when they are frustrated & unhappy it bleeds all over everyone around them.

    1. Laurelma__01!*

      Well crap. His the submit button. Am recommending that your husband use an agency for the resume work, etc. I would take yourself out of the equation as much as possible. Some universities, if he’s working in the university setting, have these work shops about the application process, what their organization is looking for, and how to have yours’ be noticed. Part of the problem I suspect is the loss of control. Depending on his field, he could also work for a clinical research organization, that’s for profit.

      1. Green Goose*

        I agree about having him work with a different professional/organization instead of trying to help him yourself. My husband is similar, and it seems like he can’t “hear” what I have to say about work but he will listen to others (not people he knows personally, but others professionals). He ended up working with a recruiter a few years ago and ended up getting a job that he’s happy with now.

        1. Specialk9*

          Thirding this. I did everything OP did. What helped was my partner plugging away at some skills he thought (rightly) he needed before applying, then going to a career transition pro, who reviewed his resume and walked him through the interview questions and answers (including saying basically, totally get why you want to ask those pointed questions, but don’t!). Not only could he hear things from a pro that he couldn’t from me, but also some of my advice was actually bad for his industry. It was a couple years of having to let go and disengage and not try to snatch the reins from his hands.

          In your case, since it’s cyclical, I’d recommend marriage therapy. As a very occasional life thing, you can drop everything and be supportive; but this is the structure of your life, and it’s unbalanced and unhappy. It’s like the support for someone having an occasional illness, vs chronic illness — when it’s just life, you just need to find a way to live with some measure of peace.

          You are trying to change him, and fix him, and those are things he alone can do. More importantly, that’s an enormous load of emotional labor on your shoulders!

          I recommend marriage therapy to make it clear how big a deal this is. His choices and his decisions on how he lives his life ultimately affects your willingness to stick around. (Which may not mean divorce; maybe you get separate residences when he’s in Grumpy mode, or other such out-of-box solutions. But maybe divorce!)

          1. Eplawyer*

            “You are trying to change him and fix him” sums It up perfectly. You can’t. He has to want to change. Marriage counseling is an excellent idea. This is not a work problem but a relationship issue.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Seconding all of this. My partner and I have struggled with similar issues before – my chronic illness and his ability to support that long-term, and his lack of motivation around housework and my resentment over having to manage that. You can’t just power through, and trying to do so is a disservice to you both. Get counseling sooner rather than later, give yourselves a chance to fix it before the resentment or frustration or whatever else gets so bad the only way to fix it is to leave. Been there, done that, it is not a good situation to be in.

          3. neverjaunty*

            This. He doesn’t get to use you as an anxiety dumpster, and he needs to get some tools to manage his feelings and behavior.

          4. Kate*

            I’m super curious about this career transition pro. How did you go about finding them? I think something similar would be helpful for my husband.

            1. Specialk9*

              My friend went pretty far down the career / life coach path, and said the big cert to get is CTI, their Co-Active Coach certification. I’ll post a link after. So I asked her, sent the link to my husband, and he scheduled the calls. (He might have met them once in person, I forget.)

            2. Rich Collins*

              For most professionals, job searching is a stressful undertaking. Fears around personal value and rejection surface. Sometimes unresolved anger surfaces (regarding the job and job loss). The unconscious mind easily re-writes the narrative about ‘what happened’ based on fear, anger, or both fear and anger together. This new narrative is almost never positive. It is this new, negative narrative that drives the job search process, answers interview questions, and keeps job seekers from working their networks. In these situations a job search/interview coach with a background in formal leadership/life coaching is good thing. The greater vision is to set up structured processes and behaviors to find the next job AND the NEXT next job.

      2. Luna*

        The lack of control when job searching is hugely demoralizing. No matter how many degrees I get or trainings I take, or how many applications I submit, no one can just snap their fingers and make a new, decent job appear. I think it is important to keep in mind that no matter how educated or experienced your husband is, job searching will still always be difficult. I can’t imagine having to do it that frequently.

        That said, it might help him feel like he has more control if you can get him to think about whether his “soft” money field is one that he deliberately chose, and is still choosing, rather than just a default that he is now stuck in. Switching fields would be hard and take time, but it’s not impossible. If he realizes that he does want to switch to a different field then he can start to take steps to make that happen. If he decides he really likes his current field and wants to stay in it, and frequent job searching just comes with the territory, that might help him feel like he has more control and that this is a choice he made, and not a woe-is-me-why does-this-keep-happening-to-me default that removes all sense of agency from him.

        1. Specialk9*

          All of this!

          I just don’t think it’s their job to be his therapist, which I think they have been doing. (Because it’s what I was trying to do — so no criticism at all, just lots of empathy from having been here!)

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I think someone who is this thrown by job searching should try to find a field with long-term, maybe even lifetime, jobs. Money skills can be transferred to almost anything – maybe he could work in accounting or finance instead?
          Or another approach could be if he decides to work through his issues with this so they no longer bother him and he takes job searching in stride. He would need a good therapist, maybe EMDR if there’s post-traumatic stress involved, and determination.

        3. Geillis D*

          I switched fields as the job consistence and relative security in my new line of work is worth the sunk costs of my prior career expectations and education. Its hard to break off your old self and find a new self, definitely take a pay cut as you’re starting at the bottom, but the trade-off is a happier me, not drained and demoralized. Some people are not happy putting themselves out there.

  2. sjjjz*

    i don’t think you can help. he’s an adult. it sounds like you’re doing A LOT of emotional labor for him. does he return that? i hope so.

      1. fiverx313*

        yes, that… i see some similarities with my ex, he would flail and moan his way through some things and nothing i did or didn’t do ever helped. sometimes you just have to step back and accept that it’s their thing to handle even if they handle it badly, and just try to be supportive and otherwise ignore it.

        i do think the above suggestions about recruiters and agencies are helpful, but all you can really do is suggest it…

        1. Kb*

          And sometimes stepping up too much holds them back AND makes you more miserable than you have to be. I would focus on what you can do by yourself to make sure y’all are in a good place financially if he doesn’t find something for a while (make sure you’re killing it at your job, find pt job if you’re not working, make a tighter budget and cut coupons, etc).

          In my experience, trying to control an outcome that isn’t yours to control only makes everybody feel awful. “I can’t make you love me, nor can I make you find a better job” – the extended version of that Bonnie Raitt song

          1. Parenthetically*

            “And sometimes stepping up too much holds them back AND makes you more miserable than you have to be”

            This has proven SO true with my husband — there are some places where I just have to be 100% hands off, no encouragement or questions or anything, so he can just get on with it.

    1. Maddie*

      I agree. Let him handle it and deal with the consequences, even though they bleed over to LW. This is the career he picked and he’s a grown up. Especially if he balks at being helped. I would acknowledge that it’s frustrating and ask him not to take it out on the family. He sounds immature.

    2. Bea*

      Ngl my eye popped reading this response but then seeing some responses, it sounds like others have had bad relationships that taint the POV here.

      I’ve never dealt with a person who doesn’t reciprocate the emotional work involved within our relationship, so I would never assume this guy isn’t.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’m genuinely happy for you that you’ve managed to avoid those kinds of situations, but it’s not just “some people having had bad relationships that taint the POV” – it’s a really widespread and common issue for men in M/F partnerships to not reciprocate emotional labor, or only partially reciprocate, so it’s a very reasonable question to ask of a woman (presumably – it’s not impossible that OP is another gender, but this particular dynamic is one that 90% of the time it pops up is between a man and a woman in a relationship) whose question boils down to “my emotional labor isn’t fixing things, what else can I try” (which, asking that is in and of itself another act of emotional labor).

        1. Specialk9*

          Everything Jadelyn said. This is by far the most common situation in M/F relationships, that men lean on the women to handle their emotions and psyches for them. Cool that you haven’t dealt with that, but I’m afraid that’s tainting your POV. You don’t understand the most statistically likely situation.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I will add that sometimes I think women take on emotional labor when the man in their life hasn’t really asked them to. We get conditioned to worry about whether the people around us are happy, and to think that if someone is cranky, we need to fix it for them.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              That is an excellent point. My husband isn’t at all the “You are the woman, you must save me” type, but dang, sometimes I do try to rush in and take care of it for him anyway.

        2. Kathleen_A*

          Jadelyn and Specialk9 are right, but…so is Bea. Although I agree that this type of unbalanced relationship is fairly common, I disagree that it’s as unbalanced as “90 percent of the time it pops up it’s between a man and a woman.” But in any case, no matter the percentages, that is not proof that OP’s relationship fits into this category. So while pointing out the imbalance isn’t a bad idea, I do think hammering away at the “this is what men do” thing might not be helpful. I think it’s better to simply focus on the problem rather than diagnosing their relationship based on what little information we have here, particularly because when we do, our own experiences and prejudices are bound to color that diagnosis.

          1. En vivo*


            Kathleen stated it very well. The advice concerning your actual relationship here is, at best, off base.

          2. Specialk9*

            It’s hugely relevant though. It’s not a ‘men suck’ thing, it’s a ‘hey it looks like you’re falling into a hugely common trap, one that is socially conditioned for one gender, but actually you don’t have to do this’. It’s not a non sequitur, it’s specific advice for someone who (assuming it’s a woman, which is admittedly an assumption, but a statistically probable one) seems to be tripping on something many of us trip on.

            Learning not to take on that emotional labor is freeing, and, sometimes, is actually appreciated by the man who didn’t even want that emotional labor. (Ahem, ask me how I know.)

            1. Parenthetically*

              And even when it’s painful to re-negotiate that part of your relationship, it’s really worth it in the long run.

            2. Not a Mere Device*

              This is in some ways the opposite of a “men suck” comment: the point is that yes, a lot of that emotional labor is difficult and unrewarding, but men are as capable as women of learning to do it, and doing their share. Yes, there are cultural factors that let men get away with not doing it, but they can learn–and those are skills that benefit everyone to have.

            3. Kathleen_A*

              I think we may just have to agree to disagree. Learning not to take on emotional labor *is* freeing – we absolutely agree on that. But the thing is, it’s freeing whether there are gender complications or not: It’s freeing whether we’re talking about a parent swooping in to “save” a child, a brother swooping in to “save” a brother, or a spouse swooping in to “save” a spouse. So why make assumptions when we have so little data? To me, based on what little we know here, that seems like a gigantic jump to the Island of Conclusions. We simply don’t have enough information. Or so it seems to me, but hey, YMMV.

            4. kb*

              I totally agree about the part about the man (or woman) not actually wanting the emotional labor. It can be frustrating to need a little time to sulk/ be frustrated/ be a little mopey and have someone rush in as the cheer and solutions police. In the case of the LW, we don’t know exactly how long these job searching stretches are. Being frustrated for a few weeks every 3-5 years is fairly normal human behavior. If it’s longer or more frequent, that’s more of an issue to LW, but still not necessarily theirs to find the solution to.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Treating your own experience as neutral objectivity while denigrating others’ experience as subjective (“taint”? Really?) is possibly not helpful to the OP or the discussion in general.

    3. Jen*

      Thank you for pointing this out!!! My first reaction because I’ve been in a similar situation with an ex-partner and THEY need to change, it’s not something you can do.

    4. Alli525*

      This!! The only thing OP should do from here on out is find the number of a career counselor and hand it to her husband, then repeat “Have you called the career counselor?” ad nauseum to any future complaints/whinging.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        The thing is, there are lots of bad career counselors out there. I mean, there the guy is, and he’s suffering, and I too would have a lot of trouble just saying, “Here are some numbers. Now you’re on your own.”

        1. Alli525*

          Oh, well, I was counting on OP doing a little research before just, like, throwing a dart at the Yellow Pages. I can see where my comment wasn’t at all clear on that… it would have to be the number of a GOOD career coach/counselor, so that would be my final act of emotional labor around this topic if I were in OP’s shoes.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            Thanks for the clarification. I just wanted the OP to be aware that all career counselors are not alike.

        2. ket*

          Why can’t he look up his own career counselor? He’s an adult with Google skills.

    5. Kelsi*

      Regardless of whether he returns it, this is the answer.

      OP, you’ve said it doesn’t help when you get involved, and it also doesn’t help when you stay out of it. Since you get the exact same result either way, please choose the one that doesn’t require you doing a lot of unnecessary work!

    6. beth*

      This is my thought too. You can’t get a job for him, and trying to assist with the steps of job hunting hasn’t helped in the past, so you probably can’t realistically help him get a job either. And you can’t fix his mood for him–this is just a fundamental truth, each of us has to find ways to manage our own emotions.

      OP, I think you need to focus on what you can control instead. You can change the subject when a conversation is spiraling in an unpleasant and/or unhelpful way. You can refuse to tolerate him taking out his negative emotions on you–tell him to cut it out, leave the room, take yourself on a weekend away if necessary. You can suggest that he seek help from people who might actually be able to help (but you can’t make him follow through–he has to do that). You can manage whatever stress you might feel around his continued unemployment, e.g. by adjusting your spending to be sustainable on just your income for a while–this might make it easier for you to step back and not care so much if he misses opportunities. You can spend extra time with friends and family so you’re still getting emotional support in your life (I’m assuming your husband, like most people, is bad at offering this when he’s in such a bad mood) and also so you get some time out of the house and away from his emotional storm. Focusing on things you can actually achieve is a lot less stressful than trying to assert influence over something that’s ultimately up to someone else, and might go a long way towards improving the situation for you.

      1. Melissa D*

        My husband is VERY (like, incredibly very) like the OP’s. He works in an industry where about 5 months out of the year his hours are insane (12 hour days, 5-6 days a week) with a vacation blackout the whole 5 months. The other 7 months are more “normal”.

        The first few years in his current job he would complain and moan incessantly during the busy season. Would come home complaining about how exhausted he was, about he had a headache from staring at a computer screen all day, how the job wasn’t worth it, etc. He wouldn’t help out much with the kids or take on the (limited) amount of housework I asked and I was empathetic and gave him a ton of leeway. He told me he was too busy to job search during the busy season but would do so as soon as it slowed down. It slowed down and he just flat out refused to job search for 2 years due to lack of motivation, laziness, imposter syndrome, and always forgetting how bad he actually hated the job during the busy season. Said he couldn’t find anything that fit his skills. So I looked online and forwarded him tons of listings that he was qualified for. He rejected them all for various reasons and didn’t even apply. He said his resume wasn’t great, so I spent hours of my own time revising it (I’m in HR so I have a good handle on this). I even offered to apply for the jobs for him, and he was adamant that I would NOT do that. I recommended he see a therapist, career counselor, or a job recruiter. He refused. He said he wanted to leave the industry all-together and try something new, but refused to pinpoint what he wanted to try or how he would try it. I spent so much time and emotionally energy on him and I was SO incredibly frustrated with him. It was honestly a breaking point where I considered leaving. On year 3 I put my foot down and told him that if he wasn’t going to actively search for a new job, there would be some new ground rules. I would REFUSE to listen to an iota of complaining during the busy season. If he started to complain I would point blank tell him he could either shut his mouth or look for a new job, and then I’d leave the room. I was understanding enough to expect less of him in regards to childcare and housework, but refused to put up with him not doing the limited amount I asked of him. Instead of me taking every sick day with our young kids during the busy season, I demanded that he work from home and alternate taking sick days. Since he can’t take vacation days at all from late October through March, I’ve flown with my kids solo to visit friends and family and couldn’t care less if he objects.

        It’s been 5 years now and he still hasn’t looked for a new job. Nothing about him has changed, but how I decided to handle the situation drastically has. I’ve refused to be emotionally drained or negatively affected by his laziness and complaining, and my quality of life has drastically improved since then. He seems content enough with the status quo (or at least content enough to not change his circumstances) and I’m waaaaay less angry and resentful.

        OP, if my tactics are something you (and your marriage) can stomach, I highly recommend them.

  3. Mystery Bookworm*

    Ooh, that’s a tough one.

    Are you able to talk to him about it? People have to be self-motivated to change, so it has to be something that he’s willing to discuss.

    If he’s not familiar with different types of therapies, it might be worth going into that as well – CBT is very different than what a lot of people picture, and he could absolutely go into that with the specific goal of trying to re-examine his attitude about job-searching.

    Overall though, I urge you to try and think about what you’re willing to do. How much of this attitude are you willing to accept from him? How many times are you willing to wait through these different job searches? I’m not trying to suggest that this is a dealbreaker, but you can’t control him, you can only control you, so if he’s not willing to engage in the subject then there’s not a lot you can do except try to emotionally divest from his process.

    1. The Buddhist Viking*

      My partner is a lower-key version of this. He’s in a low-paying industry, one that requires him to hustle for his next position every few years. This is always hard on him (though, to be fair, he steps up and does it, which it sounds like OP’s hubby is slow to do, and he tries to shield me from his moodiness). There are other things my partner could do for a living, and still others he could train/go back to school for, but he’s hell-bent on continuing the kind of work he currently does. I am trying to get through to him that he needs to either come to peace with the low pay and hustle, or finally decide this industry is not worth the hassle and move on.

      So if anyone knows the magic words

      1. The Buddhist Viking*

        Hit send too soon! If anyone knows the magic words to get someone to make this call, please share.

      2. neverjaunty*

        There are no magic words, but how does he respond if you say all this to him very directly?

      3. TootsNYC*

        The other option is to always be low-level searching, so that the hustle doesn’t have to be “taking off from standing.”

        Then it will be just revving up, instead of going from 0 to 60.

        I know that as a hiring manager, I’m always low-level looking for people I could hire. So when someone resigns, I have people to call in already; I don’t even really need to post an ad (though I usually do).

  4. Zip Silver*

    My wife’s like this. The last time she was job “searching”, it took me cancelling a vacation she had been looking forward to for 6 months (told her we couldn’t afford it, we could, but I was making a point, and I cut our budget back significantly in other categories) to get her to stop wasting her days playing Xbox and put an effort into searching.

    1. halmsh*

      I’m sorry you have trouble communicating with your partner, but I personally find this upsetting and paternalistic. I would feel very disturbed if my partner lied to me like this.

      1. Who Knows*

        + 1

        Yikes, I can’t even imagine being treated like that while also dealing with the stress of being unemployed. This seems like a not great way to offer support.

        1. KHB*

          The thing is, being the still-employed partner in this situation is also stressful. And if you’ve already spent several months watching all the support you’ve offered disappear into a black hole, you become a lot less interested in finding great ways to offer support.

          1. A Username*

            Yes this. My husband’s had a job with a steady (but not always “enough”) paycheck, while I’ve been in a career that’s full of unstable, dysfunctional work environments, so I’ve gone through patches of unemployment while he’s still working, and he gets incredibly stressed out by two things in that situation.

            1. Being the primary wage earner, when his paycheck isn’t enough to cover expenses.
            2. Worrying if I’d be able to support myself without him were he to become disabled or pass away in an accident. (His mom found herself divorced at 50 with no work history, so he is acutely aware as to what happens in that situation.)

            I didn’t think it was that big of a deal because a job usually pops up for me, but it keeps him up at night and weighs on him way more than I had anticipated.

          2. Kitty*

            Pulling back on actively trying to help them is not remotely the same as lying and manipulating them to “motivate” them to search harder. That’s really dysfunctional, at best.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          The flip side of that is being the sole support for your spouse or family is also very stressful. I would feel obligated to put up with way more crap at work and would be hesitate to make job changes myself, if that was the only thing between me and zero income. If I went to work every day and came home to find my spouse had spent the day gaming, I would be quite upset, too.

          My spouse has been laid off twice, and it sucks, particularly the one that came they day they went back to work after one of our children was born. The lay off sucks, the having to find a new job sucks, the lack of income sucks. But we didn’t have anyone else to help us financially nor have family to move in with nor a substantial savings cushion, so getting a new job pronto was unavoidable.

