How do you work with an obnoxious Type A boss?
July 6, 2009 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Husband about to quit new job after two weeks because of obnoxious boss. I sympathize, but need advice, please.

My husband was laid off from his longtime IT job a year ago. He spent a couple of months enjoying the downtime and recharging his batteries (with my full support), but looking back, he and I probably misjudged the economic climate and the number of IT professionals with similar resumes who also landed out of work at the same time. Now, when he looked for jobs, there just weren't any, and friends at other companies who'd offered leads were themselves getting laid off.

He went into what I'd say was deep depression last fall, but refused to really deal with it. He saw the doctor, was prescribed Wellbutrin, but took them for only four or five days until deciding he didn't like the speedy way they made him feel. (I told him that it would take a while for his body to adjust to them, but he was adamant.)

He is very much a stoic guy who hates to talk about his feelings and hates to admit that situations are getting the better of him. He did allow that he hated not being able to bring any money into the household (although he did collect unemployment and we scraped by with my salary and health insurance). He thinks therapy, psychiatrists, etc. are all hucksters and that people who are depressed are just "in a blue mood."

He was drinking way too much, staying up all night, and just generally not enjoying himself. My suggestion to him was that he should apply for jobs for a certain amount of time each day, treating the search as his job -- and then he would feel better about doing fun stuff afterwards. He did this off and on, but mostly seemed to stay in a depressive funk that I couldn't help shift. (I was also deep in grad school and had to focus on my own hassles at work, but I did my best to be supportive.)

He recently interviewed with a guy who has his own IT company that takes on outsourced work from other sites. They got on well, he was hired, and all seemed good for a week or so.

Then he made a rookie error (he fully cops to it) that messed up access for a lot of people. New Boss absolutely reamed him out over the phone. Husband was shaken, but knew he'd made a mistake. Two other guys also made stupid mistakes the same day, so he thinks New Boss was just exasperated at having to deal with simultaneous problems. In any case, New Boss seemed fine the next day and didn't refer to it.

Husband spent the weekend feeling lousy about having a shouty, Type A boss who is volatile and rude. I know it's no fun to tiptoe around at work, waiting for the next outburst. But my husband is now talking about throwing in the towel, and I am freaked out about what might happen next.

If it were me, I would do my best to quietly fly under New Boss's radar while applying for other jobs, reasoning that it's better to maintain a paycheck while keeping your options open. But it isn't me.

If my husband quits now, he won't get unemployment (he was pretty much timed out already). We have no savings now, although we could pull from our 401(k) if we really had to; we have no credit card debt, but we do have a mortgage that my salary alone won't come close to covering.

I'm also afraid that this will mean that he will be back in the depressive spiral he was in before he got this job. We were both feeling so relieved after he got hired, but now it seems we're back at square one again.

Have any other MeFites been in a similar situation? I'd really appreciate any advice about how to help him, while also stabilizing our financial situation. It's been a pretty fraught year.
posted by vickyverky to Work & Money (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You need to be 100% clear with him that quitting is not an option without a new job to move to. It sounds like you've been super supportive and understanding and non-nagging and you deserve a lot of applause for that. You also, however, deserve a fucking break from that routine. It's time to pull out a little tough love and remind him that for the vast majority of humans, being a grownup frequently sucks, and it's called work because it isn't fun.

He's employed, he knows he's lucky to be employed, he needs to stay employed. This isn't about some man/woman gender thing or anyone not following the light of their dreams; this is about the fact you cannot pay your mortgage anymore.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:15 PM on July 6, 2009 [25 favorites]

Best answer: warning: this might be construed as a rant, but I'm trying to be realistic here.

One mistake and your husband's ready to throw in the towel? It sounds to me like he needs the buck-up speech/boot in the ass. Reality's rough, and sometimes it sucks to be an adult. But he needs to face up to it, and get back to work.

I don't know what kind of company your husband worked for before, but I get the feeling that he didn't work for a small (I'm assuming small because he's working for the owner), client-oriented company like this. Welcome to small-company-land. Happy clients (especially in this environment) are critical, and the owner is taking a risk hiring people, hoping that the employees will do as good a job as the owner in keeping clients happy.

Any owner of a small company is going to have some kind of Type-A personality - that's the kind of person who's going to start their own company. As for volatile & rude - is this consistent, or just because of the way the owner reacted when the mistake occurred? Perhaps the boss was under a lot of other stress (e.g. keeping the company going), or upset at the rookie mistake and whether the client would bail (or even sue)? This is someone who is used to doing it all themselves, and has hired people because he no longer can. That's incredibly frustrating and hard to admit, and it takes a huge leap of faith to trust others with your precious clients (and revenue streams).

