How do you deal with jealousy of your spouse/partner?
April 12, 2013 8:46 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are currently at rather different points in our careers. I have struggled for years to make a living out of freelancing in one area. I'm told I'm good at it but have never made it into a company that can offer me long term work, career development or support. My partner has a stable job in a multinational company and has just been offered and started training in my area, with a probable supported move into my area in the next couple of years. I am not dealing with this very well. Have you dealt with something similar, can you offer advice?

The training she is being provided is diploma level and would take me 1 year full time and about $4k to complete. I have looked at doing this in the past and while I could scrounge the money I cannot afford the time.

The crux of the issue is that I am seriously struggling career wise at the moment, which is already a self-esteem issue for me. Watching my partner, who is significantly younger than me, go from strength to strength in her career and then move, fully guided and supported, into an area I love is just crushing my self esteem and harming our relationship. I'm extremely jealous and it feels horrible.

I am in therapy and the issues are all acknowledged, I think, but I am not having much success accommodating this situation into a healthy outlook on life.

Any advice would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The most obvious answer here I guess would be try and work on mindfulness, and remember to "do everything with love", including considering your partner's career and prospects alongside your own.

However, here are two ways you might be able to trick the selfish bit of your brain into being happier for her (we all have one, no judging from me!).

1: Networking prospects
Basically if she is entering into your field, that means events, seminars, ALL sorts of opportunities to make contacts and you, as her SO, can get a lot out of these too. Me and my partner are in a similar field and when we go to relevant events, he always makes pains to introduce me to his contacts and vice versa. It works AWESOME and has got us some interesting bits of work and prospects.

2: The Long Term
Now me and my SO were where you guys are a year or two ago and wow I had to grit my teeth and congratulate him at times, when he was passing the milestones I wanted to pass. But how glad am I that I did? SO GLAD because my career, since then, has taken a really sharp up-turn, and if it continues in this trajectory, could at some point pass his quite quickly. Throughout this, all the gladness and encouragement I gave him has come back to me twofold, and if I'd spent the time before this happened being bitter I would be feeling so guilty right now and not able to enjoy my success because of it.

So there it is basically - milk the shit out of her new contacts and protect yourself from future humiliation, and all you have to do to accomplish these things is be happy for her :) I think you can do it!
posted by greenish at 9:08 AM on April 12, 2013 [21 favorites]

Somebody told me once that being jealous of someone you love is not being loving towards that person, but instead being hateful, not only towards the object of your jealousy, but also towards yourself. Jealousy is also a secondary emotion to a certain extent; what is the underlying fear or fears that are paralyzing you when you find yourself jealous of your partner? Are you afraid she will leave you if you don't measure up? Whatever that fear is, identify it. Name it. Tackle that whenever possible. And, most importantly, when you find yourself thinking jealous thoughts about your partner, remind yourself through whatever means necessary that this is someone you love and whose success is your success, too.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:12 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you guys are partners there should be some idea of shared goals and helping each other out. For example, I have a university degree and my wife does not. I work and she does not. If she wants to go back to school I would pay for her education, no questions asked (other than whether or not we can afford it, or figure out how to afford it).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you two are going to end up marrying each other, talk to her about how this is affecting you so negatively - perhaps this area is not her top choice anyway, and she can re-consider and move into an area that's not in the heart of your expertise.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2013

I have felt this way recently, though it was towards a close friend, not a partner.

You're human. It's okay to feel jealous. You're struggling and frustrated in your career and someone close to you has gotten the kind of great chance that you have never gotten. Don't beat yourself up for feeling jealous.

How you deal with that jealousy is for someone else to tell you. But I find that admitting something you'd rather not admit about yourself is a good first place to start in dealing with it.
posted by Katine at 9:28 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My situation is somewhat different but maybe has some overlap. Mr Corpse has a great career going, doing interesting work he loves. I've ended up being a full-time mom with a teeny tiny career that is, at the moment, going nowhere. Trust me, I know what jealousy is.

I try to take comfort in knowing that he couldn't have the great job he does if it weren't for me. I look after our kids so he never gets the phone calls from school telling him someone needs to be picked up early. I do all the grocery shopping and more than half of the household chores, which means he doesn't need to take time off from work to sit around and wait for the furnace repair guy.

