update: I’m really uncomfortable with my husband’s work set-up

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was uncomfortable with her husband’s work set-up? He worked for a friend and the letter-writer worried about their work dynamic (the friend yelled at him and had him do personal favors) and her husband’s work habits (like coming in late). Here’s the update.

The last three months have been a bit of a whirlwind. I wasn’t expecting you to respond so quickly or even at all. I panicked over how little time I had to tell my husband that I’d written to you. A couple of months prior, I had gotten him hooked on AAM and he’s become an every day reader. I didn’t know that he’d become so invested. Also, the day you were to publish my letter, I was going into my job early to interview for a new management position. The short story on that is that I got the position and now manage a department for an organization I’m very proud to be a part of. I promise this is relevant.

Back to my husband and I, he wasn’t super excited that I’d written to you about this, but he wasn’t exactly mad either. We both read the comments that week, and while a lot of people were super helpful and had constructive things to say, a bunch of folks also missed the mark. Yes, the problem I wrote about was two-fold: my husband’s inappropriate boss, and what I perceived as a lack of professionalism on my husband’s part. Yes, I did realize even as I wrote in that a significant part of this problem was more about me than my husband – I just didn’t know how much until later. The part that tripped up some readers was that I myself am not a micromanaging control freak – but I am very afraid of them. My husband’s boss’s behavior was constantly setting off alarm bells in my brain – that’s so exhausting! And my husband’s behavior in the face of that, was both terrifying and frustrating as it was behavior that would have gotten me fired from most past jobs.

The direct results of my letter have been not bad. Not much has changed with my husband or his boss, except for maybe a bit more confidence on my husband’s part. Thank you to everyone who confirmed the fact that he didn’t deserve abuse from his boss. Also, thank you to Alison and everyone who told me there wasn’t anything I could really do about their relationship. It was something I low-key already knew, but needed a gut check. My husband works for an organization that is well-known publicly. Group tours are a thing. Even though I’d been to his office for the occasional lunch break and knew a few of his coworkers, I’d never been on a tour. The place is a lot more casual than anywhere I’ve ever worked, so I felt better about his lack of stress.

Which brings me back to where I currently work and how that fits in to this situation. When I wrote, I was mid application process for my first management job. I knew a lot about what kind of manager I did and didn’t want to be, but was only just starting to realize that my management style was going to be (at least in part) shaped by the people I was managing. Who were also my current colleagues and friends. I wanted this job and was also terrified. I got in the habit of working myself up trying to figure out what I would do in a million different scenarios. And I started to consider the behaviors of people who I knew but who would never be in a position to work for me as potential future scenarios I’d have to deal with as a manager. Shout out here to my fabulous therapist, who can get to the bottom of my anxiety in record time. Of course I was doing this to my husband. What if one of my employees is habitually late? What if they come in breaking the dress code? What if they no-call no-show? What if I get so mad I yell? What if they yell back? Etc., etc.

I’m happy to report that my anxiety was mostly unfounded, and that it never manifested into terrible management behaviors. I have about 10 people on my team, and I report directly to the top of the food chain. There are some growing pains, and not everyone is used to taking direction from me after I took it from them for several months. But nothing is outside the normal frustration over big changes – none of it is personal. My team and I respect each other, like each other, and have always all worked well together. My new job isn’t necessarily easy, but I love it, and I’ve been able to lead with both empathy and assertiveness. My husband and I are all good, and I no longer get so wound up about his work behaviors. I still wish he had a different boss, but my dad used to say, “Wish in one hand, poo in the other, and see which fills up faster.”

Thank you, Alison, and thank you AAM community!

{ 38 comments… read them below }

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I have never heard it before, but you can bet I will be using it in the future!
        It’s also a sentiment I will be taking to heart – much like OP. Good for you!

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      I’d really rather not poo into my own hand (or anyone else’s), so I’ll just take your word for it.

      1. LongTimeLurker*

        I had to ask someone to explain this to me.

        In one hand, you have the manifestation of your wishes.
        Just wishing for things, won’t automatically make them appear.
        So most likely, this hand will be empty.

        In the other hand, you have your poop.
        You poop every day (or somewhat regularly) so that hand will fill up quickly.

  1. LeslieCrusher*

    Saying something critical that you disagree with is not ‘missing the mark.’ People did not give you that assessment or advice based on it assuming you would agree.

    I’m glad this worked out a bit better for you and wish you well in your new job. But there is a difference between people misunderstanding you because they lack the complete scope of the issue, and between getting advice you don’t like.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s missing the mark if their interpretation of the situation was wrong, which is what I think the LW is saying. (And understandably so; strangers are never going to fully understand someone else’s situation or marriage based on a single letter.)