Small companies are a culture shock for anyone who hasn't worked in one before. You're responsible for so much more, and the margins of error are thinner. But right now, a job is a job, and there's the opportunity to learn a lot (not necessarily about tech). Keep your head down, keep the boss happy, and keep looking. And who knows, he might be surprised. It's unfortunate he got to see the boss in bad form at the beginning, but them's the breaks. Perhaps trust can be re-established and both can be happy.

Other note: employers are more likely to consider someone who already has a job than someone without a job for a long period of time (or worse, a very short-term stint after a long blank period). Why? Well heck, someone was willing to employ the person until now, he or she must have some ability. The person without a job? Well.. you'd wonder.
posted by swngnmonk at 8:29 PM on July 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

I work in IT, peripherally (I'm a developer) and I have worked for both excellent bosses and abysmal, shitty bosses. From your husband's point of view, working for a bad boss is completely soul-destroying. From your point of view, I have also had my lady in tears that if I quit a nasty job (which I had had for several months at that point), we might miss the rent check. I have so been there.

Your husband has a one-two punch of problems... depression (probably) and a crappy job (probably). Divide and conquer!

He can get help for his depression. Ask around for free or low-cost clinics, call therapists and ask about sliding scales, and check your health insurance; good therapy might be a $10 co-pay away. Being unemployed is depressing and being yelled at is depressing and it's TOTALLY OKAY to look for help with this!

With the job, whether to quit or not is one of life's plain old hard calls. Maybe ask him to think about it in terms of cost-benefit... weigh the costs and benefits of both sticking with the job and bailing on the job. My personal advice would be if he can stand it at all, stick with it and, if necessary, spend free time looking for a new job. At least stick with it for several more weeks and get a better feel for the coworkers and the boss. Given past trouble with job searches and the depressed thing, maybe try a time budget. Spend one hour a weekday or something -- timebox it -- looking for a new job together and just try to unwind outside of the timebox.

Note that it's easier to get a new job if you currently have a job. Sounds mercenary but it's true. Sporadic employment is tricky to talk around in an interview. Something for the cost-benefit talk.

I know this totally sucks rocks but you two can pull through it!
posted by mindsound at 8:31 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with DarlingBri- paying mortgage is important, eating is important, he needs to stick with it.

Something to keep in mind though- when you get into that depressed funk, it doesn't miraculously go away when you get a routine/job/study/baby/whatever. It is still there, lurking in the background. Your husband feeling lousy over the weekend (to me) looks like evidence of that.

Why not ask him if he will be able to keep getting the paycheck and do ridiculously fun things on the weekends, try and leave work at work and not bring those emotions home.

Maybe St John's Wort might be an option? It might be placebo, but it seems to help us.
posted by titanium_geek at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2009

Working for bad bosses is part of life.

Tell him to suck it up and deal like a man.
posted by dfriedman at 8:40 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

With the job, whether to quit or not is one of life's plain old hard calls.

I disagree. They've been struggling on just her salary + unemployment, drawing down their savings, for a year. Now they have no savings and he's ineligible for unemployment. It would be wrong to quit -- wrong to choose for his spouse to support both of them alone; wrong to choose financial hardship for both of them, on the basis that he doesn't like his boss. The fact that quitting a two-week-old job, after a year of unemployment, would make him pretty much unemployable in this economy, is just the extra kick in the pants.

It's hard to do -- working for an obnoxious boss -- but it's not a hard call.

He needs to hear from you, OP, that quitting is not an option at this point.
posted by palliser at 8:41 PM on July 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

Wow, lots of "tell that zero to suck it up, buttercup" responses.


If it were me, I would do my best to quietly fly under New Boss's radar while applying for other jobs, reasoning that it's better to maintain a paycheck while keeping your options open.

and supporting him are the right answers.
posted by rr at 8:59 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree that quitting is not an option.

I also know from firsthand experience that it's hard to watch someone you love be miserable in their job, especially when they most likely suffer from depression in the first place. I've done the supportive thing, and I've done the Tough Love thing, and what has worked best is a combination. You tell him that your expenses are Y and that you can't under any circumstances bring in less than X. He can quit this job when he finds another. The supportive part is that you will do everything you can to help him find another job. Proofread his resume, do his laundry so he can focus on the job search, whatever. But don't budge on the fact that he must have another job. Also, don't listen to endless rants about what an asshole this boss is unless he's actively looking for another job.

What got my husband to stick to medication was a flat out "I don't like you when you don't take it, and I won't help you when you won't take it." Yeah, it's harsh, but how much time do you want to spend with someone who's WILLINGLY miserable? If he doesn't take it, I give myself the day off. I don't do housework and I don't help him in any other way. It's really effective. For this to work, he has to trust that you want the best for him and you're not just being manipulative.
posted by desjardins at 9:08 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow, lots of "tell that zero to suck it up, buttercup" responses.

