How to best support my partner with a stressful academic job?
January 25, 2014 5:04 PM Subscribe
I'm in a LTR and my partner is unhappy in her academic job and considering a major career change. How can I best support her?
I'm in a LTR. My partner works two part-time academic jobs as well as another part-time job, as the university jobs don't pay well enough to be her only income sources. It has always been her lifelong dream to teach at the college level, to the point that her family will be disappointed if she does not. Her goal has long been to land a full-time position at a university by starting at the part-time adjunct level and working her way up. Recently her two main jobs have gotten worse due to situations beyond her control (lowered enrollments, department politics, etc.). Now she has begun considering other alternatives. The options she is considering are to either go back to school to earn more credentials that may help her secure a full-time job in the future or else change career trajectories.
It always seemed like she was making progress toward a full-time position. She loves teaching, volunteers on committees, goes to conferences, and everyone says she is doing everything right. But something changed in the last year. She has gotten nothing but positive feedback from her supervisors over the years and they tell her she would offer her a full-time position if there were more openings, but for whatever reason those positions aren't being created, year after year. Instead there are only more part-time adjunct faculty positions. It seems to me like the universities are exploiting her hope for a full-time position, stringing her along with the promise of a full-time position that may never come. She is frustrated that her years of hard work aren't paying off as she expected. She has been very successful at her level but there isn't room to move up to where she wants to be.
Now her jobs have become unstable enough that she doesn't even know if she will have enough money to help cover basic expenses like rent. She may have to take another job for the summer, so we cannot plan trips or time off together like we used to. (Which may seem silly but has been a major blow to our relationship, as we used to bond a lot over our love of travel.) Previously she seemed to like part-time adjuncting but I think she is starting to realize it is an unpredictable career and not where she wants to be long-term.
This is understandably a very stressful time for her so I am trying to be extra supportive. I know that the academic world is hard. I love her and I have tried to support her as much as I can, both in word and deed. She is on my insurance and I tend to cover our groceries and do most of the cooking. I love her and I plan to spend my life with her. I want her to be happy but I feel conflicted about her going back to school again. Even though we both are generally conservative with our spending and we try to split our shared expenses and live within our means, I do feel that there would be more pressure on me to support her if she went back to school, since she wouldn't be earning more than a small stipend. I'm also concerned that she might still be in the same situation even with another degree – holding out for a full-time position and barely making ends meet while working part-time at several schools. She also worries about that and so she has considered either teaching at the secondary level (which she has done in the past) or changing careers entirely..
I am trying to be very patient and loving while she goes through this. I don't want to be too forceful with giving her suggestions because I know it is a sensitive topic for her but this is creating a major source of stress in our relationship as she spends most of her nights and weekends worrying about her career and talking it over with me. I have put some of my own goals on hold and have spent less time on my own hobbies to make myself available for her during the worst of it, but I feel myself getting tired... losing my patience. I just want her to be happy so we can enjoy our time together outside of work doing the things we used to do. Sometimes I feel like she is so depressed about work that she doesn't have any energy left for me. Maybe that makes me selfish, I don't know. I don't know at what point a partner's career frustrations become detrimental to the relationship but I feel like we are getting close and I don't want that to happen. I just want to make her happy.
I think this feels like a huge crisis because her identity is so wrapped up in teaching at the college level, but she is so intelligent and driven that I know she would be enormously successful doing anything she puts her mind to, and I don't want her to spend so much energy spinning her wheels in an organization that doesn't value her skills. I love her and want to help however I can but I know we can't go on like this forever.
I was hoping there was someone on MeFi who had been through a similar experience who could give me some advice on how to be supportive. Am I pushing too much? Are there resources i should be aware of?