      1. LeslieCrusher*

        I very much disagree. My point is not that it’s wrong to say that someone is misunderstanding you, there are plenty of LW’s that applies to. It’s that this situation does not match up at all with misunderstanding. It is not ‘missing the mark’ to say this is an overstep and LW is micromanaging, it is a disagreement. It is not based on not knowing all of the facts, it is based in disagreeing on the implications of the facts provided and tone.

        People are not interpreting the situation wrong in any way LW can point to. LW literally draws the distinction in the advice between the advice that was more sympathetic and that which was critical even though the base assumption in both was the same.

        I understand you’re likely not going to see eye to eye with me on that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          People made assumptions about the LW, her husband, and their marriage. Of course those assumptions can be wrong; we would have no way of knowing. She’s the expert on her situation.

          1. LeslieCrusher*

            I don’t see any point in furthering this, but I’m just going to reiterate how wholeheartedly I disagree with that assessment.

        2. JSPA*

          It might help to make this a little more meta. Consider the English Language. How sure are you that the same words could never be used to describe very different situations? In turn, how sure are you that any OP’s situation and “the situation I’d describe with those words, if it were happening in my life” are the same?

          We’re used to reading fiction, where the novelist picks and edits the situation and the terminology to provide the majority of readers with the desired level of ambiguity (or, nearly none).

          But posters, by and large, are not professional writers writing their story with a vast swathe of readers’ personal experiences in mind. Their writing isn’t curated in the same way. There will therefore be an excess of situations where the reader feels they have full insight, but in fact, the reader has picked at least one mismatched assumption (and perhaps multiple) from the loooong list of alternate readings.

          That’s not a failure of reading nor a failure of writing, per se. It’s a failure to allow (philosophically intellectually and emotionally) for natural levels of ambiguity in everyday language.

          1. LW in the House*

            JSPA – I couldn’t have put it better. And my entire job is working professionally with other professionals on utilizing the professionally written word. But feeling desperate causes precision of language to take a back seat to OMGHALP!

    2. Cookie Captain*

      The change in attitude and stress levels are great! But I don’t think I could handle this partnership if the only thing that has really changed in Husband’s situation is “a bit more confidence.” I know I sound harsh, but his work situation seems like the professional equivalent of never moving out of your parents’ basement.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, that was sort of my reaction too. It’s great that the stress levels are down and that Husband apparently has the confidence to tell boss “no, you don’t yell at me like that”, but it doesn’t seem like all the other workplace norm issues were addressed at all. Which fine, at this job it doesn’t matter, but OP was right when they said: “And if Husband ever did work elsewhere, I think he would have a difficult time adjusting to standard workplace rules, because this situation is all he’s ever known.”
        That’s not just an imagined worry created by OP’s own anxieties, that’s a completely legitimate and reasonable concern. How many letters have we seen here at AAM where people in toxic/dysfunctional workplaces move to new jobs and then struggle to adjust because they’ve got unrecognized bad habits from the last place?

    3. CynicallySweet*

      No, but people did make assumptions based on what the OP had written in, and made judgments based on those assumptions. That was wrong, this letter writer (like so many we’ve heard from this month) is saying that the assumptions were off base. Maybe pay attention to that

      1. LeslieCrusher*

        They’re not, though. They’re framing critique that makes identical assumptions to sympathetic and gentle comments as missing the mark.

        1. SaeniaKite*

          Except they never said all the comments that ‘missed the mark’ were critical, just that they weren’t helpful or constructive. A sympathetic and gentle comment wont be helpful if the sympathetic gentle advice is based on incorrect assumptions.

          1. CynicallySweet*

            This. And I’ve noticed a lot of updates mention the amount /inaccuracy of speculation on the comments that end up not being helpful, so I’m trying to say maybe as a commerate we should be paying attention to that (not sure that’s the right word)

          2. JSPA*

            Yeah, but it hurts a lot more to stumble over misplaced grenades than misplaced rose petals. If someone is determined to be brutally honest (or brutal in any other way) there’s some onus on them to be careful with assumptions and projection.

  2. Tzeitel*

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, OP. I think its a great thing that you were introspective and working to change so that certain things don’t bother you anymore and maybe you did worry about certain things out of your own fear of becoming a manager. But, please don’t put this *all* on you and gaslight yourself. I’m not seeing in this update that your husband has assured you about anything that Allison said is your business in the previous post (no raises, calls all hours of the night). Make sure you’re not putting this all on you, keep an open and honest conversation about this with your husband (and your therapist!) and know that you have valid concerns.

  3. anony*

    unless you have memorized every comment on OP’s original letter, i don’t think it’s safe to assume that all criticism she received was missing the mark. there’s a lot more under the surface and you can only tell so much in an advice column.