Agreed. The 1950s John Wayne stuff is not helpful at all.

One thing I know about being depressed is that temporary problems can feel permanent. One way or another, he will not be at this job the rest of his life. I would suggest this: ask to see a therapist, and tough out the job for a month in the meantime. At that point, the two of you can discuss it again.

The odds are he'll feel better about it then; it sounds like he couldn't feel much worse than he does now. I remember starting a new job at the same time as going through some shitty interpersonal stuff- I came home the first day and literally curled up in the fetal position on my floor. But after getting advice similar to above from a friend, I ended up staying there two years. And it was a pretty shitty place. but I made a lot of money and finally quit on my own terms.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:09 PM on July 6, 2009

ask *him* to see a therapist
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:09 PM on July 6, 2009

From the sounds of it, your husband's boss isn't "volatile and rude", in fact, your husband made a mistake that put his boss's business at risk and copped a dressing down it sounds like he deserved. Chances are, if he does his job properly, it won't happen again. There's no reason to think it will. The fact that the boss hasn't referred to it again tells me he's probably a good boss, not prone to outbursts at all.

It sounds like your husband is looking for some mythical job where he can screw up with no consequences. Tell me when he finds it, otherwise his future may well be quitting every job at the slightest provocation whenever he makes a mistake and it comes back on him. If I were him I'd use this job as a chance to prove to his employer that it was a one off mistake and show how valuable he can be, this will also lift his self esteem and make him feel better than just throwing in the towel. You can support him without condoning that he quit his job and put everything in jeopardy. I know it's hard, but sometimes that's life. He'll get there.
posted by Jubey at 9:14 PM on July 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

It's only been two weeks, and already he's convinced it's unbearable? Maybe New Boss is just having a bad month. Given time, I'm sure he can find (and learn from the other employees) strategies to help him deal with New Boss' personality.

I'd say take a middle road--see if he'll agree to commit to the job for some length of time, say six months or a year, and then, if he is still having problems, he can quit guilt-free. That'll keep him from feeling trapped, give him something to work towards, and allow him time to figure out how to make the job work for him, while also conveniently allowing you to re-build your savings a bit. Getting some therapy in there is also probably a good plan.
posted by fermion at 9:19 PM on July 6, 2009

Also something to think about is the fact that he is just into a new job after a lay-off, significant time off, and some depression. Any bad interactions with the boss, coupled with minorly messing up at the new job, would be, to me, pretty discouraging.

That said, I would also think about how he was before all of this happened. Was he prone to depression in the first place? Is this new? If the latter, it seems like maybe you could just talk to him without discussing the quitting option, just how he feels about stuff. If this is something that is probably not surprising given his general, historical behavior, then I would try to do all that I could to get him the help he needs.

Good luck.
posted by waitangi at 9:44 PM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who responded so far. I really appreciate the extra perspective, even the "suck it up, lady" variety!

swngnmonk and fermion: You're spot on -- his previous IT jobs were at larger companies. This one is a small group. Plus, his previous bosses were more laid-back and more like friends than bosses. There's definitely a disconnect here. New Boss is also trying to prove himself to some (fairly) new clients, so he's on edge. Other workers have told my husband that this guy is full-on, never stops working, etc.

Jubey: Again, quite right -- he definitely did deserve to get called out on his mistake. He does react badly to being challenged, though -- he hates to be wrong (but don't we all?) and keeps beating himself up about it. He knows about several big mistakes I'd made at my job that were way worse and affected more people (and didn't get me fired), but he still feels rotten. I think it's also the fact that he wanted to be shiny and new and good at his new job, but messed up on something so soon. His self-esteem definitely took a battering.

This boss does communicate in ALL-CAPS terse emails and "JFC why is this still happening?" sort of messages. It sounds like he needs to explain what he needs from my husband and the rest of the team, rather than just shouting.

desjardins -- I've proofread his resume many times! I am in the grammar police, after all. ;-) I have told him that he can vent, but not wallow. (I like your method of taking the day off from his misery -- I'll have to try that.) I've offered to take care of cooking, shopping, etc. while he cracks the books and gets going with the job. (While he was unemployed, he did all that stuff, which I very much appreciated, but he knows he can't just be a househusband.)

palliser and rr: I told him flat out (but nicely) that quitting is out of the question right now; he was seething earlier, but now he agrees that he can't just jump out of the job. We will get seriously penalized if we draw on our (puny) 401(k) anyway, and running up the credit cards is just dumb. He says he'll keep going to make it worthwhile on the resume (it is a job where he can learn a lot, and he also has tons of responsibility that will look good to future employers), but agreed that he will stick at it and keep applying for other work. He said a calendar year would be his maximum unless the thing with the boss totally turns around.

mindsound, drjimmy11, and titanium_geek -- I appreciate the advice about therapy and natural remedies, but he's TOTALLY resistant. He won't revisit the antidepressants, either, even though he has seen how much they have improved the lives of friends and family members. (And to get all Withnail and I about it, since he drinks to improve his mood, "Why trust one drug and not another?")
posted by vickyverky at 9:55 PM on July 6, 2009

His willingness to throw in the towel after a single incident sounds more reflective of lingering depression than being a slacker. If he is depressed, he may not respond to rational arguments about why he should stay, because these aren't consistent with his internal views about his self-worth ("Why stick it out? I'll only get laid off _again_.")