        3. Not A Morning Person*

          I was in a similar situation when my husband lost his job during the recession and it was taking a looong time for him to find work. I had a better paying job then, so I wasn’t as concerned about making ends meet, but I was getting frustrated with him and his approach to finding another job. I finally had to have a very stern discussion with him about some time-killing habits he was getting into that were killing me and not helping his job search: Spending lots of time meal planning, for which I liked the meal prep, but neglecting other basic chores that he’d been doing before his company laid him off. I was tired of picking up the slack. It was not a fun conversation, but he’s a good man and took it well. Before that, I’d been too sympathetic and not shared my frustration about how he’d let himself get sidetracked with wasteful things. I’d been trying to “give him space” but that wasn’t helpful after the first couple of weeks or so. It might not work for everyone, but a conversation about how his situation and how he was making my life much harder and being very specific about some of my expectations worked for us. I only wish I hadn’t waited so many months and gotten so frustrated before we had that discussion.
          Again, it might not work for everyone to have a talk about, “Here’s how I am experiencing your unemployment…”. I focused on the relationship we wanted to have, whether he ever had another job or not. (Although with his skill set we knew he would find something.) I did not get into how to look for a job, just how I needed him to be as a partner. He was able to step outside of his frustration and embarrassment at not having a job and get himself back on track. We are stronger today because of it.

      2. Zip Silver*

        Your comment is passive aggressive af. That’s ok though. People work to make money, and if they’re refusing to work then the consequence is having less money. Who cares if it’s paternalistic or not? She grew up spoilt by her parents, and never learned how to handle money until adulthood.

        1. sjjjz*

          is it normal for you to speak about your partner with this level of disdain and disgust? i feel sorry for her.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hey, that’s a pretty personal attack, and I’m going to ask for no more of this kind of thing here, as it makes it a less pleasant place to engage.

          2. Not so quick to judge*

            Judging someone who is in a relationship we know almost nothing about is unnecessary and unhelpful. We don’t know the dynamic of their relationship, or what exactly transpired, or how they interact. People vent! Nice people vent! People who are kind and caring to their partners, but frustrated, might vent and say judgy things about the partner on an anonymous forum! But we have almost no context, so why judge Zip Silver and say you feel sorry for his wife, neither of whom you’ve ever met?

        2. lost academic*

          I’d like to add for the OP that grant-specific positions (especially for an MS and not a postdoc) are situational and grant season driven. It’s not like regular job searching and it’s hard to forecast in a specific field at times, especially the way that government funding is in a crisis right now. Even when you’re heavily networked, having reasonable advance notice of a position that you’d even be considered for is not overly common. The standard industry advice of “make job hunting your job when you don’t have one” isn’t nearly as applicable in academic, I’ve discovered – largely a reason I’m not in academia anymore, our family can’t take the location hopping lifestyle that others could. The best position to be in is a large lab that’s always got grants and work in the pipeline that essentially allow for a position to be continuously funded with overlapping grants, but that requires tracking such a PI down (or identifying someone who’s on that track!) and making sure you become indispensable to the operation. Even then it’s hard, because it’s easier to use temporary employees like grad students and postdocs and not rely on more permanent employees.

          My usual advice is to make sure the publication record is staying strong, keep your name out there at conferences and other events, and if you’re going to lead this life, you’ve got to always be job searching, even the day you land the next one.

          1. the_scientist*

            I agree, I am also a master’s level researcher and I got out of soft money work precisely for this reason. It’s incredibly stressful to move from grant to grant, contract to contract, and in many cases the funding really depends on what’s “trendy” in research at the moment and what field you’re in. I work in government/public sector now which I guess is still kind of subject to the whims of politicians, but it’s a LOT more stable than purely grant-funded work.

            I sympathize with the OP’s husband as I know how much this environment stressed ME out, but I agree with others that the OP is doing a lot of emotional labour here and I don’t think this is solely OP’s burden to bear nor is it OP’s problem to solve.

        3. KR*

          Gentle reminder that lack of motivation can be a symtom of depression. When I don’t have a job I get depressed and I have a hard time getting the motivation to look for another job. Your wife may be feeling something similar which may read as being spoiled or lazy to you.

          1. moosetracks*

            Right, and a vacation could potentially be an important mental health break.

            There’s nothing wrong with making budget cuts (and it’s a prudent step to prepare for the future, considering that she’s lost her job), but to do it dishonestly to teach your wife a lesson about handling finances is extremely concerning behavior.

            I don’t mean to pile on, I’m trying to help you understand a potential alternate perspective: When I’m extremely anxious/depressed about something I know I need to do, it’s easy to spiral (“oh, that cover letter has to be perfect, I can’t get it perfect, I’m going to fail and be unemployed forever”), then avoid it entirely and do something that distracts me (like a video game). I don’t think this is exclusive to people with mental health issues, I think this can happen to anyone in a stressful circumstance (having a big paper due, hunting for a job).

            That doesn’t mean that her behavior should continue, but it does mean that it should be handled with maybe a little more understanding in the future.

            This blog tends to advocate for approaches that involve directness (telling people there’s a problem, and often outlining why something is a problem and offering potential solutions). While Alison’s advice is usually work-focused, I think this is good communication advice in general.

        4. Amber Rose*

          Yeah I was that too, but my husband never lied to me about stuff, just talked to me. If you want someone to act like an adult, the first step is normally to treat them like one, not go in reverse.

          You should care that it’s paternalistic, man. This is not relationship healthy behavior on your part or hers. At the very least, I don’t recommend anyone else do the same thing you did.

        5. MakesThings*

          I’m quite taken aback by everything you’ve said so far. I wouldn’t want to be in your wife’s shoes.

        6. Specialk9*

          That’s not what passive aggressive is. Passive aggressive is saying things are fine but punishing people in subtle ways to try to get your way. Halmsh was communicating, very directly, that they disagree with how you handled that situation, and why it was problematic on a broader level.

          I’m also concerned. I can hear how that would be very upsetting for you to watch a partner seeming not trying to find a job, while presumably you were paying bills. But your approach, and way of talking about your partner, seems like an approach that gets you what you want now but tears at the fabric of your relationship in the long run.

          I had a partner who played games and punished me to try to get me to do what they wanted. (Not about a job, I was always gainfully employed, but about other topics.) It wasn’t healthy, and what we needed (and did) was to not be partners because without honesty and respect, trust wasn’t possible.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I was coming here to say exactly this. 1) That’s not passive-aggressive. The comment was pretty direct. 2) Maybe your partner is fine with being lied to, I’m sure some people would be. But it is a pretty paternalistic way of handling it. It seems a lot more like something a parent would say to a child than what a partner should say.

          2. Specialk9*

            And to clarify, I actually think the actions were appropriate. When I got laid off, I made a list of all the financial changes we needed to make, and vacation was off the table, along with a bunch of other things. I don’t at all object to the specific action, it’s to the deceit and mindset of contempt, punishment, and right to manipulate rather than work together.

            1. KHB*

              And if your partner (or you) had rejected those efforts to work together, what then? It’s nice to imagine that we can all be in relationships that are perfectly supportive and harmonious at all times, even under the worst of circumstances, but that’s not been consistent with my experience.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Then you start to consider whether or not this is a relationship you want to be a part of because refusing to work with someone in a time of crisis is a bad sign. It’s fine if someone has different ideas on how to manage the situation, but it’s go to be a joint process.

              2. Specialk9*

                I posted below that I *wasn’t* in a harmonious relationship. I’m not coming at this as a Pollyanna, but saying that this approach is a relationship killer.

                In that case, with a partner who wouldn’t budge and who lied and manipulated me, what worked was leaving. I tried lots of things but nothing else worked.

                Not saying that’s a given. My current relationship, we have hard conversations, as kindly as possible. Doesn’t mean things don’t get frustrating, especially around job searches and layoffs!

          3. buttercup*

            Gosh yeah – even if Zip Silver’s interpretation of things is correct (his partner was being irresponsible and they couldn’t afford a vacation), he should have been honest about it rather than lying and trying to discipline her like she’s a toddler. Whether or not she’s irresponsible, she’s a adult and his spouse – not an underdeveloped child who can’t understand, “Since you’re not getting employed anytime soon, we need to forego this vacation and other expenses.”

        7. Maybe you*

          You should care! You’re her husband not her father, and a healthy adult relationship is not based on this sort of interaction. What a dreadfully unkind way to treat someone you should love, respect and support!

        8. Jadelyn*

          I fail to see how “I am disturbed by this thing you describe doing” is passive-aggressive? Like, if halmsh had said something like “wow, your wife sounds like a lucky woman,” *that* would be passive-aggressive and not okay, but they very simply and plainly said that they found your post upsetting, which is not passive-aggressive.

          And frankly I’m with halmsh, that’s not a healthy way to deal with another adult who’s presumably your equal in the relationship. Was there some particular reason you really couldn’t sit down and have a straightforward conversation about it? Considering that you’re not (I hope) her father, I don’t see why you wouldn’t care that you’re being paternalistic about it, but hey, I guess whatever works for you.

          (That last comment, by the way? That’s what passive-aggressive looks like.)

        9. Former Retail Manager*

          Not sure if you’re male or female….either way, I feel you on this issue. I am female and the breadwinner, always have been. My issue was getting my spouse to re-enter the workforce after a very long stretch as a stay-at-home dad. Things were rather dire financially, but he was still able to enjoy all of his toys/hobbies because he was putting it on credit cards (my credit cards). Until I made him feel the financial consequences of his failure to contribute financially (i.e. shut off his credit cards as an authorized user), did he realize that he needed to take action and get a job if he wanted to continue to enjoy those things. All the talking, encouragement, offers of job searching/resume assistance did nothing. He’s one of those people who reacts to consequences/avoidance of consequences much more so than anything else. It’s just who he is, for better or worse. I deal with it accordingly.

        10. Coldfeet*

          I get it. I love my husband but you can be sure I’d be doing the same if he got laid off and sat on the couch for months. Maybe you could have afforded to maintain the same lifestyle for a while, but not forever. A lost income is a lost income, lost savings, missed trips, delayed retirements and less activities for the kids. Good on you for doing something before the situation became drastic.

        11. LilyP*

          You want the aggressive-aggressive version? Lying to your partner about your finances to manipulate them into doing what you want is financial and emotional abuse and you should see a counselor about why you think that’s normal.

            1. London Engineer*

              It started as Alison was deliberately trying to counter the default assumption that managers are male. I don’t know that it was meant to apply to absolutely every situation but it seems pretty standard now.

          1. Les G*

            She doesn’t assume anyone’s female. She defaults to female pronouns when the gender of a person (usually a manager) is unknown. There’s an important difference.

            1. Specialk9*

              That’s what I meant – we DEFAULT to female pronouns. So if someone says ‘she’ it can just be habit. But it’s worth pointing out faulty gender assumptions.

          2. A Nonny Mouse*

            The we should assume both partners are female if Zip Silver is talking about their wife.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It is not site policy to assume female! I default to female pronouns in my own writing if they’re unknown or I need a generic, but commenters are not asked to do that themselves.

            Let’s move on before this derails!

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        Agreed. That’s “consider divorce” level paternalism/manipulation/deceit right there.

      4. BananaRama*

        After a while there’s a point of frustration that is hit. If the partner wishes to continue acting like a child, then she’s treated like a child. Though, I also divorced my man-child because I didn’t want to parent an adult instead of a partner and he didn’t want to change.

    2. DCompliance*

      I think this can be pretty common. Sometimes a person won’t really make the effort until it really impacts their life which is frustrating to proactive people who don’t like to be reactionary. The LW says that her husband usually gets lucky and get rehired. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t step it up until he doesn’t get rehired.

      1. Nita*

        Agreed. As shocking as Zip Silver’s actions seem to some people, sometimes there is no “nice” way to snap a person out of sitting at home gaming. I’m watching several slow-motion wrecks like that right now, and since everything else has been tried – I’m positive nothing will change until the money that enables them stops coming in. There may or may not be depression in play, but with low-level depression, as far as I know there is no way to force the sufferer to get help unless they choose to do it.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Alternatively, you’re not your partner’s parent, and trying to control them like that is really Not Okay and not indicative of a healthy relationship. Why is there this unspoken acceptance that Zip Silver (and anyone else in that situation) has the responsibility and the right to try to “snap them out of it”?

          1. Myrin*

            I agree with the points you’re making all over this discussion, but I do want to push back on your last sentence in this particular comment – I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask why someone has the responsibility or the right to try and snap their partner out of doing nothing but playing video games all day. I actually think that’s pretty self-explanatory!

            There are emotional reasons – you don’t like seeing your partner so apathetic, you are worried about their health, you don’t want to do exhausting mental labour for them, you want to be happy with them again etc. – as well as practical ones – chores aren’t getting done because partner is gaming and everything falls on you, you’re short on money because partner isn’t working, your electricity bill is going through the roof etc. – that are perfectly valid and specific to a spousal relationship (maybe that of a parent/child/sibling, too, depending on family dynamics).

            I’d agree with you if you were speaking about people like coworkers or friends or neighbours but as it stands, someone who’s as close as can be to you has other responsibilities and rights regarding your relationship than those other people.

            1. neverjaunty*

              But there is a huge difference between being straightforward and being manipulative.

              “We aren’t going to be able to go on this vacation because budget” or “because you’re choosing to play games instead of looking for work we will have to cut fun spending” – absolutely. Those are logical consequences. “I’m going to lie and say we can’t afford something you want” is lying to your partner to get them to do a thing. Do you not see those as different?

              1. Myrin*

                Huh? Of course I do! That’s why my very first sentence addressed that I agree with Jadelyn’s points in this discussion overall; I also said in that same sentence that I solely want to push back on “Why is there this unspoken acceptance that [a partner] has the responsibility and the right to try to “snap them out of it”?”, which was a reaction to Nita’s “sometimes there is no “nice” way to snap a person out of sitting at home gaming” and seemed somewhat removed from Zip’s original comment and like a more general statement.

                I’m not following how any of that reads as my not seeing the difference between manipulation/lying and healthy discussion.

            2. TootsNYC*

              right! And because when my partner isn’t earning money, they are reneging on the PARTNERSHIP.

              A marriage or a partnership is as much a business arrangement as it is anything else.

              I live with all the consequences of my husband’s year of earning exactly $1,000. It was a HUGE impact on me. And that impact is rippling through, because there are no savings from that year, so we may not be able to ever remodel the bathroom, and there is almost no cushion if *I* get laid off, because he didn’t contribute to the savings fun for the kid’s braces.

            3. Jadelyn*

              I see what you’re saying, but the idea of “snapping someone out of it” feels very…controlling, to me? That’s what I’m concerned about. A lot of the conversation I’m seeing seems to take the stance that it’s right and normal for a partner to feel entitled to a degree of control over their partner that strikes me as really unhealthy. I’m not at all saying that a partner doesn’t have the right or responsibility to *address* the issue with their partner – they absolutely do! I’m not advocating complete apathy or totally minding your own business, just that…your partner is a separate adult human being and you are (or should be) relatively limited in how much control you get to exert over their behavior.

              One of the hardest things about relationships is that you can love someone deeply and yet not be able to have a healthy relationship with them, for whatever reason. Love alone can’t carry a relationship if there isn’t a base of compatibility to support it, and I am personally of the opinion that if two people have wildly different motivation levels and that’s a dealbreaker for one or both of them, that’s a fundamental incompatibility in the relationship, not something the more-motivated partner should be trying to “retrain” or get the other person to “snap out of”. That’s more what I’m addressing with that comment – I feel like the proper response to “my partner doesn’t do XYZ things that are, to me, critically important for our lifestyle” is not “how do I snap them out of it” but “maybe this relationship isn’t the right one for me”.

              Which is not to say, break up immediately, but start having the brutally honest conversation with your partner about deal-breakers and needs (vs wants and preferences) so you can see if there’s a way to work it out or not. Rather than making unilateral choices about “snapping them out of it”. That’s the part that is rubbing me the wrong way. Hope this is clearer!

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                “that it’s right and normal for a partner to feel entitled to a degree of control over their partner that strikes me as really unhealthy.”
                —And abusive IMO.

                “I’m not at all saying that a partner doesn’t have the right or responsibility to *address* the issue with their partner…”

                “your partner is a separate adult human being…”
                —This. I take issue with Zip Silver’s follow up comment about his wife’s parents raising her to be “spoilt.” That just screams “she is a child and it’s up to me to be “in charge” of things like a parent.” Paternalism to the nth degree.

                “you are (or should be) relatively limited in how much control you get to exert over their behavior.”
                —This. Actually I think that we are all limited (or should be) in how much control we have over our partners. Seriously if we think about it, aside from an abusive relationship, or one where manipulation and deceit are SOP, none of us really have any control over our partner. Influence sure, but we can’t (save the already mentioned exceptions) really control other human beings after they get too big to pick up and carry.

                That’s not in any way to suggest that we should abdicate our efforts to communicate, compromise, and work with our partner, as partners to address whatever situations arise, but if they refuse to be a part of the partnership, that is to say abdicate their responsibility, then instead of manipulating/lying we need to take a closer look at whether it is a relationship in which we wish to be a participant.

                Also instead of dismissing them as spoiled, lazy, etc., etc., etc., we might want to look a little deeper and investigate whether or not there might be something else (e.g. depression) happening, but then again, maybe it’s easier to just dismiss them as lazy and spoiled.

          2. LQ*

            I mean yeah, you could just divorce them for not finding a job? I mean if you’ve talked to them (and I’m sure that by the point you get to cancelling a vacation you’ve talked to them) what suggestions do you have besides walking away from the relationship? I mean maybe that’s what a lot of people here are suggesting, just if your partner doesn’t do what you want, talk to them and then quit and find a new partnership.

            1. Jadelyn*

              First of all, I very much do not assume that by the time you get to cancelling a vacation you’ve talked to them. I’ve seen relationships where people pull that kind of thing without having the conversation first because hey, conversations like that are hard and they kinda suck tbh.

              Second, not so much “just leave” as “start thinking really hard and really openly and talking about whether you guys are compatible long term.” But functionally…kinda, yeah.

        2. Specialk9*

          I don’t actually object to the actions at all. Cancelling a vacation and cutting back the budget when 1 partner is unemployed – that seems very reasonable!

          I object to the lying instead of having a simple straightforward interaction about financial concerns and the consequences of having less money. I’m concerned by it being one-sided instead of a team decision. I don’t like the contempt in calling her spoiled. It just… That’s not how a loving respectful relationship works. If you have so much contempt for someone, maybe you don’t stay married.

          1. Jadelyn*

            This. This x1000, the issue isn’t saying “Hey, we shouldn’t spend money on extravagant stuff like vacations right now, not until we’re back to having 2 incomes coming in.” I had to say that to my other half recently – we always go to the drag races in July, but because he was out on unpaid medical leave for a couple months earlier this year we’re still not in a really strong place financially, so while we technically *could* afford the tickets to the drags, we really shouldn’t blow that much money on something that’s a want rather than a need. But we had a conversation about it, and we agreed on it. There was no underhanded manipulation, which is what I think so many people are finding truly disturbing about this whole strategy.

          2. Amber Rose*

            Yeah, this is where I landed too. I’d be fine if his action was to just go over and say “since you’re still unemployed I’m thinking we may need to cancel the vacation to save money” rather than just a straight up lie. Lying about important stuff has no place in a healthy relationship.

            I don’t mind about using the word spoiled either. I was a spoiled brat when I met my husband, it was just a fact. But it’s definitely a bit of a red flag combined with the other issues here.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I get the frustration, sure, but underhandedly manipulating and/or punishing your partner (which is what Zip Silver is describing doing) is NOT a healthy or appropriate way to handle that frustration.

    3. Maybe you should zip it*

      Are you recommending lying to your partner and treating them like a child as a means of adult interaction? Is that really the best you can do? How awful for your poor wife! (I can’t imagine why she finds job hunting difficult with such a supportive, caring and trustworthy spouse!)

      1. Cat Herder*

        Eh, sometimes the people we love just really don’t hear us when we’re having a rational adult conversation. Or many many rational adult conversations, and statements from the person we love that yes, I will do X which is important for my career AND for the financial and emotional well-being of our family. Sometimes a “consequence” will get that person moving. And then have an adult conversation in which we discuss why we created a consequence (that was going to happen eventually, but without the financial and emotional cushion available now) that enabled the loved one to finally hear us.

        So Zip Silver, I understand the frustration and the no doubt very long and fruitless efforts you made before finally getting “paternalistic.”

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          YES!!! YES to all of this! Much like co-workers, some people don’t take appropriate action until there are consequences for failing to do so. (i.e. conversations about your lateness impacting your co-workers mean nothing to a chronically late co-worker until they start getting in trouble for being late. And voila! Most people then start making an effort to be on time.) Some people are just wired that way.