  4. AnonAcademic*

    I’m a little surprised by the narrative that because the OP got promoted, and is working on their anxiety, that the situation with their husbands job is now “not bad” – despite not changing. It sounds like the OP is too busy to focus on their husband so much, but they don’t mention changes in any of the major issues Alison flagged as problematic? I also skimmed the comments on the original and saw lots of couples therapy mentions but I’m not clear what the readership misunderstood so drastically? Either way, congrats OP on the promotion.

    1. LGC*

      I think OP means they’re not tying themselves in knots over their husband’s job being an unprofessional mess. (I would call it a “goat rodeo,” but many rodeos are well-organized operations, and goats are generally noble and helpful creatures.) It doesn’t mean that the husband is in a better situation – just that OP’s not as stressed out about it (which…like, I totally understand from below, but also there’s nothing OP should do to fix the work situation.

    2. LeslieCrusher*

      I mean, I think a part of the issue was the level of focus on their husband was not necessarily appropriate? This is an advice column for work and not for interpersonal relationships and therefore fundamentally ill equipped to handle personal problems.

      In my opinion, being upset by a spouses bad working conditions that bleed into your life is legitimate. The issue is LW approached husband’s issues almost from a managerial standpoint towards him . He’s not an underling of hers to be judged for going in late and if she’s afraid of his job security because of that…that falls back into personal territory. It seems to me focusing on what LW could change about the situation was the most practical thing, and in the end what LW can control is themselves and their reactions.

    3. Jennifer*

      I think she has accepted the fact that his job is his problem to solve instead of taking on his troubles as her own.

    4. CynicallySweet*

      I think the general idea is that working on the anxiety may not have changed hubbys situation, but it did change her thinking about it, which in turn changed how she felt about it

  5. LGC*

    First of all, congratulations on your own position! That’s huge!

    That said: Hm – so a huge part of the letter was your own anxieties? Interesting. I totally get that because a lot of the time (yes, here as well) I’ve had the same issue where I see something VERY OBVIOUSLY WRONG and there’s not much of anything I can do about it without making things worse and I tie myself in knots about it. (I mean, I’m aware of it now, but my jerk brain – to use a CA term of art – still sometimes goes into overdrive trying to fix this person who Just Doesn’t Want To Be Fixed.)

    I’m glad you used your husband’s best friend as an example of what not to do and what you want in your own management style.

  6. Glitsy Gus*

    I”m glad you have been able to figure out what’s what here. I totally get having your own anxieties in one realm color how you see other situations in your life.

    I do hope, however, that you made it clear to your husband’s Buddy/Boss that you won’t be available to answer any more “where is your husband?” calls. That was ridiculous and not something you should have to deal with, even if husband is OK with a lot of that behaviour.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      That wasn’t meant to be a reply to LGC, sorry about that! But it isn’t too far off the thread they started, so oat least that’s good.


    “Wish in one hand, poo in the other, and see which fills up faster.”

    lmao. I dont even know what this means really, but LMAO

    1. Lucien Nova*

      The hand with the poo will fill up a heck of a lot faster – it’s a way of saying don’t pin all your hopes on wishes happening and focus on what you can actually do instead, as far as I understand it!

  8. LW in the House*

    To clarify, because this seems to be a bigger deal than it should be: with my original letter, some of the advice was harsh but good, some of it was harsh but not applicable to my situation, some of it was kind and good, and some of it was kind but also not applicable to my situation. I thought over the good advice (harsh or kind), and I did not follow the advice that was not applicable to my situation.

    I gave a couple of updates in the comments of the original letter. The thing is, people are complicated. Neither my husband or myself are perfect or even great 100% of the time. Writing to AAM provided you all a window into our lives – but that window is narrow and only shows a small portion of a single room. Not all of the conclusions about my life or person were going to be correct based on a single letter, and that’s okay.

    My husband’s situation with his boss still gives me anxiety, but it gives me a lot less anxiety than it did because I now understand that it’s not something I can change. And, by going on a tour of his workplace, I have a better understanding of his work culture. Boss Friend has cut back on calling during non-work hours by about 90%. My husband still goes in late sometimes. His casual wear is more normal than I thought it was and also none of my business. We both agree that a raise would be nice, but he has a better understanding of why he would or wouldn’t get one. To borrow an idea from Dan Savage, the anxiety over my husband’s job is still worth the price of admission in our relationship.

    Also, I really am too busy these days to spend so much time worrying about my husband’s job. I know that it’s not ideal. My anxiety didn’t disappear. I’m not trying to pretend he doesn’t go to a dysfunctional workplace every day. I just need to let it go. My energy has to go toward my own new job. And the fact that I now make enough that if he did lose his job we wouldn’t be completely destitute helps my anxiety a lot. It’s kind of amazing how much my anxiety lessened when his potential inability to hold onto a job was no longer tied to home foreclosure and bankruptcy.

    Again – thank you to everyone. Even if your response to my original letter was way off, you still cared enough to respond in the first place, which is pretty awesome.

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