He could be convinced that cognitive behaviour therapy isn't quackery. If not, you could find out a little about it yourself and use it to ask him questions that challenge his internal views.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:17 PM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: I started reading your husband's story and felt the tingle of entirely relating to his situation. I was laid off from my IT job 10 months ago, and misjudged the economic climate last fall and waited too long before looking for work.

I'm also on Wellbutrin, and I wish it still made me as speedy as it did the first week. That side effect wore off in a week so your husband really should try it again. Unlike SSRIs it doesn't make me sleepy so I'm quite happy to stay on it; I'm sure my funk about being unemployed would've been far worse had I not been medicated (I wish I didn't need meds but I was hardly going to go off them this past year).

I was surviving on EI and contract work and a month ago agreed to a junior position at a local company in order to "get by". I lasted one week before running away screaming, though in my case it was because of a sexist and condescending environment. I walked out on Monday, and by Friday I had two job offers for senior positions at better companies. I walked out with no certainty about my future, but I still had some savings to live on.

If your financial situation is dire then I suppose your husband should try the job a bit longer. But I've had similar bosses (even those who yell at you over the phone for things that weren't your fault) so I don't think he should stay in that position any longer than he has to: a bad job with a bad boss can be worse for your mental state than unemployment. Whatever he does, he needs to keep looking for something better, but hopefully this job will at least help boost his confidence about finding others in this economy.

Good luck with this.
posted by sinderile at 10:36 PM on July 6, 2009

Wow, lots of "tell that zero to suck it up, buttercup" responses.
Agreed. The 1950s John Wayne stuff is not helpful at all.

I don't that's quite the right reason for sucking it up, but I do think that cutting and running after a single bad experience (being yelled at for fucking up) is a bit extreme, too.

I've had good bosses, and I've had shitty bosses. Hell, I've been a good boss, and been a shitty boss at other times.

People are not perfect. Everyone can have a bad day. In the same way a good employee should be forgiven for an honest mistake or error in judgment, a boss should be given some reasonable slack too. You don't give up on that employee until there's a pattern of bad behavior that makes them not worthwhile overall. The same should be applied to bosses.

You already said that the boss was having a bad day. So, again: it's not a problem until it becomes a pattern, so for now just let it go. Give him a one-time pass, the same way you'd want one if you messed up.
posted by rokusan at 10:49 PM on July 6, 2009

If I were in this position,

1. Would CERTAINLY keep the job, at least till there are sunny days. At the same time, maintain / build up network of contacts, keep resumé updated and ready all the time. Get more involved with these contacts professionally.
2. Communicate with this boss only via email i.e. AVOID phone calls at possible times (so that my bottom is covered all the time.)
3. Get a thick skin.
4. Start taking medication for depression. Believe it or not, if you are a patient, no shame in accepting the fact rather than repenting in future. Get life back. Remember, you have only one precious life, Live it.
As my brother always says, let people get stressed due to you, not you due to them (as I am going through similar situation but handling using these points)

Shit happens all the time but that doesn't mean it should mess up your life, does it?
posted by zaxour at 11:10 PM on July 6, 2009

I've also worked for really crummy bosses at small companies; much like your husband, I couldn't quit because I needed the health insurance. A few times, I hate to admit, my one boss was so nasty he made me cry (which I did privately in the ladies' room) (I also ended up getting a 'script for Zoloft, which helped a little). About the only advice I can give your hub is to try to not let the yelling, insults, etc bother him. It's not easy, but he's got to give it a try. One thing I noticed that really bugs a hollering boss is to calmly agree with him:
"Jesus H. Creee-yst, what are ya, stooopid?!"
"You're right, that was a really stupid mistake."
"I hope to hell we don't lose the account over your dumbass mistake!"
"I hope so, too. I know that if we do lose it, it will be all my fault."
It kind of takes the wind out of their sails; takes the "fun" out of yelling and criticizing if you don't yell back or get defensive.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:42 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Obnoxious boss? Your invertebrate got torched a little and deserved it and the boss seemed fine the next day.

The guy knows of the all kinds of strain it would put on you, y'all's finances, etc., and he wants to quit because the big, bad boss was mean? Unconscionable.