        2. neverjaunty*

          If your partner doesn’t want to listen to you being a rational adult, there’s a level of dysfunction going on way beyond “she plays a lot of Xbox”. And again, what kind of marriage is that?

          1. Cat Herder*

            I don’t think it’s necessarily super dysfunctional. People are … people; they can behave in boneheaded or self-defeating or immature ways. They can be a person who is ordinarily completely capable of having a rational adult conversation but for whatever reason is not in this particular situation. I’d say if Zip Silver (or I) does this sort of thing over and over, then yes, there’s a bigger problem going on. But once? for an issue that significantly affects Zip Silver / ZS’s family emotionally, financially, etc? Nah.

    4. Bea*

      My only issue here is that she’s so absent from knowing the family finances that you can say “we can’t afford that.” I know damn well what we can afford. However I’d cancel unnecessary expenditures as well and adjust a budget immediately following a job loss so there’s not the same familiar budget when we’re down a salary.

      1. The Buddhist Viking*

        Different couples handle this in different ways. Personally I always want to know what’s going on to an equal degree, but plenty of functional couples have one person or the other much more in the know on finances. It *can* be controlling, but isn’t necessarily.

      2. Nita*

        Just guessing, but it may not have to do with not knowing the family finances. It may just be a question of priorities about where those finances are going. I know very well where our family finances stand, but I’m still told constantly that we “cannot afford” certain things that I’m positive we can. My husband just has a different risk tolerance than I do, and is a lot more wary of taking on big debt or cutting into our day-to-day income.

        1. Antilles*

          Excellent point. “Cannot afford” means different things to different people.
          For my wife, she looks at our typical monthly expenses and values “affordable” as “can we buy ___ without going into debt or affecting our monthly expenses?”. For me, the term affordable only comes into play after I account for savings and emergency fund – because ‘affordable’ to me also includes the question of “if a meteor hits our car tomorrow, would we be tight because we spent money on this today?”

          1. KHB*

            Exactly this. And for that reason, I’m not sure Zip Silver’s “lie” was even so much of a lie. They could afford the vacation (I’m guessing) in the sense that they literally had the money in the bank to pay for it. They couldn’t afford it in the sense that it wasn’t in line with Zip’s financial priorities at the time.

            1. Specialk9*

              Well they said that they said something that wasn’t true to get what they wanted, so… I believe them.

            2. RUKiddingMe*

              Except that he straight up said that he deceived her in order to get the results he wanted.

        2. CatMom*

          While I don’t think it’s ever okay to lie to a partner, there is something to this idea. My partner and I come from different backgrounds and have different financial strategies, and he definitely has a different perspective on what it means to be able to afford something. “Can I afford it?” for me means “How much of the money left over after living expenses and savings contribution will this use up?” For him it means “Do I need this?” This is especially true because he earns about 1/3 of what I do.

          Obviously, when it comes to personal financial decisions (buying clothing/objects, going out for drinks with friends, etc) our financial strategies don’t really affect one another’s, but when we’re making joint financial decisions, there is definitely a lot of discussion to make sure that we’re understanding what the other one means/needs/wants.

      3. Former Retail Manager*

        My husband is utterly clueless regarding family finances. He knows we can’t afford a Maserati, but other than that, clueless. He couldn’t even tell you who our electric company is. This is all by choice. I have a spreadsheet that I update from time-to-time in case something happens to me. He doesn’t manage money well and it all stresses him out beyond belief so I see no reason to involve him. Past efforts have failed miserably so I’ve given it up and told him where to find the spreadsheet in case I croak.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. When we divided up the domestic responsibilities, I got finances because I’m way more interested in them than he is. He has access to everything and I notify him of big things (or things I think are big that he may simply not care about), but, by and large, he just isn’t that into it. We have a mandatory state-of-the-family-finances once a year, and he might ask a few questions but rarely has any major changes.

        2. Quickbeam*

          Wow, it’s like you are my twin. Exact same situation here; I tried for decades to educate and share financial information with my husband and it just made him miserable. Now I keep a file with current insurance and financial information in my drawer with “If I have died” on it. It has a big red tab on it. It’s the best I can do.

        3. Violet*

          Same! I am hyper aware of this because my father was the primary breadwinner and deliberately kept financial matters a black box to my mom. I have tried many different ways and times to be open with my husband…but he doesn’t really want to know. He doesn’t manage money well and it stresses him out. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know how to pay the rent or who our electric company is. He even forgets to submit his own timesheets at work. His way of handling it has basically been “tell me how much money I need to put in the joint account every other week and I will.”

      4. doreen*

        I think the part that seems paternalistic is when Zip Silver says “told her we couldn’t afford it, we could, but I was making a point” so it doesn’t appear to be a matter of different definitions of “afford”. He concedes that they could afford the vacation , so whatever point he was trying to make wasn’t “we can’t afford vacations until you get a job”. And whatever his point was, his wife certainly didn’t get it because he didn’t tell her the truth.

      5. En vivo*

        That was my thought as well. How is husband able to deceive her into believing that they can’t afford it? Maybe he has understandable reasons to act so paternalistic??

        We don’t know the dynamics of the marriage, and we could ask ‘why’ all day to no satisfaction, unless husband wants to expound. However, I’m sure he’s reluctant to do so with the ‘pile on.’

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          “Maybe he has understandable reasons to act so paternalistic??”

          What is an understandable reason to treat one’s wife like a child?

          1. Courageous cat*

            Maybe the wife… acts like a child?

            It’s strange how so many people are commenting on this with an automatic assumption of the relationship’s dynamics. Some people can be immature, juvenile, or irresponsible in a relationship, and if they’re going to be childish, they deserve to be treated like a child.

            I’m not saying that’s necessarily what’s going on here by any means – it just seems like there’s a lot of assuming she’s surely some well-adjusted adult who fell on some hard luck, when it’s equally very possible that she’s just procrastinating or downright lazy.

            And if the tables were turned and my partner was like that (I’m female and my partner was male, and I do somewhat wonder if gender figures into this), I’d probably treat him like that too, if nothing else was getting through.

            1. Kitty*

              If your parter were truly so immature that they couldn’t be in an equal adult partnership… why would you be with them at all?? This scenario keeps getting trotted out by many in the comments, and I just can’t comprehend why anyone would stay in a relationship where they effectively had to parent their partner? (Assuming there’s no disability or mental illness involved, and the person is just as you say, “lazy”.)

    5. Cucumberzucchini*

      I actually don’t see a big problem with this like some other commenters have. You may be wording this more flippantly than it actually played out. It can be very hard when your spouse isn’t carrying their weight. My husband was having a really hard time managing his money because he never learned how to do it and was wasting a lot of money while he was in school full-time and I was working myself to the bone to cover household expenses. I cut our budget back significantly for many items even though we could technically afford things because it was wasteful spending. For example he was spending like $100 a month buying stuff at the gas station while studying at home instead of buying those same items in bulk at the grocery store at a much less expensive price per item. It was really hard to be working 70 hours a week at a terribly toxic job that was paying me very good money but that money wasn’t going very far as the single earner. Then to see that money being wasted on nonsense made me really upset. We discussed/argued over this and eventually I told my husband that he needed to put his budget into a spreadsheet and do the envelope system. He fought me on it but I told him I just needed him to try it for two months and see what happened. He did and was able to save a significant amount of money by doing this. In fact four years later he’s still doing it and feels very happy about having built up savings for the first time in his whole life. There’s of course more to this whole story but ultimately sometimes one spouse has to help the other out with some clear boundaries otherwise you both suffer financially. I don’t see this as paternalistic. In my situation I the wife was the one setting financial boundaries for my husband because that’s what was needed.

      1. Jadelyn*

        There’s a big, huge difference between “we argued about this thing, I pushed my spouse to get this thing under control, and eventually it worked out” and “I lied to my spouse and treated her like a child whose allowance I was cutting because she wasn’t doing her chores”.

        1. Specialk9*

          Exactly. I read the envelope system story above and thought “YAY!! I love this story!” Very different situation.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          This. I mean there’s also an entire power/privilege/gender/control thing that we aren’t even touching on. I don’t particularly want to either, but males controlling women, daughters, wives, mothers, etc. financially and otherwise is a thing.

      2. moosetracks*

        “eventually I told my husband that he needed to put his budget into a spreadsheet and do the envelope system. He fought me on it but I told him I just needed him to try it for two months and see what happened.”

        This is a perfectly healthy way to do this. No one has a problem with this!

        You didn’t lie to him about how much money you had, and you didn’t take away a vacation as a punishment.

        You treated your husband like an adult. You actually used your words, that’s the difference.

      3. Wendy Anne*

        I’m in similar position. My SO grew up with money and he’s never been taught budgeting or you know, not buying something just because you want it. So many times he wanted to get take away or go out to dinner and didn’t understand why I refused to spend half our weekly grocery budget on 1 meal. Sat him down with a spreadsheet and showed him exactly where all our money was going, including his $400+ month “fun money”. He’d never sat down and actually calculated how much money he wasted on cigarettes, junk food, buying lunch everyday etc. Once he saw it all written down, he got it but it was tough going. The difference in our “financial smarts” is probably one of our biggest issues as a couple, but we’re working on it. He knows he sucks with money and is more than happy to let me take the lead on what we can afford and what we can’t.

        1. Specialk9*

          I really like your approach to this. Money is a huge area of conflict, and there are so many swamps and quagmires and flaming pits to fall into. (This analogy seems like it’s getting hairy.) Negotiating around them is something most of us have to do, or alternatively it is a key reason why relationships fail. Sounds like you guys worked out a good system.

            1. Specialk9*

              Congratulations, and here’s to many years of effective arguing, interspersed with even more enjoying each other.

      4. Zip Silver*

        You’re right, there is a whole lot more to the story and 5 months of conversations, procrastination, and carrying the weight with no help before I got to the point of dropping the vacation out of the budget. It was a better option than divorce, and she’s improved greatly in her financial literacy since, but it was a tough period there for a while.

        1. Mav 536*

          You’ll spin your wheels trying to justify your actions. I get it, but you’ve already been found guilty and hung by the mob.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            He has neither been judged guilty or hung by *me*. I am not sure I’d react the same way Zip did…but I can kind of see where that reaction came from. So I for one am not willing to judge.

          2. bonkerballs*

            Wow. What a truly horrific turn of phrase. Maybe we shouldn’t casually talk about lynching each other?

        2. Jane*

          I’ve been where you are and it is frustrating beyond belief. I understand why you did what you did and see nothing wrong with it. My marriage essentially ended in part to many layoffs and a complete breakdown between who was paying for what and carrying the mental load of the family finances.

        3. KHB*

          I just wanted to say that I see no problem with what you did either. My partner was unemployed for a few months earlier this year. Fortunately, he got right to work with his job search and landed a new position before too long – I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t.

        4. Specialk9*

          I imagined something very similar based on what you posted. There was so much frustration that I figured it had to have been awhile. (I actually referenced that in my comments, in which I pointed out my concerns with that approach.)

          I don’t think you’re a bad person. I don’t have enough info either way, but I can see decent people doing what you did in frustration. But I still think it’s a behavior that isn’t good for your relationship or for your character, and maybe that’s one of your takeaways.

          I just worry that it sounds like the lesson learned was that lying was a good strategy that worked. Because short term vs long term success are very different metrics.

          With luck, it was a truly dark time in both of your lives, and from it your wife learned some hard lessons, your implicit or explicit marriage rules got updated, and you figured out a way to talk about problems directly and honestly. Most of us learn the hard way. Best of luck to you, Zip.

        5. B*

          I figured; I think folks are taking exception to the policy of lying to one’s spouse, even for good reasons. I didn’t get the same strongly negative reaction some others have, but then I got the sense it was more about setting boundaries on what you were willing to bankroll than inventing a crisis.
          IDK maybe it was just an unfortunate turn of phrase there are a lot of different definitions of what one can “afford”. “My sanity and/or ability to tolerate this relationship cannot afford paying for your vacation while I cut back on daily wants” can count.
          I do agree with others outright lies are not part of a healthy relationship even if they accomplish the desired ends, etc etc.

    6. Mav 536*

      You should have reversed the genders for your story, Zip. Wouldn’t have caught nearly as much flak.

          1. JamieS*

            Considering the majority of the population is heterosexual there’s a very strong chance Zip is a man. However even if Zip’s not a man a lot (likely majority) are going to assume they are and read Zip’s comments through the lense of a husband doing that to his wife.

      1. Jadelyn*

        …really? If you actually think that, you don’t know this commentariat as well as you think.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It seems the site has been around long enough to start accumulating hate-readers.

      2. London Engineer*

        No, I think the lying and level of dismissal/contempt towards your partner are wrong whatever the gender of the respective people

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I don’t get this “contempt” thing at all. Lots of people have said it, so I don’t mean to fixate on London Engineer, but I don’t understand why so many people are so sure they detect contempt. Frustration? Yes. Anger? Yes. Maybe even a bit of disillusionment? Yep. But none of those are the same thing as contempt.

          1. Like what even*

            Because lying to someone and hiding the truth about your financial state as a couple to manipulate someone indicates an utter lack of respect and is frequently a tactic used by abusers.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                If my husband or I were unemployed, I too would firmly believe that we couldn’t “afford” a vacation until both of us were employed. Is that a lie? No. It’s just different ways of looking at money and budgeting.

      3. SierraSkiing*

        No, I doubt it. If someone lies to their partner and takes something away from them to hurt them and make them do something, that’s unkind and unhealthy, whatever the genders of the people involved.

      4. moosetracks*

        A. Bad actions are bad no matter who does them
        B. We don’t know that Zip Silver is a man.

    7. Kir Royale*

      I am like your wife, I find self-motivation difficult, particularly for anxiety-filled tasks like job searching. Avoiding a negative consequence works better for me than achieving a positive outcome. I could easily see myself procrastinating like this, and a kick-in-the-butt strategy would be effective, ONCE. But when I find out about the lie, then I would ignore whatever is said after that because credibility is gone.

      1. Like what even*

        Yeah, lying to someone to control their behavior is definitely an abusive tactic and I’m honestly shocked so many people think this is in any way okay, regardless of the circumstances.

    8. Dame Edna*

      Zip Silver,
      I’m wondering if some of the commentors on your post have ever been in this situation. Because I have, multiple times with my ex. Emotional support and therapy work great for some people, but unfortunately not for everyone (at least not all the time). Having a spouse who is unwilling to look for work is a very hard thing to go through, because it affects all aspects of your life and you have absolutely no control over it.

      I must be “paternalistic” too (even though I’m a woman) because I tried the same thing with my husband when it was obvious that he wasn’t going to do anything. Obviously, treating one’s spouse this way is not ideal, but when a spouse is acting immature about financial responsibilities and nothing else seems to work, it’s pretty hard not to. Glad it worked for you–it didn’t for me. In the end, the only thing that got through to him was my printing out a flyer for a food pantry and told him to go down and get us a box of whatever they’d give us.

      On the plus side, I became fantastic at writing resumes after years of re-tooling his and have helped my friends and family get jobs.

      1. Yikes*

        I think the idea is that, ideally, you would either work through these issues through conversation, possibly supported by or occurring in a counseling setting. Or, you wouldn’t work through the issues, and would get a divorce. Rather than attempting to manipulate someone’s behavior and emotions through lies and/or limiting their access to financial resources they have a right to access.

        1. Not A Morning Person*

          There apparently was conversation between them. Many, many conversations and they made absolutely no difference. And the idea that married couples are always perfectly aligned in how they spend their money is hogwash. We all grew up in different families with different attitudes towards money. Money disagreement is the number one issue that breaks up marriages. My spouse is the one who says, “YES! Let’s do this thing, buy this thing, spend this money that will make us happy!” I’m the one that says, “Woah! Let’s see if this fits in our budget first. ” I can see me telling my spouse that we can’t afford a vacation. Yes, we have money in savings, and he knows that, but when I say we can’t afford it, it means that I’m not tapping the emergency and house repair fund to spend on a vacation. That’s how I read the original, “we can’t afford it since you don’t have a job anymore….” Not as a “LIE” but as a, this priority is not where we need to spend our now more limited income. We can’t afford it.

          1. Cat Herder*

            Yes, exactly. It’s discouraging that so many commenters are willing to think the worst of someone who was dealing with a tough situation.

          2. Specialk9*

            Right, that sounds perfectly healthy. Nobody expects perfect alignment on finances. That’s a strawman. We expect that WHEN people fight about money – not if – they do so without lying or manipulation. See the difference?

            1. Kathleen_A*

              But if she wasn’t working and they depend partly on her income to help run the household, why is it a “lie” to say “We can’t afford a vacation”? I would absolutely feel the same way. I might put it more diplomatically than Zip did – at least I hope so – but my feeling would be “We can’t afford this.” It wouldn’t be, “Vacation isn’t a great idea right now” and it wouldn’t be “Let’s do a cheap vacation.” It would literally be “We can’t afford a vacation.” And that would not be a lie.

        2. Dame Edna*

          Assuming one can afford a divorce after a long period of unemployment, which many couples can’t. Savings are gone, credit cards are maxed out. Not only are the attorney’s and filing fees expensive (especially if there are children and/or property) but the cost of splitting up the household and pensions. Also, child support is based on the income of the non-custodial parent, and if they don’t have an income, then there won’t be much support. And if the house is in danger of foreclosure, forget about keeping the family house on a single income–the bank will probably not lower the mortgage payment so far that one person can afford it. Bankruptcy and even homelessness are very real possibilities unless family members are able to help out financially.

          Of course, there are the tremendous emotional impacts of divorcing as well, which I won’t even go into.

          I don’t feel that it’s fair or accurate to paint divorce as the moral high ground preferable to lying to a spouse (which I don’t believe Zip was doing, by the way) so that they’ll get a job and contribute to the household they live in. Divorce is a big deal, not to mention that some couples come from cultures that really frown upon divorce and they would be ostracized. Everyone’s situation is different.

          (A little off topic, but I had a friend with an alcoholic husband. They had lots of conversations about it, to no avail. He was a fan of the Reverend Billy Graham, and so she said that she decided to make up some “sermons” on drinking which she shared with him and told him were written by Billy Graham. Inspired by the sermons, he stopped drinking, and they’ve been married for almost 30 years. I don’t know if she ever told him her lie. Not saying this is okay, but…they seem to be happy.)

          1. Specialk9*

            That’s really disturbing too! Yegods. Did you draw the lesson to emulate them, rather than that you would never ever get stuck in a marriage like that?

        3. B*

          Lying isn’t healthy; I think limiting access to one party’s financial resources can be a OK if the other party is abusing them*. By which I mean, it’s A OK for Person A to limit Person B’s access to the funds and resources Person A brought to the relationship. It is NOT ok for person A to limit Person B’s access to Person B’s own funds and resources. Sometimes this even involves person A dumping person B and kicking them out of the shared living space / leaving the shared living space and not continuing to pay for it.
          *I do consider living off someone and not contributing satisfactorily in some other way as a form of financial abuse.

      2. Lora*

        Yeah, I tried the respectful adult conversation route for literally YEARS with ex-husband, to no avail: I put money in, he spent it on crap and his “job” involved driving to his buddy’s shop near the beach and sitting around playing video games all day, while I paid all the bills and the taxes on income he never brought home and certainly didn’t save. In a last ditch effort, took all the money but 1.5 months’ worth of expenses out of the joint account and put it into a personal account in my name only and said, you have already had several soft job offers from several other shops that will pay $$, although they will expect you to do work and not be gaming all day. Contact the shop owners who made you these soft offers at conventions, and tell them you want a job, and start going to that job on time and making money, or I am moving out and you will be on your buddy’s couch. I hope it’s a comfy couch.

        This is but one of many reasons he’s the ex. He shaped up for a few years thereafter but was mad for a long while that he had been issued an ultimatum at all despite two years of Adult Conversations.

        1. Specialk9*

          That sounds like a reasonable approach.

          We’re really not on Team Freeloader here. We’re not saying people don’t get to set boundaries, or make hard decisions when partners are being feckless and don’t seem inclined to change. At all!

          It’s just, there’s a difference between cutting off money, and manipulating to get what you want. The first is a hard point that many people eventually get to in this situation. The second is toxic, to the person doing and the person receiving.

