Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I live together and have decided to spend our lives together. We both are unhappy in our current jobs and want to live in a different area to have a different kind of lifestyle. He has a much more specific, highly educated/trained skill set that pays a great deal more than my career field. We both agreed that he would look for a new job and once he found one, we would move together, and I would find a job in that area.
The problem is that he’s had two job possibilities fall through after many rounds of interviews, and now he’s lost all motivation to keep searching. He’s unhappier than ever in his current job and calls things “hopeless,” but he’s stopped all efforts to look for a new job.
I have a background in human resources and have tried to give him some suggestions, but he’s just not doing them, and I’m not sure why. I’m trying to be supportive, understanding and patient because I know it’s a lot of pressure for him, but I’m just as unhappy and am getting frustrated that he’s not even trying. Is there anything I can say to him that will express my frustration in our holding pattern without making him feel bad about himself and resenting me? — Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: By your account, you’re saying plenty. What you don’t specify is what you’re doing on the “supportive, understanding and patient” front. Do you genuinely understand his frustration, or support the break he’s taking?
You are in a difficult spot, as is anyone whose happiness is pegged to the actions of others. The way out of that spot, though, is rarely to find just the right way to goose the person who holds the reins.
Instead, your good humor and his, and possibly your affection for each other, depend on your finding something you can do independently to advance your collective cause.
The first thing is giving your boyfriend a chance to say he changed his mind on the move, or is torn. It happens.
Second thing: Give him the break he’s apparently taking whether you give your blessing or not. As in, “Those interviews wiped you out; I get that now. I was trying to find ways to help your job hunt, but suspending it for a month, completely, might make more sense. What do you think?” If he’s going to quit trying, then the break might as well be restorative — and it won’t be if inaction chooses him, or if guilt dogs him throughout. (Or if “quit trying” is his default when presented with adversity — but that’s a different problem.)
Next, list every way you can advance the cause of your own happiness besides wait for or prod your boyfriend to get a job. Seriously — pen, paper, brainstorm. Be creative but realistic, make some entries career-related but others not, and make some of them strictly about your well-being and having nothing to do with where you live or work.
It’s the rare person whose diet, fitness routine, sleep habits, friendships, family connections, education, charitable outreach and cultural consumption leave no room for improvement. It’s also the rare person under pressure who wouldn’t benefit from having one source of that pressure be productively distracted by something else.
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