I get, have more understanding of depression than I'd prefer, but it's not license to refuse to do anything about it that he doesn't wanna do and act like a spoiled 8-year-old regarding this job.

Advice? Tell him the infantile nonsense stops now if he gives a damn about you and being married.
posted by ambient2 at 1:11 AM on July 7, 2009

Wow, the responses to this thread are amazing. So depression==infantile, a valid way of dealing with depression == a kick up the ass. What drivel.

It's physically debilitating dealing with an asshole boss, especially when you are skilled and the market is against you. I'm a software developer and had to deal with an utter cunt whan jobs were scarce during the dotcom collapse.

Be gentle with your man, it's clear that you're in love with him- ultimatums etc will only add to what is obviously a lot of stress for him.

It's important that he sticks at the job- and he knows this- what can really help (and helped me) was to pick up as much contract work as I could find. Eventually I had enough so I could work at home with a couple of good clients and I could leave the asshole that was ruining my life- and I got to work at home in my own time, and be with the kids. He needs to know that there can be light at the end of the tunnel, and this job isn't IT.

Good luck
posted by mattoxic at 1:32 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

on preview: I agree that getting your ass in shape, when you're already depressed, is far easier said than done.

These are just some suggestions:

Sometimes knowing that a bad situation has a firm end date can make it much more bearable. Make a deal that he stays at his job for exactly one year, unless he manages to find another one before the year is up. At the end of that year, unless he's magically begun to love the place, he quits.

Unless his work is totally challenging, he should try to spend that year becoming an expert in one specific thing (on the job and related to it). But if his job is already challenging there's no need to add to that.

He should try meds again and give them a chance to work. However, not every drug works for every individual, so he needs to work out a plan with his psychiatrist regarding what he should expect to feel at different stages, how long to keep trying the med he's on currently, and what to move on to if it doesn't help. Again, a maximum-limit-to-misery type of thing.

If he refuses to try meds, there are still a lot of things he can do about "feeling blue." There's exercise. There's not drinking (alcohol is a drug too, after all, so if he's resistant to drugs he should ask himself about the side effects of this one). There's cognitive behavioral therapy, where the idea is exactly that you don't need to be stuck in a bad mood and that you can actively change your mood. He can work on that with a therapist but he can also check out a book and do the exercises on his own if he doesn't want to feel ripped off. There's volunteering at something meaningful to him. There's just doing things that make him laugh.

One thing I want to note: if you're already depressed and presumably already dealing with low self esteem, getting reamed out at work can echo a lot harder than it would under normal circumstances. It's like kicking someone when they're already down. The boss would have no way of knowing this, but it might help your husband to keep in mind that when you're in a blue mood to begin with things tend to seem worse than they really are. What someone said above about depression not magically going away the minute something good happens (like getting a job) is really true.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 1:41 AM on July 7, 2009

"This boss does communicate in ALL-CAPS terse emails and "JFC why is this still happening?" sort of messages. It sounds like he needs to explain what he needs from my husband and the rest of the team, rather than just shouting."

Oh goody. I worked for a guy like this. Does he also send links around on random subjects and just expect that everyone will magically divine WHY he sent that and who should respond on it?

Guys like this are full-on all the time, but they also have the anger-attention-span of a gnat. The boss will be all shouty and vessel-bursting for five minutes and then once the problem is solved he probably won't even remember it a week later. If your husband is truly good at his job (and it sounds like he is) then a guy like this will most likely be all right to deal with once your husband gets used to his personality, and the boss figures out that screwups are an exception, not the rule with your husband.

To a limited extent, I can appreciate why the boss is freaking as I've also worked in small companies where one or two large errors can potentially be the end of the company if a big client or two walks. It's a totally different dynamic than a larger company where one client leaving isn't an enormous hardship in most cases. It is definitely something to get get used to.
posted by barc0001 at 3:05 AM on July 7, 2009

That's a team decision--something like that. Not something it's fair to make unilaterally--if it were me, I'd focus discussions on whether it's an appropriate decision for him to make on his own. Given the finances involved, I don't think it is.

I think he needs to focus on his mental health issues (Wellbutrin is speedy when bought in generic form; the name brand version is expensive. If it's too expensive for you guys, a generic Zoloft or something else might be better), work on eating better and exercising, try to enjoy your time together--go out to dinner, go for some bike rides--all while simultaneously looking for another job. But until all of those other things are addressed, it's unfair to talk about throwing in the towel.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:21 AM on July 7, 2009

Best answer: Your husband can't quit because he has a wife to support (in the same sense that you are also financially supporting your husband). He simply has responsibilities now that he'll have to own up to, he's not a bachelor responsible for only his own destiny.