          1. KHB*

            And I think a lot of the disagreement here is that some of us see Zip’s actions as squarely in the first of your two categories, whereas others see them in the second. And that, in turn, may be because we all have our own sense of what “we can’t afford it” really means.

          2. Lora*

            True. I can see getting to the point of that much frustration though, where one person thinks, “okay, you’re going to act like an irresponsible child, I will treat you like an irresponsible child.” Have seen it in friends’ and family relationships where one person who cannot or will not control their spending runs up bills that are seemingly impossible on utter crap, dumps them on the family member who brings home the bacon and is 100% recalcitrant to any adult talks or consequences short of, “I’m cutting you off / cutting you out of my life.”

            I have cousins in their 30s who have zero interest in getting a job as long as Mom and Dad can keep them in the spare room. No amount of mere discomfort, frank talks or encouragement has convinced them to get a job or get their own apartment. Their parents have concluded that they will just never retire, because they’ll be supporting these kids their whole lives. It’s a sucky choice to have to make: either you cut this person out of your life (and financially breathe a little easier) or you accept that you’re just going to have to support them, forever, and have no control over your own money which you worked your butt off to earn.

            1. Nita*

              This is the exact situation that’s going on with my cousins, and it’s definitely affecting how I see Zip’s reaction. It’s scary to watch even from the sidelines. Nothing gets through to them, and no one knows what will happen if their parents will cut off the money, but it seems this is the only thing that will get them out of the spare room and into anything that won’t end with them homeless on the street when Mom and Dad can no longer work.

              Obviously it’s sort of a different situation when it’s your child and not your spouse… you don’t divorce your children under any circumstances. But if it is your spouse and you made your vows to support them through anything… I think you’re at that point the closest person to them other than their parents, and you also have a responsibility to make sure they’re OK if they’re doing something self-destructive. Unless they’re abusive of course, that’s a different story.

  5. JokeyJules*

    Personally, I’d like to think I would just be supportive, casually remind him every week or so, and just overall happy with him when he gets good news, and an appropriate amount of sympathetic when he gets bad news.
    Appropriate is completely relative to how much you can handle until it starts to affect your feelings.

    If you’ve made your opinions clear about the soft money job prospects, then there isn’t much more to do.

    All of this is with the caveat that I am not married, and my s/o does not have a job similar to your husbands, so I’m not exactly the voice of reason and expertise here.

    1. Specialk9*

      Yeah but how would you handle getting snarled at because they stubbed their toe, or something other very minor thing? That’s the part that gets old, especially if it’s months at a time, every couple years.

  6. A username of extraordinary originality*

    What does “soft money” mean in this context? I googled but the results didn’t make much sense to me.

    1. MCL*

      In my context (academia) that means grant funding or other funding that is not a permanent salary line. So, when the grant funding runs out, the person on that funding loses their job.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Me four, but I don’t get why the only possible jobs are temporary. This seems to cry out for switching to working for a business with an R&D arm.

          1. anonymouse*

            Yeah, definitely look into companies with R&D departments. My s/o switched from soft money positions to an R&D department five years ago and is still there. It has some disadvantages compared to academia, but also some advantages. The job security is much better and we’ve used the stability to buy a house.

          2. Violet*

            In some fields with some specific types of research, there may not be any or many companies with an R&D arm that can use someone with that particular type of expertise. This is especially true if the scientist in geographically limited.

    2. hermit crab*

      I think OP’s husband is probably in scientific research, and the research is funded through a grant or other temporary, external funding source. So when the project is over/the grant runs out, he has to find new work.

    3. Armchair Analyst*

      That funding and employment is not guaranteed by employer or investor.
      The money is there and may be there for a project or 2, even a long-term research project, but when that runs out and if research does not show compelling (read: market-ready) application, there is unlikely to be more funding available.
      Usually funding is available by grants that are applied to, say, a government agency (imagine the US EPA funding a environmental cleanup, and then the current (any) administration says there is no longer any money available for said cleanup and that everything is done). Or a university or philanthropic foundation may have money available for a certain cause or project, but then there is no reason to keep funding, or another favored organization wins the new grant.

    4. No name yet*

      Usually that one’s salary is funded by grants. And grants have a clear end-point, so your job lasts for X number of years and then is automatically over, no matter how good/bad you’re doing. It can work well, but can be TOUGH to manage.

    5. Blue Cupcake*

      I was wondering the same thing. I never heard of “soft money” before. Does it mean he does not want a permanent job or can’t find a permanent job? Something else?

      1. Oxford Comma*

        If it’s academia, it’s not abnormal for people to be employed this way. I have friends who like the nature of the work and like the variety it affords them.

        1. Birch*

          I work in academia and I’ve never heard of this term. I’m confused as to why it’s a problem though in this situation. Surely OP’s husband knows that choosing to work in academia means this is how the system is? Why the feet-dragging? I mean, I get it, having to basically apply to a new job every few years sucks, but everyone knows that’s how it works.

          It sounds like he wants a change but doesn’t know how to make it. OP, you say it isn’t easy for him to exit this cycle, but nothing in life is *easy*. You could ask him if he’d like to get more education or try for a different kind of role. Or to get out of this cycle entirely, if there’s an industry that’s related to his education. It doesn’t sound like this is working for him anymore.

          1. Laurelma__01!*

            It’s also called a “restricted” position. As others stated, you get the benefit of being an university employee, but it lacks the sense of security. There is a time limit on the grant. If the grant isn’t going where it’s supposed to be doing, the funding may disappear. The funding source is no longer viable. In some instances they have to write the grant to pays their salary. It’s not a position that is considered permanent. Some of the more interesting “soft money / restricted” positions are for short term projects that are more interesting than a regular academic position.

            1. Birch*

              Thanks, I know what it is–I’m actually in this type of position right now. I just hadn’t heard that term. I don’t work in the US, so maybe that’s why. My point is that whether you know that term or not, it’s widely understood that this is how much of academia, especially early-career, works. If OP’s husband doesn’t like the structure, he should think about what might be a better fit for him. I really doubt that OP’s husband is writing his own grants if he only has a Master’s degree, so I wonder if that is part of the problem–that he doesn’t feel he has control over his own career.

              1. Oxford Comma*

                It could also be contributing to what the OP described as “imposter syndrome.”

              2. JSPA*

                Yep, standard US term. You’re on grant money. You have a title, but your job ceases to exist, if the grant either ends, or if the money is pulled from the existing grant. Grants ending is normal; grant money disappearing is not rare. You can have a 5 year grant from the Department of Energy, or National Institute of Health, but if Congress only funds 50% of what those departments projected they’d be getting (based on past funding), each grant can either be cut proportionally, or some grants can be funded, and others not. If you’ve just closed on a house or had a baby, expecting those 5 years at a certain salary level, it’s a rude shock. These days, many academics are in this situation throughout their normal childbearing years; so you can’t just wait it out. We’re in our 50’s, one of us is a full prof, and it’s all still soft money.

          2. BottleBlonde*

            I’m confused by the feet-dragging as well. I left academia after finishing grad school, but during my tenure with my research department, I saw a number of grants run out. People were informed of their end dates well ahead of time, given flexibility to attend interviews/etc. near the end of their tenure, and were generally well-supported during their transitions. I get that it’s frustrating to have to apply for new jobs so frequently, but I’m confused with the seeming lack of planning described.

            1. Artemesia*

              This and a mature researcher you would think would have something lined up well before the end of the grants or be in such demand that people would be reaching out. Most researchers at universities are either faculty or grad students or post docs so there is not a lot of hiring of full time researchers and those who are in that kind of position tend to be fairly secure. Time to reflect on a career change.

          3. Violet*

            It’s more common in the sciences and some social sciences, so that may be why. And I think it’s pretty common for people to know that’s just how it goes and ALSO to be incredibly frustrated and grumpy about it. (I know plenty of academics who constantly complain about their work and also would rather do it rather than anything else in the world.)

      2. MCL*

        Often research positions in labs are funded by grants, and that’s how many people in those fields have jobs. There are several lab positions that are on long-term grant funding that has a high likelihood of being renewed (EG, cancer research stuff), whereas there are some positions that are on more short-term funding, like OP’s spouse seems to be. It’s not usually quite so simple as “find a job with a permanent salary line,” because a lot of research jobs are just not funded that way.

        1. TL -*

          I was just thinking, wow this sounds way more stressful than the labs I was in – but they were all large, successful cancer research labs (and the first one was hard money, not grants, for salaries.) The project manager in my last lab had been with my boss for a decade, so a very different experience indeed.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        I wonder if this is part of the issue. It sounds like grant-funded jobs are the norm in his field, but is there something about this type of job that’s making it even harder? Like, he feels like if he were better at his job he’d be able to land a permanent position, even if that’s irrational given the market? Or with each job search he sees his future career laid out as another 20-30 years of this kind of short-term work, and that’s really demoralizing? Or with this kind of career it’s hard to advance and “move up”? Or it’s impossible to build up retirement savings and he’s always having to re-start from the bottom on vacation time?

        Even if he likes the work, I can imagine this kind of job hunt feeling like he’s stuck on a treadmill forever. That doesn’t help solve the problem, really, but might help explain it.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          Depending on his research and the institution, he might feel like he has little to no control. He might not be able to write his own grants to secure funding. The rules at different places vary, so he might be able to. The rules are tricky, too, IIRC- you can’t spend your salaried time to write more grants.

          What’s curious to me is whether he’s being pro-active in his network. A grant has a clear expiration date. Is he asking or advocating that he gets written into subsequent grants, well before the current one ends? I’m in that situation, as are other colleagues. It’s not ideal but it gives you some possibilities before the money runs out and gives you some control.

          1. Original Poster*

            I think this round has been worse because the grant was tugged due to things beyond the laboratory’s control (political situation) and instead of getting the normal one year head’s up, he’s gotten several months. Which, to me, still seems great, as I’m in a completely different industry! But you’re right- normally when he has the clarity of grants working as they were intended to, his job hunt is a lot less difficult for him.

    6. Hello Sweetie*

      It means the money is coming from a grant not the institution. So the principle investigator that received the grant wrote in support for a research scientist, and that grant may have had a 1-5 year range of support. At the end of the grant, the PI needs to either get another grant with support for a research scientist or the scientist has to find someone else with grant support. It can be very stressful to be on 100% soft money but in research labs that’s very common.

      My first lab as an RA, we were constantly stressed about making sure there was continued grant support for my position. After I left for grad school my PI hired someone to replace me, but the grant ran out about 8 months later, and since she didn’t have another grant in place before it ran out she had to let my replacement go.

      In my post-doc lab we were lucky that there was some institutional support, so some of the positions were on hard money, meaning that even if my PI lost his grants, some of the positions would continue to be supported by the institution.

  7. Amber Rose*

    In my experience, this is a two step process. Step 1 is to shut down the crankyness. That means the first snappy, whiney or otherwise unhelpful comments get a straight “I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way. You need to either speak to me calmly, or I’ll go away and come back when you’re ready to do that.”

    Step two is to come up with a list of job hunting steps together, and then just go through them. Job hunting isn’t a totally unpredictable process after all. If you can work together to make a master checklist he can just run through, and you can break him of the habit of flailing around, then you can just be support from the sides rather than running yourself ragged.

    Note: I used this process with my husband when he was struggling in a job he already had, rather than looking for a new one. But the idea is the same: stop the unhelpful patterns, set up some useful ones. It doesn’t matter if his self esteem is bad, for this. You need him to stop wallowing in it.

    1. grace*

      This is how I (try!) to handle things with my boyfriend. He’s a manager at a restaurant, which has its own rules and conventions, and is supposed to be moving to my city in a few months – but oh my gooooooddddd is he awful at job hunting. It’s so hard to figure out how my super motivated, kind guy turns into someone who sends 3 applications in 3 months, but something about job hunting just burrows in and hurts people in a way that you can’t expect.

      I sat him down, personally, and set timelines and deadlines and reminded him that I can get as involved as he wants — or not involved, whichever way. I think helping to set things out and giving that locus of control back helped him, so maybe it would help your guy, too.

      1. Maddie*

        Carolyn Hax would say be very cautious about marrying this guy. He’s not super motivated when push comes to shove.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Carolyn Hax can say what she likes, but I think it’s very common for people to respond differently to job searching situations than to other stressors – something about the combination of the financial stress aspect, the lack of control, the rejections, the way that we tend to culturally construct a big portion of our identities around What We Do For A Living in a way that makes any threat to What We Do very painful – and I don’t think it’s particularly fair to extrapolate from that to a person’s entire personality by making claims about how motivated they are or aren’t “when push comes to shove.”

          1. grace*

            This is a lot more polite than what I was thinking :) I think there’s really just something about a job hunt that makes you a little less … put together? I go totally overboard during mine – spreadsheets EVERYWHERE. My boyfriend does the opposite. Somehow we both find jobs and make it work as a relationship, and Carolyn Hax may be cautious about marrying him, but I’m sure as hell not …. in a few years.

        2. frederf*

          Carolyn Hax doesn’t know this guy, so she can zip it
          Many people find jobhunting extremely stressful. They say the most stressful things are funerals and moving. To me, the worst thing I’ve ever had to do was jobhunting. I hate my job. I dread going to work every day. It got me to the point of wanting to jump off a bridge. But I stay where I am, because I don’t want to deal with the stress of searching for a new job.
          We all respond to things in our own way.

      2. Artemesia*

        This is the path to being his Mommy and that is not the path to a long term romance. Men who whose wives are their mommies tend to begin to act the way teenage boys act towards nagging mothers. Managing your spouse’s personal career is a good step on the path to divorce or misery.

        1. Violet*

          Oh man, I strongly disagree. Helping your partner out with areas they struggle with isn’t necessarily ‘mommying’ them. This is especially the case if they are only job hunting infrequently and get better at it over time.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      This is great advice. I would also add a step 2a, which is to specify who is responsible for what in the job searching process, and to strictly limit your own role. For example, you can proofread his resume, but you won’t write it for him; you will spend no more than X amount of time looking for job postings on his behalf, etc. (In my house, X is 0 – I will pass something along if I happen to come across it, but I won’t spend any time at all actively looking.)

      I agree with sjjjz above that it sounds like you’re doing a lot of emotional labour for your husband, and also that it may not be your best choice. What would happen if you just let him job search, or not, in his own way? And if you just walked away or changed the subject when he gets cranky with you? After all, he’s an adult, and if his job is “job searching” right now – well then, that’s his job. Whether he’s cranky about it or not, whether he actually does it or not – all that is on him, not you. You can help him of course, but be careful about taking on too much labour that’s not really yours to take (especially when you can’t control the outcome.)

    3. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I like this approach a lot, especially step #1! My partner and I can both get cranky and snap, and when that happens the other retreats until we’re both ready to be rational. It’s saved us a lot of arguments!

      For step #2, I’m assuming one of you already knows the steps from his previous searches, but if not, is there anyone else at his current or previous jobs you feel comfortable asking for help? Maybe having a peer rather than spouse will help him make more progress.

    4. Jack Be Nimble*

      Super good advice about shutting down the crankyness! Even if he’s frustrated, he doesn’t get to take it out on you/your pets/other people in the household. It’s okay to feel grumpy, it’s not okay to be mean-spirited or to lash out in misdirected anger. (Which may or may not be happening, but it’s worth stating either way!)

    5. B*

      Yeah, I think the job hunt is on husband, other people can’t really manage that. The crankiness though is part of their relationships and has two parts 1) boundaries, don’t tolerate poor behavior 2) being emotionally supportive when and where it is helpful (ie, reassurance that they are a good person, have great reviews, etc – again this should ideally be in response to some kind of respectful signal like “hey, I’m feeling pretty down, can I get a hug?” not a dysfunctional one like snapping over something small then wailing “oh I’m so terrible”)

    6. LCH*

      this is what my BF does whenever it is time for me to find a new job. i also work on grant-funding. he frequently edits my cover letters, but sometimes i get cranky over the edits and he’s like, are you sure you want this help?

  8. AnonResearchManager*

    Maybe your husband needs a job coach rather than relying on his regular therapist for this particular issue. I’m usually not a fan of job coaching myself; but in his case it may help him to stay motivated, on-task, and give him some much needed perspective. If he’s good about participating in his regular therapy maybe he’d be open to a “specialist” for this.

    1. A Reader*

      I agree with this. If a job coach isn’t in the cards for any reason, then perhaps pairing the OP’s husband with an acquaintance who is also out of work can help. It builds accountability, they have to check in with each other (“Did you ever fill out that application for the Super Cool Job?”), send each other tips on interviewing, etc. It will give the husband someone to talk to and give the OP a bit of breathing room so she doesn’t have to make the husband’s job search HER job search.

      1. Specialk9*

        I posted somewhere on this page with a link to finding a local, CTI – certified career coach. Hopefully it’s out of mod.

    2. SpaceNovice*

      Yeah, a regular therapist might not be equipped to give him concrete advice that he can act on with regards to job searching.

    3. Larina*

      I came here to say this! While I haven’t actually had a job coach before, I saw some of myself in your husband, and I was seriously considering getting a job coach in the coming months if I hadn’t started getting interviews.

      I know some of my impostor syndrome came from my husband being so successful with landing interviews and eventually getting a job offer while I was also job hunting. I felt pretty inadequate, and it didn’t motivate me in the least.

      A job coach might be the right motivator, and someone he can more easily express his frustrations to. And hopefully once he gets started with a coach, you won’t have to do so much emotional labor.

  9. Guacamole Bob*

    I put my spouse through this a few times in my 20’s. For me, it was due to the fact that I had no career direction, wasn’t excited about the jobs I was applying for, didn’t feel qualified for any more interesting jobs, and job hunting tied into all of my general angst about not knowing what I wanted to do with my life.

    I eventually got my act together and went back to grad school, and now I have a specific career path. Job hunting is way less stressful because it’s clear what kinds of jobs I should apply for, I’m well-qualified for those jobs, I’m actually interested in them, etc. Since that shift, I’ve realized that it’s way easier to network, job hunt, etc. when you’re generally satisfied with the way things are going. I can give genuine answers to people’s questions about what I want to do! I am actually excited when I read job postings sometimes! It’s great, and emphasizes how much of a drag it is to job hunt when you don’t feel those things.

    What made me finally get my act together was a combination of timing on other things in our lives (moves for my spouse’s job, starting a family) and seeing the results of some friends’ decisions around career and family that ended up in not the direction I wanted my life to go. So, not particularly replicable, unfortunately.

    Not sure any of that is helpful to OP – my guess is that the husband isn’t as happy as he could be in his career, even if he’s not terribly unhappy day-to-day, and job searching is the time that all comes to the fore. In my case basically nothing my spouse did mattered, so my advice would be to just stay out of it as much as possible and save your own sanity. And support any long-term efforts towards changing career direction.

    1. Original Poster*

      This is really interesting for us to think over- he says he loves his job/field, and it shows in his hobbies, but maybe there’s a different entry point into this field than this soft money hop…

    2. Specialk9*

      I’ve posted here before about the Johnson O’Connor career aptitude testing, as a teen or as an adult looking to make a mid career transition. I know 3 people who did it and found it very helpful.

      In my husband’s case he was thinking of going to grad school (hello $60k of debt), but in what? They actually showed him that his job was fine for his aptitudes, but not his kind of org.

      They also gave insight into why past jobs that he should have been good at, based on skills, didn’t work out for other reasons — which he’d been worrying at in his head for years. And it helped me understand this complicated human I was married to, like, ohhhh that’s how those puzzle pieces fit together!

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Heh. My Johnson O’Connor story is that my grandfather was a huge proponent and paid for me to get my aptitudes tested when I was fairly new out of college. They told me my top career fit was llama wrangler. Whatever. I wasn’t ready for grad school or serious career thinking at that point, put it in a drawer and forgot about it. I stumbled back over the results 10 years later around the time I was applying to grad school… in llama wrangling. I had reached their conclusion on my own, in the end.

