How do I help my SO cope with the stress of finding a job?
September 25, 2011 11:35 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's finishing grad school, and is beginning her job hunt. How can I best help her cope with the stress? She's smart, capable and graduating from a top 5 school, but she's generally negative and I think her fear of being unemployed is heightened by the fact that she had an unsuccessful job search at the end of her BSc, and by the pressure put on her by her family. Plus, since I've got a job in her desired field, it makes it harder for me to relate to what she's going through.

At the moment she feels overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, but when I try to offer encouragement she either rejects it outright, ignores it, or says it makes her feel worse because what I say is unjustified or unwarranted. While I believe everything I tell her ("you're smart, qualified and you interview well - you will get a job"), my attempts to make her feel better just end up with her shutting down and me feeling either angry or powerless. What can I do/say to make this easier for her? Help, AskMe!

(Anonymous for safety because she and her friends read MeFi regularly)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would think that you being in her desired field would make it a LOT easier for you to relate.

Anyway, when I was going through a job search this summer, my husband supported me by constantly telling me not to worry about money, or about getting a job immediately. He made it clear that we would wait for the right job to come along (and it did!).

He also paid all the rent, and all of our expenses, so I could focus my money and energy on having the right interview suit, and taking as many interviews as possible. (I ended up having 19 in three weeks).
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:43 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend's finishing grad school, and is beginning her job hunt. How can I best help her cope with the stress?

Tell her this: "Hey babe, you sound stressed about finding a job. I just want you to know that I love you and I'm here for you, ok? Don't sweat the money, we're going to be alright. Otherwise, it's a beautiful day out, you want to go hiking/to thepark/movies/ see our friends etc"

You tried directly helping. It didn't help. Back off, let her know you're there, then get out with being a loving and supportive SO.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

It sounds like she doesn't need cheerleading ("you're smart, you'll get hired / you'll set the interview on fire!") and she doesn't need advice; she needs acknowledgment and empathy. Acknowledge that the circumstances are tough, and that her fears are real. Don't just dismiss her feelings by saying "oh, you'll get a job." Also, consider what additional fears or anxieties she may be feeling that are tied to the fear of not getting a job: is she worried that she'll become a financial burden and that you'll leave her, for example? Is she worried that her parents won't be sympathetic and that she'll have to deal with constantly being criticized by them?

Then reassure her that whatever happens, you guys will handle it together, and that you will support her through the ups and downs of the job search (roomthreeseventeen's examples of how her husband supported her are excellent). Dial back on giving advice; if it's a situation where you would normally jump in to tell her what to do, ask her if she'd like your feedback, and respect it if she says no.
posted by scody at 11:54 AM on September 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

If getting a job in your mutually desired field was relatively easy for you...whether because you just got lucky or you're awesome in your field...that might be sort of a sore competitive point between the two of you.

I mean, it would be for me, because I'm both competitive and insecure about my own marketability.

(Which is also why I would never be in a relationship with anyone in my own subdiscipline. Not that that helps you, sorry.)

In your situation, I would cook dinner a lot and keep my mouth shut, because everything else will sound like, "C'mon honey, it's not so hard. I mean, I wouldn't know, because I already have a job. But you're smart! Surely you'll be so fortunate as myself!"
posted by daisystomper at 11:55 AM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am your girlfriend. I had to return to grad school after discovering that my BA from a good university wasn't enough. My boyfriend, by contrast, went to an even better undergrad and got his dream job immediately. This smarts for me every single flipping day and I am working hard not to be jealous or envious, but sometimes it's hard.

For me, all I want to hear from my boyfriend is, "I have faith in you. You are talented, you are smart, and you are special, and I look forward to working with you in our dream field soon. How can I help make this transition as awesome as possible?"

You rock for asking this question.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:05 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was in your girlfriend's situation. My boyfriend also tried the direct encouragement part, but it didn't work as well as some of the other things that he tried.

Here's what he did that helped me and helped our relationship:
1. Part of my negativity stems not from fear of unemployed, but fear of how unemployment will affect my relationship. Will we break up if I had a prolonged unemployment or underemployment? What if we got jobs on opposite coasts? My boyfriend addressed all those questions with me. Now we have plans for each of those possible scenarios. Having a workable plan in place for even the worst possible scenario helps to calm my fears down and knowing that my boyfriend will always be there for me regardless of my employment status or moneymaking potential is the BEST thing I could've asked for.

2. I was dealing and am still dealing with some stressful family matters on the top of the job search. My boyfriend helped me out as much as he could when I asked for it. When I need to install a garage door opener and didn't have money to hire someone, he was in the garage up until 2 am in the summer heat to finish the job for me. When I get tired and didn't feel like cooking anymore, he took me out. When I get cranky and sad, he was always there with a hug and kiss for me. So ask your girlfriend what you can do to help her and do your best to fulfill her request. (within reason of course)

3. If you are already in her dream field, then you must have contacts in the field as well. See if you can help her in the job search. This is something me and the boyfriend help each other with. We read and revise each other's cover letter and resumes, we use each other's network to connect and find job opportunities, etc. Knowing that the boyfriend is with me on the job search made me feel like we are a team tackling this together, that I'm not just out there on my own.

Wishing you guys the best of luck!
posted by wcmf at 1:51 PM on September 25, 2011

I'm in a similar situation worrying about the job market. Somebody told me that while unemployment rates are high, unemployment of people with PhD's is around 1-3%. I really can't vouch for the accuracy of that number but I did hear something similar on NPR the other day and it did make me feel much more optimistic about finding a job when my diss is done.
posted by gilsonal at 9:09 PM on September 25, 2011

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