I think right now your husband is just venting, saying he's going to quit. I doubt he'll actually do so because hell, I'm an optimist and I think that he would see the strain that he's putting on you.

In the worst case scenario that he does quit though, it will only get worse. I'm speaking here of his depression. Feeling useless around the house won't help him. Staying in that job didn't help him. Depression is a sucky, seductive mofo and at this point, he will be looking for things to prolong the depression because that's what depression does (propagate itself and extend things to the point where it feels like it's going to last forever. That black dog is evil).

His unwillingness to really seek help for his depression (his inability to even fully accept that he is depressed) isn't promising. As his wife, I applaud you for sticking by him and trying to be supportive; I've been in a similar situation and I just had to walk out because the flat-out denials literally made the situation and our lives go nowhere. But you have to ask yourself, if the depression goes nowhere, what are you going to do? The problem here is that you're going to have find ways to put up with a husband that isn't taking responsibility for his emotional health. I'm not really sure how you can do that because I don't know you and like I said, I was unsuccessful at it.

There's two ways it can go at this point: your husband can either take responsibility for fixing his emotional state so he can fix the rest of his life, or your husband can keep slapping a bandaid on his problems by switching from job to job and changing and making decisions that don't really matter because he isn't addressing the root of the problem. If he quits, it'll be a temporary problem (even if he lines up a job before quitting), but it'll be nowhere as big a problem as the untreated depression will be in the long term.

One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is that "you can't change other people". I don't know about that, but you'll have to find a way to get him to accept that he needs to get moving on his own care. You'll need to get him to see that he does indeed care enough about you to swallow his pride and get help for himself.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 3:51 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My dad sounds sorta like your husband given a few more years and difficult circumstances. My dad's a Vietnam Vet with some lingering PTSD, but I also believe that he's undiagnosed bi-polar. Regardless, I'll share a story w/ you.

My dad's trigger was when I was 19. I was arrested...badly, and my dad's fairly ultraconservative and really believed I was going to prison for a long long time. He has his own company at the time, and was doing fine. He just stopped going. He had thousands of dollars a week in accounts receivable, and instead he just sat at home in his underwear. Every day. For a year. He finally started to go back to counseling and managed to pull it together. He kicked ass for a quarter...but it was too late. He lost his company, and lost tens of thousands of dollars in the process. And then it really started to go downhill.

See, cuz my dad's stoic too. He's a tough guy. I think that in these last 10 years he's had 10 or 12 jobs. Some for as long as a year or so, some for just a couple weeks. His bosses are always idiots. He'll smoke and quit and smoke some more. Thankfully he doesn't drink.

Finally, about a year or so ago, he got a job that had steady hours and a decent (for him) paycheck. He's looking better, losing weight, saving money...etc. It's really the first time in my real lifetime that he's been truly happy and pleasant most of the time.

My real point is that those depressive like funks are easy to go into. I was in a little one a couple months ago when I quit my job (after working for a for reaaaaaaal ogre) and couldn't find another one. As enlightened as we like to think we are, we're men, and we're supposed to provide, at least on some level. And we know we're smart, and we're capable, and then something looks soooo perfect and we're soooo eager to be productive again that we try too hard and wind up throwing a monkey wrench right into the cogs and, even though it's going to be fine, our minds decide that we're either going to be axed or that everyone things we're total idiots.

My suggestion, in this case, is to continue to be supportive BUT to encourage counseling AND find something fun to do out of your house and work, AND to tell him that you're really not ready to take the kind of risk he's talking about. Maybe he can start filing his paperwork to make his own company, maybe he can start quietly looking for other opportunities. Don't let him remain funked though, it's a hole that just gets deeper. Ultimatums are acceptable but rarely useful, especially for those of us who don't take too kindly to challenges.
posted by TomMelee at 5:03 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreed. The 1950s John Wayne stuff is not helpful at all.

It's right and important to be supportive of people who are taking steps to address their mental health issues and finding them intractable. But those who take a 1950s John Wayne attitude themselves -- shrinks are quacks, depressed people are just a little blue, nothing wrong with me that a little booze won't cure -- are pretty much asking to get it in return. He needs to either, yes, "suck it up, buttercup," or get with the 21st century himself and stick with treatment for his depression.
posted by palliser at 5:47 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wellbutrin isn't for everyone. There's a wide spectrum of negative mental and physical effects. Rather than try to force him to take it, explain that there are way more medical options. Even if it's just a "blue mood" (how frustrating when people think this way!), if it's interfering with his ability to function in the long term he has a responsibility to both of you to seek treatment.
posted by hermitosis at 7:27 AM on July 7, 2009

Best answer: I appreciate the advice about therapy and natural remedies, but he's TOTALLY resistant. He won't revisit the antidepressants, either, even though he has seen how much they have improved the lives of friends and family members.