        I worked through some career books as I was finally ready to make some changes/go to grad school and highly recommend The Pathfinder. You have to actually spend some time with it doing the exercises and thinking about it, but it was very helpful.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          One thing that both Johnson O’Connor and The Pathfinder did was help me see how many different dimensions there are to work, and how they matter differently to different people. Subject matter, day to day tasks, level of interaction with colleagues, level of interaction with new people or the public, degree of autonomy, office configuration, stability, hours… the list goes on. Some people would be happy in a windowless basement cube if their daily tasks are interesting, and others would happily do tedious data entry all day if their coworkers were nice and the office provided free snacks.

          It’s entirely possible that your husband loves his job and field and there’s still something about these types of jobs that just doesn’t work for him. For example: my field has similar jobs, with fairly similar duties, in both the public and private sectors. (Basically, be in house with an agency or work as a consultant.) Despite their similarities, these jobs have very different pros and cons and many people strongly prefer one over the other. If I swapped, I would still love my job and field but I think I’d be less happy overall and have more trouble doing job searching and career building type stuff.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yes, it opened my eyes to that too. I kind of thought it was based on skills, but instead it’s like a web of skills and inclinations and interests. I’d love to take it myself, but I’m happy in my work so can’t justify the cost.

  10. Armchair Analyst*

    Been here, as a spouse, mostly. Encourage him to find self-worth outside of the job and job hunt, through friends, hobbies, other valuable things inside and outside of the house and within the (non-professional) community of worship, volunteering, online, whatever y’all do.
    Also, please encourage him to meet with friends one-on-one, and discreetly encourage them to at least meet with Husband once for lunch or coffee to keep his spirits up, too. Feeling valued goes a long way.

    I do recommend that, except for the actual money of bills, etc. disengage as much as possible from his job hunt, except for encouragement, i.e. no nagging/reminding/begging, looking to contact for him beyond the friendship thing. He can handle it, or he can contact his grad school alumni career office. He’s a smart dude. You are, too.

    1. KH*

      +1 for the disengaging. My ex and I worked in very different industry (and were from very different cultures), and when I was on the job market she got SO INVOLVED and was constantly telling me what I was doing “wrong”. From my perspective, it was controlling and disrespectful; from her perspective, I was “lazy”, since I wasn’t doing the things that look like a job search in her industry in the location where she grew up.

      The solution for us was that we never talked about my job search between ourselves, and we each processed our feelings about my career with our (separate) therapists. It sounds like you’re also going the therapist route, OP, so keep doing that! Also, it’s okay to insist on strong boundaries with this — if he’s being grumpy etc _towards you_, that’s really not okay.

    2. Luna*

      +1, good advice. It’s also good to keep in mind that a lot of times people really don’t want to hear a list of suggestions and all the things you think they could/should do, what they really want is empathy. Just a minute or two of “that’s really hard, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that again.” That’s it. No need to do the work for him, he knows how to do that himself.

    3. Person of Interest*

      Completely agree. I went through this with my husband and you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. You can ask them to not take out their frustrations on you, and you can offer to be helpful if they want you to (in my case my husband asked me to help revise his resume). And every once in a while or if he complains about his current job I’ll ask him if he’s found any interesting postings (in what I hope is a neutral tone!) But he had to come to the decision to actively job hunt in his own time.

    4. Nita*

      Been there too! I found it very hard to stay out of the job hunting process, because my husband was bringing all that stress home and I didn’t want it affecting all of us, thank you very much. Only, my help was pretty pointless because we had different ideas on what direction the search should take, and he never followed through on my ideas. What did help was the gazillion conversations we had about stress management techniques, and how inappropriate it is to take out your stress on your family. He’s gotten much better both about not letting the stress get to him, and about being less cranky when it does.

      Job-wise, he ended up improving his quals in the same field he’s in now and landing a new job that’s slightly less bad but still not good – it comes with the territory. I’m hoping that one day he’ll find a way to change fields altogether, but he isn’t confident he can – and to be fair, his experience is pretty specific and doesn’t transfer well. So we’re both just resigning ourselves to him always having a job that’s some kind of dumpster fire, and trying to keep ourselves sane despite that.

      1. Specialk9*

        Sometimes people think they only have X quals, but I recently switched fields abruptly (and not initially by choice though I’m actually into it now) – and my big revelation is that it’s all just project management, man.

    5. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      Exactly! When I wasn’t exactly happy or stable with work, I still felt some worth and direction in raising the foster cats with my wife.

    6. Original Poster*

      This is super helpful, especially as we’re discussing this post together and its becoming more clear that it is a self image/perception issue. He really thrives on the feeling of accomplishment and really enjoys his work. I’m hopeful there are other areas he can get that feeling- something neither of us have considered before.

      1. Specialk9*

        Also, exercise, it’s so important when you feel bad about yourself.

        I love swimming, myself. Head under water, removed from everything, focusing on technique and that little black line. There’s something magic about swimming for me.

        (Not universal, I know, my BFF feels like she’s actively choking/strangling the whole time. Eek! But she has other exercise she loves.)

        1. Iris Eyes*

          Yes to exercise!

          Possibly also having a task list around the house and/or part time volunteer work that can lend a sense of accomplishment and concrete achievement.

          Also, some people just aren’t built for working from home. And job searching is for sure work. Maybe working from a library or coffee shop or even a co-working space may be more effective. Getting the job searching to an other place may help him leave associated feelings there are well. And keeping up a familiar routine (i.e. I get up and get dressed in work clothes and drive somewhere at this time every day) can help provide order and comfort.

      2. Wandering Scot*

        Is he in a field where there are industry start-ups? My years in a start-up are still the most fun I ever had at work, for the reasons I enjoyed academia: stimulating, smart, committed colleagues, fluid roles, the chance to build skills at need, minus the crabs in a bucket aspect that comes from chronically restricted funding. Not necessarily the most secure environment (the money’s there until one day it isn’t), but the pay’s better than academia, and start-ups attract adventurers, so I now have contacts in a couple of dozen different companies around the world.

  11. thunderbird*

    As someone who is part of the precarious workforce, moving from contract to contract, I get it. Job hunting is exhausting, not being able to plan too far into the future is anxiety provoking, not knowing when the next contract will come around is terrifying, especially if you have to manage gaps in between without a source of income.

    That said, as someone who hates networking, this is my best advice, get your name and your reputation out there. Build up a list of contacts and maintain a connection. I have slowly begun to ease some of my anxiety by growing my network and as my contracts start to wind down I reach out and let people know that I am looking. Many of my contacts have connected me to other contacts and the network continues to grow. To assist with this I also recommend having someone with a large network help you build connections, it makes it easier and always helps to have that bridge. It will become more manageable with time!

    1. Lisa Babs*

      I’m going to second this advice. Because it can be done while he still has a job so he’s not in “crankypants mood”. Meaning while he still has a job. Since he knows he will need to look eventually, as a nature of his work.
      For people the hate networking, I recently read an article on building your networks and not networking. Which helped me re shape how I thought about networking and made it more palatable. The gist is not working the room or other cliches you think of when you hear the word “networking”. It’s becoming focused with building relationships. Long term. Long lasting. Relationships. It can even be online. It’s just about cultivating relationships with people. When I think of it that way it’s not as scary and easier.

      1. thunderbird*

        Great points, what also helped me was to stop thinking about it as trying to “sell myself” or have a specific outcome or expectation. Instead I try to get to know people and ask them about their experiences, to learn from them and be genuinely curious, and from there you build relationships vs. the stereotypical networking transaction.

      2. efb*


        Generally in grant funded research you have some sense of when funding will run out and the position will end, so being proactive about networking within your research niche and reaching out to that network as things wind down is extremely helpful.

  12. Anon for now*

    Been there. Since being involved and not being involved are both not effective, I prefer to not be involved. I’ve told the spouse that I can’t be the person he vents to about this because it’s too emotionally taxing to have his baggage dumped on me when any effort I make to alleviate the load is argued about or ignored. If he wants to have a different attitude and have me help out, great, but since that’s not what happens, then nope. He can see a therapist for that as I am not trained to deal with the constant negativity.

    It may come up tangentially when discussing household finances, e.g., “We’re not on target for Christmas vacation savings so what should we plan to do to scale back? We can reevaluate when we have more income coming in.” “Our [expense] just went up, where should we cut back to make up for it?”

    But that’s about it. If he has something *positive* to say about the job search like, “I applied to X” or “I connected with Former Coworker about an opportunity,” I will respond with a positive attaboy/go get ’em, tiger/high five. But I won’t take on a river of negativity.

    1. LilySparrow*

      This is where I am, as well. Fortunately, my husband is currently working in a job he likes, but because of his passive approach, he’s seriously underpaid. He does talk about looking for something else, but it’s pretty lackadaisical.

      I used to “help” by showing him listings that I know he’s completely qualified for and use the skills he likes best, but that just set off a “pushback” dynamic that was really destructive. He would reflexively reject things, and by focusing on all the reasons why it wouldn’t work, he talked himself into feeling more and more worthless and stuck.

      I did talk to him several times to clarify exactly what he wants. We are in related fields, so I will sometimes see jobs for him in my own searches. If I see a listing that exactly matches his interest, I will casually mention that it exists and only send the link if he asks for it.

      Being hands off about the search and very open about our financial needs has helped him be more willing to take initiative, because he feels that he’s solving a specific problem.

  13. AnotherAlison*

    It seems like you need to understand the root cause of the crankiness to help.

    If it’s the actual “hunt” itself, you could talk to him about moving to a different field. To which the response could be that he actually enjoys the field, so you could find a way to help remind him to stay focused on his desire to stay in that field when he’s getting whiny during a search.

    If it’s the stress of unemployment and unstructured time, he could keep a wish list of things he wants to do at his next transition so that he could actually have something to look forward to during the inevitable job hunt. (This could be a home improvement project or a list of books to read.)

    If it’s financial stress, you could focus on building up a big safety net so that he doesn’t have time pressure in getting the new gig.

    Of course, none of this is really for YOU to do. . .I’m sorry you have to put so much work into his work.

    1. Mockingjay*

      The hardest thing about job hunting, at least for me, is having to step out of my current known role and into a marketing role to sell myself to a new employer.

      It is NOT a natural role for me, which makes it hard, intimidating, and stressful. As a government contractor working on finite contracts, I’ve gotten better at it, but I still struggle each time.

      Seconding the advice to use a professional service for resume writing, career coaching, and job hunting. Having a professional to check with at each step of the job hunt would provide structure for the OP’s husband and alleviate stress for the OP.

    2. Original Poster*

      This is really helpful- the root cause seems to be (upon his reflection on your comment and what he’s been telling me) a lot of insecurity and anxiety about who he is and how he sees himself. Which of course I can’t do anything about except love him and be supportive. He’s expressed a lot of excitement about bringing this to therapy- hopeful!

      1. Specialk9*

        Those are really encouraging reactions. Seriously. You can work with this one! :D

  14. LinesInTheSand*

    I went through this with my s/o and I learned some hard lessons about myself. One is that I was so emotionally invested in his job search that it tore me up and made me neurotic when it wasn’t going as fast as I wanted. It drove me nuts and I had no control over it and that made it worse. So I had to manage my own emotional responses first, before I could do anything else.

    I do think it’s fair to have a discussion about leaving work at work, or at the job search in this case. Job searching is high stress and not fun for him, fine. Allowing the job search funk to linger and pervade every interaction he has with you for the n months it takes to settle into something new, not fine. You can’t necessarily do much about the job hunt, but you can ask that he not allow it to damage the rest of your relationship.

    1. grace*

      I wrote up above about how I’ve been dealing with some variant of this, and just wanted to say that your first paragraph is exactly the conclusion I’ve had come to. I’m a total control freak — my lists have lists! But I had to learn / am learning how to let go and let him do things his own way. It’s hard to put into practice, though. :)

      1. Future Homesteader*

        Yup! My husband and I have been through this a couple of times, and the best thing I’ve ever done is put up strict boundaries and disengage (which is not something that comes naturally to either of us, we’re both beat-the-horse-to-death kind of people [which normally works, but not here]).

        Literally, I made rules that we couldn’t discuss the job hunt before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm. I told him that I’d help him with short, concrete things (reading a cover letter here and there), but that he needed to be clear with me what he wanted (proofreading, or actual critiquing of the content). This all helped somewhat and made me calmer, and ended some of the negativity spirals where we would get snippy with each other. Ultimately, though, it was his getting a job that really calmed things down. So I think your best bet is to disengage as much as you can, be supportive, and focus on what you can control.

        1. grace*

          I love this — nothing should be talked about before 8am in my opinion! I know for us, it’s been such a learning experience, because we both process stress differently, AND communicate differently – but figuring out how to make those different processes work together was one of the most rewarding things. It just took a lot of trial and error ;) We’ve worked it out so that we have a vague timeline – I’d love for it to be more detailed, he’d love less, ha – and if he wants my help, he asks for it. If I want an update, I ask. But we don’t bring it up constantly or harass each other, because we both know that won’t work in the end.

          OP, I hope something here helps you!

          1. Future Homesteader*

            The 8:00 am was for him, the 9:00 pm for me. :-)

            Seconding the hope that OP finds something useful – as we can see from the responses here, this is a complicated but not unusual situation. It seems like every couple has found a different way to handle it – I hope you guys find yours!

      2. LinesInTheSand*

        My best strategy so far is giving myself permission to do nothing for a specific time window. For example, I was at a job that was making me unhappy and it wasn’t clear how long that situation would persist, or whether I could last that long. So finally, since I couldn’t make a decision on what to do, whether to job search, etc, I set an event on my calendar for “Reevaluate my job” with a date 6 months away. That relieved a lot of the internal pressure to “do *something*” about the situation.

  15. NewJobWendy*

    You cannot be both cheerleader and coach. My husband is basically the same personality but without the added advantage of education. So decide if you’re going to be coach or cheerleader and then stick to that role – direct him to other resources for the rest. Finance-wise, figure out a deadline. As in “You need to have a job by X date with a minimum salary of Y.” He might work better with a firm deadline and goal. For me and my spouse this was easy – we cannot live on one income no matter how many expenses we trim because of the high cost of living in our area, so we every month that passed was a huge hit to our tiny savings account as we paid rent. That put (unfortunately) a lot of pressure on his search, but also helped keep him motivated. Since nothing you do seems to help, do what you need to have a peaceful marriage while he figures this out, with minimal stress to yourself.

  16. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand*

    I don’t have any advice really, but I just wanted to express my sympathies. My husband behaves similarly when job searching, and it is incredibly frustrating. I used to send him job postings, proofread his resume, help him with cover letters, etc., but I have just withdrawn completely because of how grumpy he gets, and how frustrated I get in return. Best of luck, OP!

  17. fposte*

    For you, I’d recommend backing off. Not that you’re necessarily overinvolved, just that you’re investing in changing something that may never change and wanting desperately to help a situation that may not be helpable. You don’t mention finances in this, so I’m thinking they’re probably okay, and it sounds like your husband does pretty reliably find another job. So maybe what’s going on is just the process for your husband and your household, and it might be more beneficial for you to accept this as his version of stage fright that occurs with every job-change performance than to be determined that things need to be different.

    Your husband may already be there–he could just be accustomed to this phase, accept the suck, and adjust when it’s done. If so, my advice to him is to help his wife understand that this is a process rather than a problem. But I’d also advise him to at least keep an eye on the hard-money opportunities and crunch some numbers (I have a sibling in the same situation who moved to hard money at a lower pay rate, for instance, but the benefits made up for it), thinking about what he wants long-term for himself and his family as well as for now.

    1. waffles*

      +1 to this. My partner hates job hunting with a passion. Though in the beginning I tried to help them with it, I realized it was better for our relationship if I just didn’t. My alternative strategy is to say I’m very stressed about this, please soothe me by talking through what’s going on. Though it sounds kind of sarcastic, I’ve actually found it makes me feel better, and it doesn’t bug them too much just to talk about things. We’ve been so lucky that we’ve never had a huge financial setback we couldn’t handle; so I have never had to find a way to really facilitate or support them through a very hated but necessary task. The one time we got close to it, it was very emotional for both of us, and a sad time overall. If you do have to go through it, then I think you have to bring all of your awareness about your relationship and how you best communicate to the table.

    2. Original Poster*

      Your first paragraph is extremely helpful. I’ve mentioned in a comment below, but this is the only area of our life together (so far, in ten years) where he gets like this. Maybe it IS just how he negotiates this and I have to just give him the room to do it.

  18. Been There*

    I am also a soft-money scientist at the doctoral level. I have also been the partner of a soft-money funded scientist, so I have a lot of experience with this issue. I have a couple of thoughts:
    1) The end of funding/grant money is almost entirely predictable (barring true disaster!) and can be planned for. If you know that your funding is ending, it becomes a rhythm to start hustling for another money source. Thus, this can be entirely planned for and expected. Though I know a lot of people who “feel” blindsided and thrown off by this, that’s unnecessary. It’s stressful, but it can help to manage expectations.
    2) I am dubious that there is truly no other option than this funding mechanism. That is rarely the case. I think it’s important for your husband (and you) to sit down to really think through whether this way of working is really truly working for him and your family. It is TRULY not for everyone! Once one is open to other opportunities, they are easier to see. He may have to make some compromises about the content of his job, but that might be a good trade off for job security. And as a masters-level scientist, he is likely not the PI lead on grants, and may have some opportunities to come at his work from a different, more secure angle.
    3) You have to think about what will and will not work for you, and set firm boundaries. Detach with love and let him sort this out for himself, and work out scripts to address the usual things that he says: “I hear that you’re frustrated, and I am willing to support you in any way that I can, but I cannot listen to you complain (or have my weekend plans derailed, or talk you off the ledge) for hours every day for six months. I need…” or “In the past, you have done….with this job search, and that has been challenging for our family because….This time, can we work out a plan to better prepare and make sure you have the support you need?” And have these discussions well ahead of time, because, again, these changes in funding are absolutely predictable.
    4) See the therapist together to negotiate this process to make it easier for all of you!

    Good luck!

    1. Lora*

      +1000. This is perfect advice.

      I…hope it works for you, OP. I tried this in relationships and it didn’t work so hot, because the people I was relationshipping with had Issues around work and money management which I was not willing to take on. But it should work.

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      This is excellent advice. Depending on his field, there might be some excellent advice from his professional society on other jobs he could do.

    3. AMPG*

      This is all excellent advice. I think the through-line here is that the things you are doing now aren’t working, and so the most important part of changing the dynamic is that you work on finding a new approach together. That new approach may be something none of us can foresee right now, because we’re not you, but embracing the possibility of change is what’s going to get you there.

  19. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

    I’m not as familiar with “soft money” jobs, but perhaps connecting him with a recruiter would be helpful? I worked with a recruiter to help me find a job while I was preparing for a graduate school exam, and found it incredibly helpful.

  20. Jack Be Nimble*

    Finding a way to add structure to the process might save you both a little sanity!

    He might benefit from organizational tools like tracking spreadsheets or bullet journals. I tend to get frustrated with processes that feel bigger than me, so having some kind of record to look back on and confirm that I’m doing *something* helps me retain a sense of control. Even if I’m waiting on hearing back from 14 different people, being able to look at my tracker and confirm that I’ve applied to X, Y, and Z, followed up with A, and am volunteering with B makes me feel accomplished when I might otherwise feel as if I’m spinning my wheels.

    However your husband chooses to manage his job search, it’s probably a better bet (although likely no easier) for you to manage your own emotions and expectation. Figure out how much time/energy/assistance you’re able to offer to him, and commit to that. Tell him “I can spend X hours a week proofreading cover letters/looking at job boards/putting together a tracking spreadsheet, is that something that you’d find helpful?” If he says no, ask what *would* be helpful and follow his lead. Maybe he’d rather conduct his job search independently, but could use some extra emotional support in the meantime. Maybe he’s overwhelmed by his email inbox and needs help triaging incoming messages.

    The goal isn’t to take over (which he may find infantilizing) or to wash your hands of the process (which he may find alienating) but to decide together how you’re going to work together to make his job search as not-unpleasant as possible for you both.

    Good luck!

    1. Original Poster*

      This is really exciting to think about! I think the inherent disorganization (apply through these websites! no apply directly to this program! fill out this government form then this application on a different website) might be contributing to some of the anxiety- its hard to see the concrete steps he’s taken when they’re not really recorded clearly.

      1. Jack Be Nimble*

        Yaay for organization as a balm for anxiety!

        My own job application spreadsheet includes columns for the job title, the company, a job description (in case the post is taken down), method of application (email w/ attachments to hiring manager, application through a portal), how I heard of the job, the date I applied, and interview dates. I also have a notes column where I’ll put down other info (estimated length of commute, whether I have a networking connection with someone at the company, etc.)

        I also color-coordinate using the fill tool — grey jobs are ones where I am no longer in consideration, green are postings I haven’t applied to, orange are ones where I have an interview scheduled etc.

        The trick is to hit the sweet spot between simplicity and information overload. Too many blanks to fill in, and using it will become a chore. Too few, and it won’t be useful. The sweet spot will probably be different for everyone — I love spreadsheets, and I could happily spend days adding extra columns with more details and Byzantine color-coding, so I have to curb my impulse to over-complicate.

        1. ch77*

          Oh, I love a good spreadsheet. Not currently jobhunting, but I love how you described this one. Keeping note of it for any future needs.

    2. LQ*

      I’m putting this away for future job searches for me. I always struggle to stay organized and it’s in a million little to do today lists so having it all in one well organized one would soothe that!

  21. Cordoba*

    How much of his self-image is wrapped up in being a very accomplished person with a Master’s degree? It seems likely that the answer is “a lot”. If that’s the case, having that part of his life repeatedly yanked out from under him probably is very upsetting and disorienting; I could see this leading to crankiness and low motiviation.

    I’d recommend staying out of his job search activities unless the finances become a real problem, and instead look for ways to encourage or manifest opportunities for him to experience motivating things that make him feel accomplished and good that are not related to work or professional image.

    1. Birch*

      On the contrary, if he’s working in academia he may feel underqualified to keep getting Master’s level jobs while those with PhDs are moving up. Depending on the field, he may not have a lot of choice with only a Master’s degree. He needs to figure out if he wants to move up in that field or if a different direction would be best, because the current cycle is not suiting him.

      1. Cordoba*

        If it’s a case of him not having the academic credentials required for the next step up then that’s another good reason to find some non-work-related thing that he can take pride in.

        I’ve definitely found it helpful in the past to be able to tell myself something like “Yeah, that guy got a job I applied for but he can’t run a marathon or rebuild a transmission.”

    2. Original Poster*

      You’re definitely correct that he derives a lot of his self image from his work. He loves his subject and is so passionate about it, has related hobbies, spends extra time doing extra projects for his own personal pleasure…so I think you’re completely on track there with disorienting.

  22. Al Wh*

    I think he needs to treat it as a job. Take a laptop to a library or a temporary office away fro home – one with a decent commute. Then he does 9-5 job hunting and comes home. Any help you give him is in the form of a meeting or emails – fixed hours. He switches off at 5 or 6 and that’s it for the day.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Oh god no, that’s not sustainable. Many fewer hours per day, but yes to every single day. And yes to “outside the house” if possible because he’s probably just not getting out enough.

      For me, when I’m job-hunting and my confidence goes down, I switch to survival mode, which means I need to apply to THREE jobs each day (or have 1 interview). More is great, but that’s my goal for each day. When I can’t do everything, I try to at least do something.

    2. Autumnheart*

      It doesn’t take 8 hours to job-hunt, unless your skills set is so generic that you’re applying to entry-level jobs all over the map. Job postings are limited according to industry, location and economy–if all the major companies in a metro area are hiring 50 accountants, then you send out 50 resumes and you’re basically done until someone decides they need more. This kind of advice is super outdated and doesn’t reflect current job-hunting technologies at all.

  23. Bea*

    The only thing you can do is be supportive. Ask him what he needs and if he can’t tell you, give him space. You can’t fix this, I know as a spouse your desire to make it better is overwhelming.

    When my SO was in the job hunt and stressing, I just encouraged him and kept confirming that we were going to get through this like we have before. It’s all about being open and resist the urge to smother or take over the search for him. Best thing is just being sympathetic and staying at a comfortable distance.

  24. jj*

    As with most marriage/LTR things, there’s an element of you can’t control your partner, but you can control your response to your partner. I love my husband dearly but he can be a total crankypants at times (he’s super patient with people, etc but inanimate objects/plans/so on not working how they should drive him crazy, which means a ton of grousing during repair projects or when things don’t go to plan).

    I felt for a long time like I needed to cheer him up or manage his mood (#emotionallabor) until one day I was fed up with it and asked him what he wanted from me when he was complaining and he was kind of surprised and said “Nothing, really.” So now, I do just that. If there’s not something I can give him an immediate hand with, I’ve learned to ignore it.

    I hear you that nothing is “working” that you’ve tried, but your job isn’t to fix him or make this easier for him. It’s your business as much as it intersects with your shared household and your finances, so it’s different then me ignoring my husband grousing about something that’s broken, but I think for your own sanity you really have to focus on disengaging from saving him from his job search.

  25. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

    I have been your husband. I, too, was in an academic track that meant a job search every 1-3 years. When I did get a new job, it was often tied to funding that — surprise! — varied annually. The constant uncertainty, coupled with the labyrinthine requirements of job applications in my sector, turned me into…not the best version of myself. All of that is to say: I feel for your husband. But I also feel for you, because you are in a tough spot where you have to deal with a problem that you can’t fix, which is crazy-making. As other commenters have noted, you are carrying an enormous emotional burden here that a) isn’t doing you any good, b) isn’t moving the job search forward, and c) likely isn’t lightening his own emotional load anyway (because does it ever?). I vote for continuing to extract yourself from the situation, because really he has to be the one to turn this ship around, either by accepting the nature of his career path or by changing it. If it’s helpful, I got to the point where I dedicated 4 hours once a week year-round to job search or grant materials, and that was the only time I was “allowed” to panic/worry/grump/rage at the situation. By blocking the time and making steady progress, I was able to quiet the panic/worry/grump/rage the rest of the week which meant less of it spilled over onto my partner. Good luck!

    1. Original Poster*

      We read some responses together and this one both made us sigh with relief- I think it is really helpful to realize that people in other grant dependent/variable career tracks have similar feelings is reassuring to us both. I love the idea of dedicating time to a job search year round so he feels less like he’s having to “dive in” everyone X years- putting it on my list to bring to counseling.

      1. There All Is Aching*

        So glad to hear Toads’ excellent advice — and first-person experience — is bringing relief to you both. And it sounds like your husband is open to suggestions, as you are, which only bodes well going forward. Clapping here in NY.

      2. Cassandra*

        OP, the problem you describe in your letter to Alison is one of the things at the root of a trial separation between myself and my spouse, where I am in your shoes and my spouse is in his. (So yes, for no fault of yours, your letter was something of a gutpunch. Quite a few of the responses have been too.)

        That you and he can read the post and responses and not have it turn into a giant defensiveness-fest (on either or both of your parts) strikes me as incredibly hopeful for your partnership. My spouse and I could not do the same.

        I wish you both the best.

        1. Specialk9*

          Right? I’m kind of amazed at this. It’s so not how most people react to things hitting close to home. This is a good sign that you guys can negotiate a solution that works for you both.

  26. So very grateful we're through that for now*

    Oh my gosh, you have my sympathies. My husband is finally launched on his career after many years in grad school and yes, the imposter syndrome, the grumpiness, the fussing…he actually fumed that the applications were stupid and a waste of time and I was like, I thought I got all my kids through high school already. He wrote crappy cover letters and statements of teaching philosophy and it was like he wasn’t even trying, and seemed to take for granted that I would rewrite everything for him and spend a ton of time on his career search (while being grumped at). Seriously after he got his job his mood improved so much that I began to remember why we got married in the first place.

    I heard about research, I think on the podcast Hidden Brain, that men believed their wives’ opinions less than those of others. (If that research was accurate, I’d love to know if men married to men behave the same way.) True to that I did find that he ignored and discounted much of my advice out of hand despite my much longer work history. So it’s no surprise that what worked in our case was finding outside experts that he could believe more than he would believe me. He got the book “The Professor Is In” by Karen Kelsky and really followed her advice (obviously that’s for academic positions but you may find some overlap if his research is in academic settings). When academic positions didn’t work out and his postdoc was running out, he also called a friend from grad school who had gotten a great job right out of her program and even though she had only been working in her industry field about two months by then he really bought into her (excellent) advice and re-did his cover letter and CV again, this time for industry, and immediately got multiple interviews. His mood improved when working with the advice from both sources and his results improved too. I hope there’s something in there that you can adopt.

    Beyond that, I just really sympathize with you. Many of my female friends have had similar issues with their male spouses and it’s frustrating. We all end up feeling like we’re carrying them through a process that they should be owning, and then wondering how we ended up in this dynamic. And like you it seemed that helping/not helping didn’t lead to great results either way. In general I think that just providing emotional support, “Yes, that sounds really hard, it must be difficult to deal with that,” etc. would probably be the right way to go, but it’s hard to stop at that when your own financial situation is at stake, and when that method doesn’t seem to yield much. I clearly came down on the side of “it’s better to help” because honestly those cover letters and CV/resumes were so bad. But I think connecting your husband to professionals who can provide good technical assistance would be ideal…if he can take that advice.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      Honestly, I think there’s an issue where familiarity with a spouse makes one more dismissive more quickly of their opinions than otherwise on some subjects. I don’t think it’s a male/female thing, honestly, though I’ve encountered it with my wife where she knows her husband works in a different field, so there are different job search norms and expectations out there. I think it just really depends on the person; while sex may play some role, I’m really leery of the wide-brush “husbands just like to dismiss their wives’ opinions out of hand” statements. It’s just as offensive as claiming that husbands automatically stink at childcare.

      But, to be sure, field matters. How one searches for a job in a STEM field will differ from a marketing position, which will differ from an academic position. So while some general norms won’t change (i.e. don’t be a cad, communicate clearly), other will (what skills to list, if any; coursework and academic history). So there is something to going to a professional that works in the field one is job searching in and asking for help, and going to a hiring manager. Honestly, unless the spouse does that kind of work, or works in that field, the professional who makes money in that field will likely have more valuable opinions than a spouse for the field-specific advice.

      1. Kb*

        I second the familiarity part being the largest contributing factor. I’ve had a similar pattern emerge with boyfriends. Gender probably plays some of a role, but the same phenomenon happens with siblings. Both my siblings are very accomplished and brilliant, but I still remember the time they pooped in a pool in 4th grade.

      2. So very grateful we're through that for now*

        I agree with you that it’s non necessarily a male/female thing, and I don’t want to paint all men with this brush. The podcast I cited specifically said this was an issue with husbands not giving as much weight to their wives’ advice, and my personal experience is naturally skewed to hearing what my female friends think of their male spouses’ job searches. Downthread I asked what husbands’ experiences were because I really would like to know. Sorry if I implied that I think it’s an all husbands/all men thing, as I don’t.

      1. AngryBunny*

        Absolutely. OP, you mentioned your husband is in individual therapy, but that’s not necessarily going to solve a problem that affects both of you. And if nothing changes, there is a decent chance that you’ll just get resentful and frustrated with him. Plus, since this is a cyclical problem, getting some concrete strategies in place now will help head off this problem in the future. Best of luck!

  27. MarsupialHop*

    I’ve had coworkers leave to become consultants or start ‘firms’ (where they are the only employee). Sometimes it works out for them, but for a few, they tried it on their own for a year or two, and then aligned themselves with an agency, presumably so they wouldn’t have to ‘job search’ their next assignment.

  28. So very grateful we're through that for now*

    I meant to add that I’d love to hear from husbands who have been on the other side of this dynamic about what would have worked better! I don’t think I handled it well from my side and I felt very stuck too.

  29. Ms. Mad Scientist*

    Sorry you’re dealing with this OP. I have no advice, but I’m a similar situation. Spouse has been job hunting over a year, has had interviews but no offers (except from a place with giant red flags), and he’s often grumpy about being frequently rejected.

    I don’t get involved in his job hunting much, except to weigh in when he tells me about interviews and positions. If I think something sounds off, I say so.
    We’ve talked about this, and we have a plan to
    deal with managing our respective emotions.

  30. Hallowflame*

    Your husband needs to find a professional (not you) to help him with his job searches. A recruiter, a career coach, or someone along those lines. Also, continue to encourage him to talk about his anxiety around job searching with his therapist, because I have a strong hunch that is where the crankypants act is coming from.
    Above all, you need to step back from his job searching process. Inquiring a couple of times a week about the general progress of his search is fine, but taking on the bulk of his job-search labor is only going to make you miserable and weaken his (already low) confidence in his own skills.

  31. Artemesia*

    I am a very strong believer in the idea that everyone’s career development is their responsibility. I have watched this process with friends and relatives and my husband and I have both been out of work and job searching and so I know how not fun it is. The problem does not seem to be that he doesn’t know what to do or is incapable in some way just that he is being a real jerk to you about the process.

    If it were me I would do two things:
    Have a CTJ meeting with him about how difficult the job search is for everyone but how he cannot dump his cranky ugliness on you as it just makes home life intolerable. Enforce that boundary.

    Let him proceed without your input unless he asks for help. Cheerlead when he shares progress.

  32. Secretary*

    Your husband has gotten jobs in the past yes? So he is competent enough in what he does to do it without you yes? Maybe not the way you’d like, at the speed you’d like, or with the attitude you’d like, but he does know how.

    OP, to be blunt, I think you need to respect your husband’s ability to find a job and let him do it. Make sure he knows he’s respected by you and focus the energy you were using on HIS job search and put that toward YOUR marriage. I’m willing to bet the crankiness is coming from the fact that your husband is already stressed out about finding work, and on top of that he can’t say anything about it to his partner without them trying to take over and tell him what to do. He doesn’t need you to tell him what to do, he needs you to be his partner and let him know he is unconditionally respected by you.

    1. Bea*

      I love this response. It’s spot on and much better than my jumbled thoughts could put together.

    2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      The problem I’m seeing here is that OP feels like it’s her problem, even though it isn’t. Financial dynamics within a marriage can make it both spouses’ problem. Internal expectations and how one might be raised to please people and handle emotional labor might make it feel like her problem. His own expectations, spoken or not, might make it feel like her problem. I don’t know which is the most true, only the OP can say. But respecting her partner’s agency if he’s the one making it her problem to solve is hardly going to fix things.

    3. AMPG*

      Note, though, that the OP says she’s tried backing off entirely and it still doesn’t help with the mood issues.

      1. Bea*

        For moods, the response is to point out they’re being a jerk. They then need to acknowledge their bad behavior and apologize. Otherwise the person is a selfish ass and that’s something that would need addressing if the relationship was going to survive.

        My SO can be a butthead but he recognizes that issue and actively works on not putting his bad mood on my shoulders. I’m happy to give him space. But I know some thrive on making others miserable with them, I can’t imagine settling in long term with that nonsense. However I’m happy being alone over dealing with people who treat me poorly, others put up with so much crap…I’ve seen it in my extended older family members. They have started divorcing in their 60s finally fed up with the crankypants crapfest. I’m so relieved they can finally find their self worth and happiness despite the 40yrs of dealing with emotional abusive turds

    4. Specialk9*

      “focus the energy you were using on HIS job search and put that toward YOUR marriage”

      But… It’s his marriage too. Unless you meant your as y’all’s?

      I feel like the problem and solution are both on him, and how therapist, and his career coach.

      OP can work on disengaging, and setting/defending boundaries for how he can talk to her. Which… Ok, is actually a fair amount to work on for a lot of us. :D

  33. wayward*

    Might he want to think about whether he wants to keep doing soft money jobs? I’ve been there, done that, and research funding in the US seems to be getting steadily worse.

  34. lost academic*

    I’d like to add for the OP that grant-specific positions (especially for an MS and not a postdoc) are situational and grant season driven. It’s not like regular job searching and it’s hard to forecast in a specific field at times, especially the way that government funding is in a crisis right now. Even when you’re heavily networked, having reasonable advance notice of a position that you’d even be considered for is not overly common. The standard industry advice of “make job hunting your job when you don’t have one” isn’t nearly as applicable in academic, I’ve discovered – largely a reason I’m not in academia anymore, our family can’t take the location hopping lifestyle that others could. The best position to be in is a large lab that’s always got grants and work in the pipeline that essentially allow for a position to be continuously funded with overlapping grants, but that requires tracking such a PI down (or identifying someone who’s on that track!) and making sure you become indispensable to the operation. Even then it’s hard, because it’s easier to use temporary employees like grad students and postdocs and not rely on more permanent employees.

    My usual advice is to make sure the publication record is staying strong, keep your name out there at conferences and other events, and if you’re going to lead this life, you’ve got to always be job searching, even the day you land the next one.

  35. Mary*

    If working with a careers coach/counsellor is an option, try and get him to do that. Sitting down for a couple of hours with someone whose job is to help him present himself and his accomplishments positively could take a lot of the pain out of the process.

    (Not all of the pain: job seeking is kind of crap. But if he really struggles with the actual mechanics of how to present himself we’re really good at that kind of thing!)

    1. Mary*

      Also, a good careers coach wouldhopefully explore whether working on soft money contracts is really right for him, if it leads to misery and anxiety and self-esteem crashes every three tears! It might be worth it if it’s the only way to do the kind of work he wants to do in the geographical location you want to be in – but a careers coach can help you see that that’s a trade-off and a positive choice, not the world being mean to you.

  36. Diatryma*

    I have a lot of this same jobsearching behavior, and so I will share what works for me.

    1) Jobsearching makes you hate yourself.
    No really. It’s terrible. I handle this by remembering that it’s a side effect of jobsearching, not that I am actually a worthless person who has and will never be able to change. If all your leg joints hurt after running a marathon, it’s because you just ran a marathon, not because you have bone cancer. Concentrating on that helps.

    2) Leave the house.
    The library has wifi and air conditioning and quiet. Go there instead. Get a snack on the way. Ritualize this. The stronger your This Means Jobsearch habits become, or in this case his, the less likely an hour of Facebook becomes.

    3) Helping doesn’t help, even though it should.
    Someone upthread commented that both helping and not helping are ineffective, so pick the one that makes you feel better. This is good advice. From some people in my life, “You’re great and you’ll get a job for sure!” spurs argument, so I end up perseverating on why I am worthless to convince them (or the them in my head). A lot of jobsearching advice may lead him back to ‘I am worthless’ and ‘this is terrible’ rather than flipping a switch and suddenly this is easy (because if such a switch exists, he is worthless and terrible for not flipping it a decade ago).

    So maybe step waaaaay back, go visit someone more pleasant to be around, acknowledge that this sucks, and hold firm on your own boundaries and expectations for support. Which is not hugely helpful advice, I know, but maybe some of what I said earlier will help him out a bit.

    1. A Reader*

      I have been job searching for all but four months in the last two years, and I am with you on point #1 especially. People are so rude in the job-searching process, you get passed over for positions that you know would be a perfect fit for you, you don’t hear back after interviews, etc. It is a draining process, so having some sort of positive news every week can go a long, long way. It’s also incredibly easy to think that you are worthless, stupid, etc., etc., especially if you see your peers nab jobs relatively easily.

  37. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    I feel for both of you–there’s nothing that gets my hackles up quicker than “how’s the job search going?”

    However, I’ve long since recognized that it’s my responsibility to manage my emotions and reactions to perfectly normal human interactions, which includes not taking out anger, fear, frustration, sadness, imposter syndrome, or anxiety on the people I love (or, really, anyone).

    So you have two problems: your husband’s very real and valid problems with the job search, and the fact that he takes them out on you. You can address the second problem without invalidating the first, and without doing the aforementioned emotional work that mitigating the first would cause.

    Good luck!

  38. AKchic*

    This sounds like so much additional emotional work on top of being a job coach *and* spouse. At what point are you still a spouse and not just a live-in therapist/caretaker/emotional support?

    This sounds so draining to me. The merry-go-round of emotional turmoil is something he should be dealing with in therapy and it still isn’t being handled. His job stuff should be handled by coaches. You’re his spouse, not the catch-all.

  39. Bookworm*

    I can somewhat relate: I’ve worked in the government and applied for a job a few months ago that is reliant on a grant from the government. The field that interests me and I continue to work in tends to hire cyclically and many positions I’ve applied to are only for the cycle and/or depend on whether grants are approved, donors can be found, etc. Job searching is obnoxious and exhausting.