My husband is a LOT like your guy, down to the stoicness. In my experience, it's often true that stoic people will do a LOT for other people and little for themselves. Use this. Ask him to do it for you - it tears you up to see him so miserable. My husband responded very well when he realized I was unhappy because he was unhappy. Also, I framed it as a quality of life issue. Would he deny me a heating pad if my back was sore? I don't need one - I can grit my teeth through the pain - but life is sure a lot better après heating pad.

As others have said, it takes awhile to get used to the drugs, so make his life as wonderful as possible during this period. Use positive association, and don't forget to stress to him that this is making you happy. My husband's psychiatrist also told him flat out: "You're not taking this so much for you as you are for the people around you. Sometimes you have to do this in a marriage." And so he takes it daily unless he forgets. If he's resistant and cranky, that's when I draw the line - either take it or I'm on vacation for the day. Try not to get into the habit of reminding/giving him his pills - that's a sure path to resentment.

My guess is that between the nagging, you are sucking it up a little bit too. He needs to know when you are REALLY UPSET so he can distinguish it from the nagging. Screaming and yelling may actually be a good approach, because he can tune out a calm conversation. Again, stoic people seem to respond really well to other people's misery, because while they don't want to ask for help with their own problems, they hate being the cause of others' upset.

Side note: it's ADHD meds in our case, but the same strategies apply.
posted by desjardins at 7:55 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've left jobs with bad atmospheres and toxic people - but one incident isn't enough to make that call. Sounds more like his self-confidence is low + he may subconsciously be hoping for an out to go back to R&R (which isn't saying he's a bad person - I took a year off work once and it was damn hard to get myself back into the grind after).
Support him as a talented worker; ask him to give his boss a longer chance to establish the nature of their working relationship before deciding to jump ship. Remind him that hes good at what he does and just needs to get back into the groove, both of doing his work and working in a different kind of environment.
posted by Billegible at 9:06 AM on July 7, 2009

The stress of working for a bad boss is not as stressful as not having a job at all.

So long as he's working at this place, I wouldn't bug him too much about it. But, get him to tell you if he seriously considers quitting so that the two of you can talk about it. When you have that conversation, refer to the first sentence in this post.

Good luck!
posted by fantasticninety at 10:10 AM on July 7, 2009

In my experience, it's often true that stoic people will do a LOT for other people and little for themselves. Use this. Ask him to do it for you - it tears you up to see him so miserable.

posted by rokusan at 11:23 AM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: This morning he was much more sanguine, so we'll see. He is finding it a bit of a shock to get up and put on proper pants to go to work in the morning, never mind the shouty boss! (Boss is also not around in person very much, so that's a relief. I've told my husband that it's far, far better to have that distance, just so the boss isn't breathing down your neck.

I have work-related dramas popping up all the time, and I stew over them for a couple of days -- and then I get some P.E.R.S.P.E.C.T.I.V.E. and let them go. He isn't anywhere near as good about doing that. I don't know how to teach him that, beyond telling him not to sweat the small stuff or whatever.

I've been sucking it up (the depression/job hunt/money worries) all year, and occasionally the situation has boiled over. Suggesting doesn't help ("Why don't you play your guitar for a few hours and chill?" or "Let's go get pizza and $2 beers") for long. Outright nagging/faux-mothering ("You are not a bachelor boy who can jack it all in to be a cab driver because you don't like your boss/don't like the job market/don't want to deal with shit today" -- did I mention that he's in his mid-forties?!) doesn't work at all. Believe me, screaming and yelling doesn't work either. Still do it, though.

What does work is me withdrawing -- like desjardins' "going on vacation" -- and doing my own thing, seeing friends, keeping busy. (Grad school really has helped, plus I have a hobby/obsession that gets me out of the house a lot.) But I keep saying to him: You're in the prime of your life, and you're miserable. You're not enjoying anything. Why don't you want to do anything about it? And he agrees. But he won't do anything about it.

twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious (great name, by the way): He is deeply stubborn about changing the situation, even though he knows he needs to change. The resistance to antidepressants comes from his family upbringing, which has major amounts of teh crazy (medicated and not -- and oh, that's a whole other Ask MeFi question sometime) and buried horrors.

TomMelee: Your story really resonated with me. I'm so sorry about your dad, but I'm glad he has finally got to a place where he can be happy.