    All I can say is that he has to accept that this is the nature of his particular field and/or find additional skills or experiences to what he has now to find something related to his field. And that you might have to just let him flail.

  40. San Diego*

    My husband is employed, but he’s terrible at interviewing, as I realized during his last job search.

    Throughout his life, he’s only been offered professional level positions as a result of working as a temp in a company and actually getting a chance to show his skills—never as a result of an interview (he’s invited for plenty of interviews, but never heard back).

    It’s something I’ve always wondered how to address when he’ll be job searching again.

    1. Bea*

      Oh man, I was so bad at interviews but eventually found my switch. It makes me sad for your husband but thank goodness for the ability to temp to hire. I was able to utilize that method for my first job and it skyrocketed my career in the end.

      I think personal therapy can help. It was never just a job related anxiety leading to my bad interviewing skills, it was over all anxiety and poor communication skills. When I broke down my anxiety wall, it spanned from my personal life to professional.

    2. Nicki Name*

      Is there a community college near you? They often have a “career skills” or similar department which has classes on how to interview better. If not, there may be another community group offering something similar. Check your local library notice board, local paper, local online community portal, etc.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Something happened to me once that I found to be enormously helpful. I had a headhunter contact me, and I went ahead with the recruiting process with them for one specific position. I only got through the phone interview stage due to one area of inexperience, which was a concern raised by all of us beforehand, but the headhunter provided me with a 50 page interview question/answer/reason document, gave me tips on what to say if I was asked about salary, provided the company’s initial concerns with my resume so I could be prepared, and provided their feedback on my interview. I am a very infrequent interviewer, so this was great. . .it answered all those questions I had, but had no one to ask.

      If your spouse ever gets an opportunity via headhunter, it could be worth looking into even if he doesn’t want to change jobs, just for the intel headhunters can provide.

    4. buttercup*

      Eep – I’m like your husband. I SUCK at interviewing. I think I only got my current job because it involved a case study that I did well in. Now I’m job searching again and I blew 2 interviews at the phone screen. Merp.

  41. AnonAnonAnon*

    I think most of what needs to happen is on your husband’s behalf. Maybe this career path isn’t working out for him? You say he can’t exit soft money positions easily but is that true? I know some fields you can’t but I also have seen people who refuse to consider a different career path because it’s not in academia or doing x type of work. They have transferrable skills but they either don’t realize it or don’t want to investigate it, because they’re giving up a huge part of their identity.

    I’m not in the same situation you are in, but I am in a situation where my partner will not consider a different job or slightly different career path even though it’s hurting my career (small college town with no employers in my field and the university mostly hires its alums); despite initial conversations and such, he’s made it very clear has no intention of changing or moving. This has been poison to our relationship, to the point that once I’m gainfully employed, our marriage has a good chance of ending. I hope this doesn’t happen to yours, but he needs to really consider what the stress of things are doing to you and your relationship. You’ll probably want to think about how long this is going to be tenable to you. I hate being grim, but what’s happening with me has done a real number on how I feel about myself and my partner.

  42. Chantelle*

    It may seem counterintuitive but I would put the responsibility back on him to decide what needs to be done to gain some peace/happiness in the relationship. You can’t be self aware for two people, that’s just not how it works.
    Next time he responds/acts in a way that you find upsetting, say something along the lines of “It’s hard for me to hear you/want to help you/be there for you when you *insert action*. I care about you and want you to feel better so what do you think could we could change about this to improve things?” The answer may not be what you want, by the way. Maybe he’ll start going to a coffee shop to job search. Only job search during a specific window of the day. Or you two decide this is simply a topic you don’t discuss.
    I would be prepared to hear feedback that might not feel good to hear – that your concern/actions could be stressing him out more, that he is just needing to vent and not looking for you to solve anything, that this is just part of the process.
    It may take several conversations or planting a seed with him to come back to you with what needs to change. In the meantime, disengage. You can say why “I feel upset/hurt/annoyed when you say X, Y, Z. I still care about what’s going on but I’m gonna steer clear of this topic until we can find a better way of dealing with it that doesn’t result in both of us getting angry/hurt.”

  43. Serin*

    This isn’t helpful to you now, but in the long run, I’d encourage the two of you to revamp your budget in order to build up a job-loss fund for him.

    Sometime when he’s employed and not in immediate danger of losing his funding, look back over his history and say, “Look, in your work, positions are lasting an average of two years, and it’s taking you an average of six months to find new positions. So our major budgeting priority needs to be socking away enough savings to replace your income [or your contribution to the household budget, at least] for that length of time.”

    If he were the one asking for advice, I’d be telling him that sometime when his employment is stable he needs to write himself a Job-Hunting Manual with event triggers (“The instant you learn that your funding is going to be unavailable, do the following: schedule 1-2 lunches a week with professional contacts, renew your membership in a professional networking group, schedule an appointment with a career coach to redo your resume and your LinkedIn page … The first week after your job ends, do the following things that you know are good for boosting your self-esteem and your energy … The first week in a new job, make a list of professional relationships that you’d like to do a better job of keeping up with in between crises …”).

    But my experience is similar to what I see others saying: people don’t really HEAR professional advice from their spouses, and the more you can stay out of the nuts and bolts of his job hunt, the better it will be for both of you. Also, he may find it useful to have his spouse say, “You’ve always succeeded at this in the past, I have every confidence that you’ll succeed again, and right now I’m going to think and talk about something other than your job hunt, and you have my permission to do that too.”

  44. Drea*

    My sympathy, OP, this is a hard situation to be.

    When my spouse and I have stuck in similar muck the two things I did that were most helpful were a) ask her to lay out very clearly what she wanted help with, so that I wasn’t spinning my wheels and wasting time doing things that weren’t impactful and b) not letting her get away with being a jerk just because she was in a rough spot. Which doesn’t mean I yelled at her every time she was cranky, but being willingly to calmly say, “You’re being a bit of a jerk right now, so I’m going to go read a book/go see a movie/take a walk and we’ll reconvene in a bit.”

    Being clear that I both wanted to and was willing to help but also not going to do all the work and not going to be a punching bag for her feelings did a lot to at least keep me on an even keel.

  45. Greg*

    I Am Not a Therapist but it sounds like this could be a symptom of some other problems in the relationship. My advice to OP is to focus on her issues rather than on the narrow problem of her husband’s job search. For example: “I am very concerned about our long-term finances and his lackadaisical job search is exacerbating my anxiety.” Or “When he’s in job search mode and acts this way, it makes me miserable and he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the effect his actions have on me.”

    In addition, while you can’t make him be more introspective than he wants to be, you also might encourage him to confront the issues that cause him to act this way.

    Point is, ultimately it’s his job search and you can’t make him do it the way you would. But that doesn’t mean your concerns aren’t fully justified. You just have to remind him of the impact his behavior has on those around him.

  46. Bella*

    I’ve been here and a two prong approach worked for me:
    1) Short ‘how is the job hunt’ catch ups. Emphasis on short. YMMV on doing this, but I was invested in knowing so I would come home, drop into his study, catch up; maybe even proof read something.
    2) Leave the job hunt in the study and everyone develops a habit of ‘we’re off duty now so no shop talk’. Go out on dates, or walks and insist on actual pleasant dinner conversation. Dont be afraid to say ‘I don’t want to talk about this during our evenings’ or ‘this isn’t pleasant conversation so I’ll be upstairs with my book ‘.

  47. laseriful*

    Your husband when job-hunting sounds like me when my husband and I decided to buy our first house. All I saw was this huge fraught process involving lots of legal jargon and all our savings and enormous pressure to get it right, and I didn’t understand any of it. Every time we tried to talk about it I’d become negative and angry and shoot down whatever he said because I was plain terrified. It took me a while to figure out that I was just scared, and I wonder if that’s the underlying problem with your husband, too.

    What’s ended up happening for me is that my husband took on the bulk of the work around house-hunting, which made me feel better temporarily but hasn’t solved the underlying problem that he’s doing all the labour and I don’t know enough about what’s happening. But the more I learn, the more I’m able to get excited about the opportunity instead of afraid of the risks. So I agree with the other commenters who’ve suggested some kind of career coaching for your husband – someone who is not you who can shed light on the things he sees as obstacles. You can help him talk through and process what he’s learned, but if you job-hunt for him, he stays just as in the dark as he always was and the fear never goes away.

  48. HRK*

    I think we have the same husband. :) Although, mine wants me to find him a job because I work in HR. I do the best I can for him, but I also accept he is an adult who needs to make this choice for himself. It sounds like he is already doing a good thing by working with a counselor so that is helpful. I’m all about self-preservation. I’m honest with my husband when his mood gets to be to much. I tell him that I will be over here enjoying my life and I would like him to join me when he decides to do the same. It can sound a little cold to some people, but when you are dealing with a partner who exudes such negative energy you have to care enough about yourself to stay healthy.

  49. SN*

    My jaw literally dropped when I saw this question – I thought I had sent something in and maybe forgotten about it! I am in a similar situation (differences are that we have been married for just a year and my husband is trying to transition careers) and I have been trying to figure this out too. I am going to now read the comments to see if anything helps, because I have little advice myself. I just wanted to say, you are not alone and I really hope you (we!) figure this out!

  50. CM*

    I would stay out of his job search, but would remind him that he needs to be nice to you. I’ve had this discussion with my partner before, basically saying, “I get that you’re grumpy, but you need to stop taking it out on me.” I find that he often does not notice that he’s grumping AT me until I call it out.

    To the extent that your partner is flailing and you are basically distressed by his distress, try to disengage. Let him flail. He can ask you for sympathy or help when he needs it. I think it will be a relief to both of you if you see his job search as his own struggle, and not a struggle that also belongs to you.

  51. Jane*

    It really is an impossible situation. My ex-husband was in a similar industry that tends to hire and fire quite a bit based on the economy. We had 4 layoffs to deal with in our marriage and each time he’d get depressed, refused to get help for his depression and pout around the house in his pajamas. Jobs weren’t the right kind for him to apply to and if he had an interview he’d deal with major imposter syndrome and then whiny depression when he’d get rejected. I’d feel for him but at the same time I’d try to get him to see a therapist or something. In a marriage, income affects both people, free time affects both people. It was enormously frustrating to me to not be able to do anything for his job search when his lack of a job was affecting the whole family. I ended up seeing a therapist about it to be honest.

  52. LQ*

    I’ve done well with having a key word or phrase for something that comes up that is a very injokey kind of thing for the two of us and when it is agreed upon it can be really beneficial to have a my partner cares about me and is pointing out something we’ve discusses do I’m going to reevaluate my actions and we are going to try to handle this differently.

    I’m pro this more than the just be direct route because when in the heat of something like job searching and you’ve got this extremely high level of emotions the tip from that over to spill over can be very easy. When you pre-discuss and have something that is warm and supports and cements your emotional bond rather than being cold and direct you can help to pull down the emotional level to something that can be more easily managed.

    ‘Water fishy water’ is something that might indicate a reminder that what you are swimming in is not normal, but since you’ve been swimming in it you are hard pressed to realize that. The pond is being drained and you can’t tell but all the emotions are heightened, all the stress of not enough food and oxygen is crushing down on you as you try to get your way to another pool to survive the next few years. This isn’t what it is always like, there’s usually plenty of food and plenty of oxygen and no need to desperately try every single rivulet to escape. And that this too shall pass because you are strong and can make it to the other side.

    Whatever that is establishing something like this in times of calm and lack of pressure can help bring them back to those moments of calm in the midst of something stressful.

    (My partner and I have a few of these for each other and it can really help recenter and reorganize the brain to get back on track.)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Good suggestion. I’m not sure if it helps him, but my SIL’s SO gets moody and pouty about a wide range of things all the time, and she’ll say, “Oh, Dwayne’s just getting in his feelings again.” At a minimum, I think it helps her remember that it’s not about whatever action she is doing–it’s internal to him.

  53. Original Poster*

    Hello Commentariat!

    Thank you for the helpful advice. Some of this was spot on and very helpful. Here are some clarifying points/responses:

    A) For those confused, his area of research is almost entirely soft money dependent (which is explained well in the comments above). There’s been a ton of uncertainty and unusual cancellations in funding due to the country’s current political situation- his current job was supposed to last for another two years, then the formerly guaranteed funds went away. So apart from the stress of normal job hunting, there’s additional fear there. (Note: I won’t be any more specific about his area for privacy reasons, but people in the field likely would know from this example- it was a big deal).

    B) He is still employed- the transition is not for quite a while, but he is trying to be proactive, especially because of the crunch mentioned in A. This is probably part of the issue- he works all day, then comes home and works on job hunt related stuff for a couple of hours. He’s not really getting any time to decompress, which is probably amplifying the cranky and leading to some foot dragging/misery.

    C) We’re very blessed to have sufficient funds saved up to cushion us comfortably for up to a year of his unemployment, so there’s a minimal financial burden associated with a gap or delay. However, he’s never had a gap or delay of more than a week. He has a very proven track record of good work and results- he just doesn’t seem to believe that about himself. The comments on how harsh job hunting can be have really resonated with him, he says he hadn’t realized other people feel that way about the process.

    D) I’ve tried real hard to do a lot of honest reflection on our marriage, and a lot of the advice here just doesn’t seem to click (though I thank you for offering it)- this is really the only area where he regularly becomes a grumpy person and where I feel like I do emotional labor that isn’t repaid, which is why it is such a confusing time for me (and honestly, for him).
    (On the emotional labor point, we’re not an opposite sex couple so in a lot of ways, thankfully, the historical power dynamics there aren’t as much of an issue- though it was interesting to think through how they could apply to the roles we’ve elected. )

    E) The suggestions about seeing a career counselor or getting some specific therapy related to this issue are great suggestions we both expressed excitement about. The idea of writing a job hunting guide for his specific triggers is also great- thank you!

    1. Newlywed*

      Hi OP, the only other thing I thought about was related to B) – maybe instead of spending indeterminable time every night working on the search, he should schedule specific time in his calendar on a weekly (or twice a week if he wants) basis to dedicate specifically to that. I second the poster who said go to a coffee shop or external place where you only do that activity. And then when the allotted time is up, leave and move on to other things that are not job-search related without guilt.

      1. Newlywed*

        also, kudos to you for being a supportive spouse and working together with your husband on this, whatever that means for the two of you.

    2. There All Is Aching*

      Thanks for this further update, OP. And if he *does* write his job hunting guide for his specific triggers, it would be so great if he’d be willing to share it or some of it, because demystifying the amorphous stress that comes with job searching will likely help me/others. (If AAM’s cool with it, of course!)

    3. Robin Sparkles*

      Thanks for the update – good to see that you are taking on some suggestions around career counseling. I read that you said you tried backing off – which was going to be my suggestion until I saw you tried that. What do you mean that it doesn’t help? Because backing off may not eliminate his response but at least you aren’t investing energy in it. This is a sticky area when married because there is so much more involvement financially when one of you is out of work. It is really difficult to truly stay out of it if you are jointly financing things and now that income is finished. I think you can back off and let him work this out but – like someone above said- you can’t be his coach and cheerleader at the same time. I think you should back off and provide the support but career counseling/coaching is a better option for him to get that help elsewhere from someone not as emotionally invested in this as you are.

  54. Penelope*

    Is it possible he struggles with ADHD? My husband also struggles in a similar way and sometimes the idea of applying himself in a way that might result in something great seems to stop him in his tracks and then he too, gets cranky and seems to just stop doing whatever it was. It took a lot of research and reading to understand his struggles with focus and motivation, completion, research, etc. when it was something he wasn’t intrinsically interested in. If he displays other signs of ADHD, it might be worth looking at this in a different light.

    1. Mutt*

      +1. To share my own story, I am 38, was diagnosed with ADHD (I am pretty much the anti-hyper, it presents in different ways) 2 years ago and am only now realizing how serious a diagnosis it is and how hard it will be to overcome.

      I personally really bristle when people say “you’re just being lazy” or ”shame on you, you’re too smart for this”, etc. I’ve been struggling with this my whole life, have heard all of those lines multiple times and have only now discovered that in certain cases, my brain LITERALLY DOES NOT PRODUCE the things it needs to in order to, well, work. So when someone has what I see as nasty comments, just imagine if you were telling someone with dyslexia that they’re just being lazy and stupid and entitled, etc.

      ADHD impacts aspects of my life i would have NO CLUE were related to ADHD in ANY away. Seriously, this has been a mind blowing revelation for me. Everything – even down to how you sleep! – is impacted.

      Alison, I would love to see a post about how to overcome ADHD in the work place, how to overcome coworkers perceptions of folks who have ADHD and maybe what ADA might cover as far as job protections. Is it worth it to expose the issue in some cases, Y/N. How can an employer get the most (and the most can be mind blowing when you channel ADHD) out of their employees, etc.

      It’s no fun being terrified you’re about to lose your job because you literally cannot start a task. And the anxiety and the fear and depression – it’s all you can do to get up in the morning sometimes when you are in Overwhelmed Mode.

      To those of you just now exploring this remarkably under-diagnosed and far-reaching neurotransmission disorder, I suggest searching the YouTube channel “How to ADHD”. You can find so many great resources from her links, I highly recommend. Also, even though the book is old, “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!” (Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo) is fantastic! It really explained things in a way no doctor ever has (and i researched the heck out of ADHD when my ex husband got diagnosed, so I talked to all kinds of doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists about it. No one tells you squat.

      And again, who knows if your husband has ADHD but even if he does, he may never actually BE diagnosed. And again, it’s so much more than a lack of concentration ability – it’s also emotional disregulation.

      Seriously, my 2 cents, in the filter of my life in its current state: Research This. It’s a Big Deal.

  55. Dame Edna*

    Maybe a private high-tech/science staffing service can help? When I worked in contract IT, we worked through a combination recruiter/staffing service (these probably have a name, but I’m not sure what it is). We were technically employees of the staffing service and received our benefits from them. We had a manager who would work with us to ensure that we stayed employed–if my contract was for only two years, she’d be keeping an eye out for my next job, help out with the transition, and also suggest ways that I could improve my skill set. It cut down on the stress of constantly having to job hunt.
    This was over a decade ago, but one of the companies I remember working with was SAIC. They’re still around, but I’m not sure what type of staffing they do now.

    Honestly, I recommend moving out of contract work if the unemployed periods put that much of a strain on your spouse or your marriage. Even though most permanent jobs pay less, a lot of people have had to do this because it’s so stressful.

  56. Nicole*

    I feel like your husband is being kind of a baby about this. Job hunting sucks, plain and simple. Never met anyone who liked looking for work. It’s not your job to hold his hand and try to steer him through the process, and it’s definitively not your job to put in the leg work. Your job is to be a supportive spouse, of which you’ve gone above and beyond.

    I apologize for tempting the fates, but what if something happens to you? What if your marriage ends? Is he going to pout his way into a new job? The only places that will hire with little to no effort in the application process are not going to pay what he wants. You want the job, you do the work.

    Unless you financially can’t afford it, I would go completely hands-off with this. If he tries to whine, you tell him “I’ve tried to help you and you didn’t want to hear it. If you don’t want my help, I don’t want to hear you complain.” Let him flounder on his own until he gets sick of the pity party and gets over himself.

    1. JSPA*

      Hm. Not sure how many non-academics can truthfully say that there are only five job openings in their field. In a good year. In the entire world. For a couple of decades, on end.

      This is actually dead normal in many academic fields.

      While there should be more masters level openings, there are also a heck of a lot more people applying. And, while people post here about jobs getting 500 applicants, 80% of them totally unqualified, an academic job often has 500 applicants, 80% of them highly qualified or overqualified. And that’s for jobs that include hours of teaching as well as research, require publication, require people to bring in part of their own funding, and work 60+ hour weeks at what is effectively barely more than minimum wage.

      1. Student*

        Yeah, that’s a load of BS in all practical terms.

        It is really, truly hard to get a job within a very specific narrow specialty in some academic science fields. You’re right on that.

        Those people chasing those jobs, though. Different story. They are eminently employable in a wide variety of jobs. Science gives you lots of highly sought after career skills. Scientist unemployment is extremely low, much lower than most other fields.

        This is like whining you didn’t get to be a movie star and instead get supporting roles. Or you got scouted into a major football team, but it’s not quite your favorite football team so you want to hold out. Most actors don’t get to be major movie stars. Most scientists don’t get to be in the star players in extremely selective, narrow specialties. Every job has something like this.

        1. JSPA*

          Yeah, I posted about that below, actually. The TLDR being, it’s super hard to take a step back and appreciate how incredibly transferrable and desirable your skills are when you’re in the academic science mindset, because a lot of the transferrable stuff is so completely taken for granted. But if you force yourself to do a proper resume, AAM style, you’ll see it’s so!

          Thing is, people who enter academe start out making huge sacrifices with the promise not of “good money and employability” but of “doing what you love and being in constant contact with other people who love what you love as much as you do” and “changing the sum of human knowlege.” Then the specialization gets more intense as they progress. This compounds over time in a way that few other careers can match. Some others have the “do what you love for peanuts” (the arts). Some have “do what you love, for peanuts, and make the world a better place” (non profits), but at least there, it’s clear that one’s skills are reasonably transferrable. I can’t think of much else that hits the trifecta. So it’s really, really hard to leave, even when it comes down to the emotional and practical equivalent of, “throwing good money after bad.”

      2. Cordoba*

        If that’s the case then it may be necessary to re-define and broaden “their field” in order to keep getting paid if they lose their current job.

        Surely there are other interesting and well-paid jobs these folks are qualified for, right?

        I know the technology/ manufacturing companies I’ve worked for have been happy to hire ex-academics at top dollar to do R+D and related science-y tasks. That sure sounds like a better route to me than sitting unemployed waiting for one of the 5 spots per year to open up and then competing for it against 400 other highly qualified candidates. What you describe only sounds like a viable option for somebody who is independently wealthy or otherwise not actually in need of an income.

  57. JSPA*

    This is why a lot of people leave academia. It’s just as true at the PhD level as the masters level. Mine’s a professor…several hundred publications…and still 100% on soft money. And the work is specialized enough if that grant goes, there is no plan B. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear. But it may help put what looks like crankiness or flailing into perspective.

    One thing that helped was to write out a non-academic job style resume (as opposed to the standard academic scientist CV). Not because of an intent to apply to such jobs. Rather, because it forces the scientist to recognize that, even if none of their specific skills transfer, their abilities can all be re-couched in terms that do. The dogged follow-through. The high-level problem solving skills. The ability to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds. The ability to deal with constant setbacks. The ability to think creatively and change tracks dramatically when faced with new information. The training to assess the work of others on its own merits, not personal favoritism. Ability to write. Ability to plan complex interlocking and conditional processes. Ability to stick to a plan. Those things are so deeply built into a research career that they go without saying, in an academic CV. And they’re incredibly valuable outside of academic science.

    One outcome may be that he decides to send the resume out, and ends up making six figures within 3 years (even if he’s not thrilled by the job). Another is that he decides to go into business for himself or with a more business-savvy partner, once he realizes exactly how solid his skills are. Another is that he just feels way better about himself, and takes a wider view, when applying for another academic job. All good things.

    1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      Ah! This is such golden advice: “One thing that helped was to write out a non-academic job style resume (as opposed to the standard academic scientist CV). Not because of an intent to apply to such jobs. Rather, because it forces the scientist to recognize that, even if none of their specific skills transfer, their abilities can all be re-couched in terms that do.”

      I did something like this once (with much grumbling and eyerolling), and OMG it ended up being so useful. I eventually left academia, and it had a lot to do with the fact that I had already done some thinking about what my “soft skills” were and how that might translate into private sector work.

  58. SpaceNovice*

    What I found helped me with this a lot was figuring out what are typical interview questions (both technical and behavioral) and preparing for them. I created flash cards with the question on one side and researched/prepared an answer that was *me* before writing down what it was. I also have a box which contains an index card sorter (by first letter) to make it easily sorted by topic. (Actually, it’s a wedding response sorting box, so I just put questions I’ve answered on the “yes” side and questions that aren’t answered yet on the “no” side. I find it kinda hilarious. I… really need to make it obvious that it’s not a wedding thing in case I ever want to take it somewhere.)

    When I realized I understood the questions really well, I felt way better about myself. And also doing the whole “I did this action using this program/technique to have this final result” style for all the bullets in my resume really helped, because it told me right on the paper what I’ve accomplished. There’s also something about going back to questions that stumped me in past interviews and knowing how to ace them the next time that they come up.

    My sources for technical/behavior questions are LinkedIn (especially companies/universities that are in the same field in your area), Ask a Manager, general career sites (but I always make sure answer makes sense. Sometimes they’re only good for question suggestions!), and even YouTube channels like Careerly and Jobspeaker. Careerly is especially good for behavioral.

    Basically in terms of interviews, I just slowly tackled questions that gave me anxiety one by one. Some days I just wrote down questions. Other days I worked on only one. But moving slow and steady while seeing constant improvement in handling interviews really helped my self-esteem. Also, if he decides he wants to practice interview with your help, you have information to work with so that the practice interview is way more useful to him–and it’s driven by him as well.

    Of course, this isn’t too terribly helpful if interview questions aren’t stressing your husband out. I found that being prepared for them made it easier to do cover letters and update my resume, though. They can be insightful into what employers are looking to see on your resume.

  59. JessicaTate*

    I would add: take some time to reflect on what exactly is troubling you, LW, in this situation. I can’t totally tell from your letter what you are feeling (I know a lot about what your husband seems to be feeling, but not you). I think that’s key to figuring out the best solution for you and him. I’d say you need to discuss things using those famous “I statements.” How are each of his behaviors (missing opportunities, being irritable at you, etc.) affecting you? And what can you change and what can he change to alleviate that, as a team?

    So, if it’s just that his irritability means he’s taking it out on you, and that hurts – then, you can lay down boundaries of, “I get it that this sucks, and I give you all my sympathy. But you can’t take out that frustration on me by doing XYZ. So, I’m going to trust you to get that next job and won’t hover. You’re going to do what you need to do, but not vent about it at me.”

    If it’s that you’re really worried about the family budget, then you have THAT conversation focused on finances and what you can do to create more stability.

    Or are you like me, I actually FELT disrespected by what I viewed as poor job searching behavior, like he was taking for granted that I would financially support him while he (in my view) screwed around? I realize that’s not the intent of the job-seeker, but it was how it made me feel when I was in your shoes. If that’s the case, I think that needs to be discussed. How his actions are making you feel. And how your actions (nagging / ignoring / etc.) are making him feel. And then try to come to a mutual understanding to minimize potential unintended harm on both sides.

    I ultimately realized that I can’t handle a long-term partner with this particular career + personality combo because it looked like a never-ending emotional struggle. But I know couples that found some measure of peace when they just aired out the root issues. Good luck.

  60. LilyP*

    Honestly you should be asking your husband this, not us! I think (a) you should lay out the ways this has been impacting you directly (what does “cranky” look like here? does he snap at you/not spend time with you/contribute less around the house?) and ask for any changes you would like to see. And then (b) talk to him about what you can do to make his search easier — does he want you to be the administrative assistant of his job search? Does he want an uninvolved cheerleader? Someone to vent to? You’re not obligated to do any of the things he suggests but he is the #1 expert on his emotions and what would make him feel better

  61. drpuma*

    Hi OP, my partner has also been going through some life difficulties where for a long time I was his main support. I had to pull back for my own well-being, but here’s something that worked for us.

    I told him very plainly: “I want to support you through this, but I cannot be your only support.” I asked him to come up with 3 people who he could reach out to for support as needed; they were all very happy to help and one is a friend who’s going through something similar.

    As this funding model is common for your husband’s industry OP, he likely knows 2 or 3 colleagues who aren’t “competition” for the same grants, but who are going through something similar. They could support each other through texting, lunches, etc, and it would take some of the weight off of you. Good luck!

  62. hr girl*

    I have been having difficulties with my husband and his job searching as well. It was a huge argument every time he complained about his job because the logical thing to do is to look for a new one right? Well after we had a long talk I figured out that he is very anxious about interviewing and would rather stay in a toxic work environment than interview for a new job. Luckily, my company’s EAP covers the whole family. I am going to have him talk to someone about anxiety and maybe they will have some pointers for him. After nagging him for a few weeks I left him alone and he actually started updating his resume and portfolio all on his own! The only problem is that he also hates making phone calls because they also trigger his anxiety so he’s been postponing the call to the EAP line.

  63. Cordoba*

    I once dated a person who was struggling to stay motivated while looking for a technical, white-collar, high skilled job.

    They found it very helpful to take a part-time labor job with a landscaping company while continuing with the primary job search. This had several benefits:
    -They made several hundred dollars a week of their *own* money, which enabled them to contribute to household finances or buy small things they wanted without asking me for money or eating into savings.
    -It provided a compelling reason to get up, put on pants, and leave the house several days each week; thereby breaking the cycle of sitting around at home.
    -The casual social interaction, continuous outdoor time, and bottomless exercise provided by this type of work did wonders for their overall energy level.

    I noticed the improvement in their job search focus and motivation very quickly; it turns out that (for them) going to do productive work is a better motivator than watching Law and Order reruns in pajamas.

    They said that when “what have you been doing the last few months” came up in professional interviews people responded favorably to their answer of “I’ve been doing landscaping to stay active and pay the bills while I look for another opportunity in my field”. I’d sure take this as a positive trait in an applicant – it shows they’re practical, willing to work hard, and not likely to think that manual labor jobs are “beneath” them.

    After about 6 months of looking they found another job in their field. During that 6 months they made several thousand dollars, met a lot of fun people, and got as fit as I had ever seen them.

    Based on their experience, if I ever wind up between jobs for more than a few weeks I’m going to do exactly the same thing they did.

    Can the LW’s husband get some low-stress low-responsibility job to keep his fire burning (and the money coming in) during his job search phase?

    1. AnotherSarah*

      I just commented below but I want to second this; my husband has been working at a farm store and the combo of more time with animals than people, beautiful location, and labor translating into money and sweat has been a really good thing for his morale and our finances.

    2. JSPA*

      This is lovely and brilliant and a great default (at least, in areas where manual labor jobs are also hiring). Fixing up dilapidated houses is also a good one.

      Mind you, in some countries, it’s actually not OK to take jobs (as in, you can’t even apply) if you’re academically over-qualified. Of course, those tend to be the sort of countries that also have a kick-ass social safety net, so there’s less anxiety in the search process.

  64. Student*

    Scientist here.

    He CAN easily exit soft money science. It is easy for anybody in science to go get an industry job, and there are other science jobs that aren’t so soft on money. He chooses not to – and that’s a legitimate career choice he has to make for himself. Though, from your description of his behavior, it sounds like he’s poorly suited to at least one major aspect of the job. Main point was, you’re seeing him in some sort of false trap here. Maybe because he doesn’t like the other options for compelling reasons, or maybe because he doesn’t know about them. But, he does have lots of other options, that will be no more difficult to get than his current gigs (actually, probably easier to get).

    What you need to do is two-fold. First, stop trying to job-search for him, because it isn’t helping him and it isn’t your responsibility. Second, stop treating him like your angsty teenager son and start treating him like your husband instead. You need to hold him to a higher standard regarding your relationship with him. He is not a kid, he is a professional adult who is perfectly capable of managing his reactions to his feelings. He doesn’t get to lash out at you when he’s upset about something.

    He gets to be upset, and he gets to learn his own coping mechanisms for it. Lashing out at you is a thoroughly unacceptable coping mechanism. Here’s some examples: as your husband, it’s acceptable for him to share his vulnerabilities with you about his job search, and expect some comfort from you. It’s not acceptable to make this job search your problem to solve for him. It’s not acceptable to wallow only in his job-search misery, day in and day out, or use that unhappiness to get out of normal adult obligations (like treating his wife with respect, listening to her, comforting her when she needs it, doing his share of chores, etc.). It’s not acceptable to be generally grumpy all the time toward you while job searching. The longer you let him act like a teenager lashing out at you as a replacement parent figure, instead of a man who shares your life, the longer he will remain a teenager toward you instead of an adult.

  65. AnotherSarah*

    Ugh, OP, I’m sorry. That sounds like a crummy situation. I have been dealing with something similar (husband has a number of gig jobs, and seems to have no motivation to really get something different). I find myself wanting, like it seems you want, to fix some part of it–either his attitude, or the way he’s really going about doing things. I have also found that neither works and neither makes me feel better about stuff. I worry on the one hand about money and on the other hand about our relationship–am I married to a lazy person, etc.?

    One thing that IS working for me/us is to be really clear about what I want to do, rather than kind of dancing around it. So I’ll say, “You said you were going to contact X org this week, did you? No? I’d like you to; it would set my mind at ease” rather than “Hey, what did you do today? What else did you do?….” I always think I’m being clear about what I need and it turns out, often I’m not!

    I think the other aspect of this is identifying your SPECIFIC concerns for yourself and trying to determine whether they’re realistic, and then expressing the concern directly and specifically. As in, if it’s a budget concern, tell him “Our expenses are going to exceed our income by x month.” If it’s more a sense of him not doing stuff while you’re working (either for money or around the house), maybe having him work from a coffee shop is a better idea: “I hate feeling like I’m doing x y and z and you’re taking all day to send one email. If this is going to keep happening, I’d prefer you work out of the house so I don’t have to see it.” (Typing this while husband is at a coffee shop, where I can pretend he is working hard even if he is probably just working a bit.) But if the concern is more about a vague sense that everyone should be working at all times, or looking for work 8 hours a day, you may need to reassess. (Again as a personal example, while I’m having a hard time with my husband’s minimal hours spent working, he was also able to care for his dying father–so there might be odd upsides that your husband sees in his process.)

    Yes it’s a lot of extra labor but it’s probably less energy than you’re expending now.

  66. ellis*

    I’m not sure if you listen to the podcast, but AAM just recently collaborated with Captain Awkward – so I’m going to h/t some of her advice here. It’s called the Sheelzebub principle (so named for a frequent commenter on CA posts):

    If absolutely nothing about your husband or his work cycle and habits changed, how long would you want to stay in this relationship? A year? Six months? Forever?

    OP, I know there’s a lot of great advice above about how this is Not Yours To Fix, so I won’t re-tread all that here, but even if it was yours to fix, that takes two willing participants and you have one very willing participant (you) and one grouchy unwilling participant (him). There is no magical strategy or script to make him more willing. He already has a therapist.

    I think you need to look at what this means for you, long-term. Assume this is more or less how it’ll be forever – uneven spurts of work followed by droughts. Maybe visit a financial planner. Talk about how, ideally, he can spend his time while he’s job-hunting so you save money (can he take over more responsibilities you’ve been paying for outside help with, etc.) Rather than trying to change the status quo, accept this as his baseline and plan accordingly. If that doesn’t sound easy or great to you, well … there’s some soul-searching according to the above principle in your future.

    Best of luck.

  67. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

    Sooooo… not to derail, but I’m going to derail: has AAM done a column on how to keep YOURSELF focused and energized on the job search? I’m getting so tired and I’m fighting anxiety and depression all day, every day. The daily grind of looking for a job is beginning to feel like the waterbed mattress of Sisyphus on winding stairs…

  68. SameBoat*

    Thanks for writing in with this. My husband is also in an industry with short, unpredictable job tenures and the periods of unemployment are excruciating for both of us. I appreciate all the secondhand advice for dealing!

  69. Thany*

    I don’t know if anyone else has suggested it, but I didn’t see it mentioned in the comments. Instead of trying to guess what kind of support your husband needs during this challenging time, why don’t you ask him what kind of support he needs? Even if he doesn’t know the answer, it might help him think about it. (Therapy might help him explore that question as well). And it will help open that conversation between the two of you. For years, my husband and I would always argue about the kind of “emotional” support I was giving. I was supporting him with the kind of support I wanted and not the kind he needed. And vice versa. I finally decided to ask him what he needed, and he was able to answer with ideas. It was immensely helpful to me and it helped open up the communication surrounding that issue in our relationship.

  70. 653-CXK*

    I’m currently job hunting myself…I call it more of an adventure.

    What I do daily is look at the job boards and try to find jobs that fit what I did, or think, “Hmm…will this job be a good fit?” Then I apply for them and keep track of them on an Excel sheet. Those I don’t get responses from I put on another tab. Once my hunt is done, the rest of the day is mine to enjoy. I make it a point to get out of the house instead of watching TV (or surfing the net all day), play games, etc.

    I’ve also edited my resume and updated it; so far it has yielded a few good results (a couple of interviews, and quite a lot of “I saw your resume and I want to know what you want to do.” In each phone or person-to-person interview, I’ve laid out why I’m job hunting, and they’ve said, “Thank you for being honest.”

    (I was let go for performance issues at OldJob, which was excessively micromanaging and very quickly becoming toxic. I am extremely glad I am out of there.)

    Currently, I’m shortlisted for an interview for a contract job that would last 90 days and perhaps be permanent. If that doesn’t work, I have another agency where two possible positions are available – one wholly temporary and the other direct hire. I’m also meeting my unemployment insurance group to review my resume and see what else I can do.

    There are times where I fear I’ll never be hired again, or take a job out of desperation that’s worse than the one I was let go from, but those fears are allayed when a potential employer (or recruiting agency) gives great feedback, even if I’m not a fit or they don’t have positions. The flip side of that – anything that is too good to be true likely is, and if an employer pressures you to join something, they’re up to something.

  71. anon for this*

    OP, I don’t know if I have great advice, but I am in a very similar situation and I feel your pain, so realize that you are not alone! My husband is not in soft money, but has had a hard time finding steady employment that he likes due to a combination of bad luck, recession graduation, one unfortunately decision that turned out to be really the wrong one, some borderline autism personality issues and being a in geographic location with few jobs in his field and his background being a *slight* mismatch for what’s predominately out there. He too turns into a very difficult human being when he is job searching: imposter syndrome, some really frightening “nobody will ever hire me why do I even bother” pessimism, getting passive aggressive and defensive, and my responses have been pretty sub-optimal as well. I tried helping, but ended up succumbing to the temptation to help *too* much when maybe I don’t know enough about his industry which made him feel frustrated and like he couldn’t figure it out on his own and maybe made things worse, and I have also tried “sorry I can’t help you need to do this on your own” and that doesn’t do great things for our relationship either, he feels abandoned and then we just argue about why we can never talk about it without arguing. It is definitely a painful thing for our relationship and I feel like it’s a huge burden I feel I’ve been carrying for a long time,.

    But I have tried to learn what I can from this about being a better adult and better at inter-relationship communication myseelf, and calling him out kindly but appropriately when he’s not holding up his end of the bargain. I have mostly backed off helping him except in specific ways HE requests, and he has gotten a little better about requesting them specifically instead of passive aggressively emoting at me. I also found it helpful to take on a mindset of intervals. Like, “this situation sucks, but if we can get through 5 horrible Mondays together, then we can treat ourselves by going out to get a beer and not talk about it the whole time.” Have that to look forward to, to take a break from the emotional difficulty of it, before jumping back into the grindstone again.

  72. seller of teapots*

    Pick a neutral time — i.e. not when he’s in the throws of self-loathing or flailing about, and bring it up. Specifically ask him: what can I do to support you? Make a plan together for your involvement, and then follow that plan. I’d also make it clear how you’re going to respond when he’s being a bit of a jerk (walk away, turn the volume up on the tv, etc.)

    Later, when he starts acting cranky you can say: remember, we mad a plan. You’re doing the thing we talked about, so now I’m going to walk away (or whatever you’ve agreed to). If you want to stop being cranky, let me know and we can resolve this together, etc. Then just hold the line.

  73. J.B.*

    OP – if your husband is in a natural resources type area, has he looked for state and local govt jobs? They are likely to be lower paying, but more stable.

  74. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    All I can say is….are we married to the same person??? This describes my spouse to a T.

  75. Allya*

    I am 100% your husband about this and my suggestion is, though it may not be easy, get out of this field and into one where you can avoid job searching for decades at a time. There are jobs that I would otherwise love and thrive in which I just can’t do because the instability and process of looking for another job when this one is over would be a mental health nightmare. It sounds like he might be a bit the same so that’s my advice. At least consider this as a possibility. (If it helps, the way i factor this into my thinking is considering job stability as a category to weigh up when thinking about the kind of positions that make me happy, the same way I factor in money and office culture and types of tasks involved and career projection. It may be that this factor is more important to him than he realised)

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