Thanks, everyone. There's a lot to mull over here. I'm so glad I discovered AskMeFi.
posted by vickyverky at 1:28 PM on July 7, 2009

Response by poster: And barc0001:

"Guys like this are full-on all the time, but they also have the anger-attention-span of a gnat. The boss will be all shouty and vessel-bursting for five minutes and then once the problem is solved he probably won't even remember it a week later."

is exactly what I told my husband, because I'm exactly the same way. My default setting is "irritable." I blow up about stuff, say exactly what I'm thinking (less than tactfully, usually), scorch the earth for a hundred-foot radius, and then I'm totally fine and calm half an hour later. (Meanwhile, the scorchees are looking stunned and aghast.) I told him, "Just see your boss as another version of me -- and you know how to react to me!"
posted by vickyverky at 1:36 PM on July 7, 2009

I don't know how to teach him that, beyond telling him not to sweat the small stuff or whatever.

You go back in time to his childhood and take him away from his crazy family and put him in a less chaotic situation with better role models.

Oh wait, you can't do that.

Sorry, you can't teach him.

Honestly, his gut reaction to these things will probably never change, and the sooner you accept it - and stop trying to change it, or wishing it would - the happier YOU will be. He can go on being miserable, and you can go on doing what you want to do on your "vacations."

With respect to your last response, keep in mind that he could write an AskMe question about why is his wife is so irritable and shouty, and what can he do to fix that?
posted by desjardins at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2009

If he doesn't want to have psychotherapy, perhaps he would attend a peer support group? In a peer group you can do some venting, get sympathy, get advice, give advice, and help others by listening.
His doctor may be able to suggest a group.

I agree that you should ask your husband to take the medication to help YOU.
posted by valannc at 5:26 PM on July 7, 2009

I think it's distinctly possible that the combination of depression and a partner whose default setting is irritable sets him up to be sensitive/oversensitive to criticism. As in, he took the 'shouting' from the boss particularly hard because it's a trigger. Clearly it's good he'd rather walk away from a job than walk away from his wife, but I'd look at your behavior with him as well as looking at his behavior with you. Since you expect him to make accommodations that he is having a hard time with - therapy, meds, staying at job - it would send a good message if you looked at your own behavior as well and how it is affecting the situation.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:18 AM on July 8, 2009

Oh - and in case that came out as harsh as it looks to me upon re-reading it, I say it as a person who both suffers from depression and has a really thin skin when it comes to criticism. I do know that when I am in more depressed states, any kind of criticism hits very, very hard and is hard to shake off and move away from.
Just so you don't think I was all 'you are totally causing problems cause you are so mean' at you.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:24 AM on July 8, 2009

Response by poster: Well, too late. He quit today. Boss was shouty again; husband decided not to take it anymore. He didn't confer with me about the wisdom of this -- just went ahead and quit. (Not that I could probably have talked him out of it.)

So, now. He can't get unemployment (I believe that's the case in CA if not every state if you quit a job); there's nothing else lined up, although he says he's going to talk to a pal who drives a cab about working for the same firm. He says he's sending out resumes tonight.

I am at a loss to know what to do next. In the meantime, thanks, everyone.

8dot3: Quite right about having a critical wife making him more sensitive to criticism, and I didn't read it as harsh. Yet he grew up as a fat kid with thick glasses and a weird sister, and that has definitely affected his self-esteem. Even now that he's no longer fat and got LASIK, he still hates to be teased in any way. (I'd like to point out here that I don't pick on him personally when I'm being critical, though. Obviously. He's my husband, not my punching bag.)

I asked him to talk to his friends and hang out with them a bit, because it's really hard for me to be the only person who hears what's going on in his head. I can't be his only sounding board.
posted by vickyverky at 7:34 PM on July 10, 2009

Oof, sorry to hear that. I hope he finds something else soon.

Meantime, I had a couple thoughts about potential tacks to take with people who are reluctant to give anti-depression meds a chance, in addition to desjardins's excellent suggestion that he make the effort for your sake. I have a close "manly man" relative with depression who could never deal with talk therapy, but who came around to anti-depressants when he conceptualized it as redressing a chemical imbalance in his brain, like tinkering with a fuel mix to make an engine run well.

Another friend was reluctant initially, but a therapist explained that the meds would enable her to have the energy to adjust her circumstances, and her thinking, in ways that could well make her feel better enough to go off them in a year or so. (She did, as it happens.)

I don't know if you've tried those tacks already, but if not, it might be worth a shot.
posted by palliser at 8:58 PM on July 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, palliser. I'll try that. He is still insisting he doesn't need them, despite telling me a week ago that he would try them for a month for our sake. A couple of "manly men" of our acquaintance also take ADs, so I quoted them as an example. But he still prefers beer as a mood elevator.
posted by vickyverky at 7:26 PM on July 16, 2009

Geeze man.

I'm hearing a lot of "he decided" "he says" "he refuses" and "he'd rather." There seems to be very little consideration for you or for the marriage. At this point, for me, the medication would not be optional anymore - and quite frankly, I'd be planning my exit strategy if he isn't willing to give it an earnest try.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:43 PM on July 16, 2009

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