Mentally, I've snagged half his paycheck. We share all our finances, but I like to think of part of the money being earned by me, me, meeee, because if it weren't for me me meeee that paycheck would be smaller.

Some day I'll head back into the work force, and I'll be able to use Mr Corpse's experience to help me. Can you think of your partner's career as being partly yours? Her success as being both of yours? Her advancement as helping the partnership that is anonymous and Ms anonymous? And that the resources she'll bring to the partnership -- connections, experience, pay, knowledge -- will help you with your own career?
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:29 AM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

she can re-consider and move into an area that's not in the heart of your expertise.

That would be a really terrible thing to ask of her, and even if you didn't ask and your obvious feelings ended up causing her to do it anyway, she could very well resent you for it for longer than your jealousy would last.

I really like the "connections" suggestion-- with your passion and experience, and her foot in the door and contacts, you'll be more of a force to be reckoned with as a team than either of you could be alone. But if you let your jealousy adversely affect you, you'll both lose that advantage.
posted by supercres at 9:34 AM on April 12, 2013 [22 favorites]

I was married to a woman who had years of formal music training, and who in her youth had performed professionally, but had ceased to exercise that muscle for more than a decade. When I -- untrained, inexperienced -- bought a piano and started playing it, she was supportive right until I started writing decent songs, after which she became hostile towards me whenever I spent time doing it. Eventually she admitted that she was feeling jealous, that she wasn't doing music after all those years of training and experience, while I was just able to do it without much effort.

The solution in her case, beyond recognizing it and apologizing and ceasing to act out, was to re-embrace her interest in music; she collaborated with me a few times, then started singing in a church choir, then soloing there.

In your case, beyond recognizing it and working hard not to act out, is to realize that you really do want the support and resources she has, because this matters to you...and so perhaps you and she should sit down and find a way to spend that 1 year and $4K on your professional development. Perhaps if you take the steps to recognize this is more than a whim for you, and perhaps if she embraces the risk and struggle associated with your time and financial commitment to your professional development, you'll have the support you need to reach that next level (and stop feeling jealous in the interim.)
posted by davejay at 9:40 AM on April 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

she can re-consider and move into an area that's not in the heart of your expertise.

Why should she have to be the one to do this? To put the shoe on the other foot - OP, how much do you really, truly love your career? Do you love what you do enough to power through these feelings of jealousy toward your partner? What if you continue to struggle? What if it continues to put a strain on your relationship? How valuable is this particular career to you?

What I am saying is: maybe this is a signal that it's time for you to reconsider your career. You might want to do the same thing you are doing only in a different field/area, or you might want to switch careers entirely.

Or you might want to set a timeline for yourself: For instance, "I will continue to devote X more years (say, five more) of my best efforts toward making a career in my field, and if I'm still struggling, I will change fields or careers."

One thing you might want to consider is, if you and your partner plan to have children at any time in the future, she might want to stay home with them - or she might plan to have you be the stay-home partner but she might get bit by the "stay home mom" bug (hormones and baby attachment feelings sometimes do that!) and want to take time off, and you will want to be in a place where you can support a family without all of you taking a huge income/living standards hit.

If you love, love, love what you do, definitely put your all into professional development and divert your energy away from anger at your partner. But do think twice about whether the struggle is worth it.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can acknowledge it, that helps a lot. "You are so talented, and acomplished and you have such great opportunities, I don't mind telling you that I'm pea green with envy. I wish I could hate you!"

Don't harp on it, but acknowledge it, it doesn't make you a small person. Holding it in and being resentful does.

Be as supportive and helpful as you can. What goes around comes around and you'll be celebrating your successes soon enough.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:02 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's good to acknowledge these feelings, but asking her to reconsider this opportunity because it's something you want to do would be incredibly selfish. I don't see how that could not poison your relationship, and I really hope you're a big enough person to realize that.

Plus, it's not as if she's taking this opportunity away from you - it isn't as if you would be getting this chance if only it weren't going to her. Instead, maybe it's a way of helping you get in the door obliquely. I really like greenish's point about the potential for networking - the more people you know in the field, the more likely one of them is to know of an opportunity for you, right? Beyond that, perhaps you could be asking her to share what she's learning with you ... heck, perhaps you could leverage her training materials to do some self-directed study on your own, if this is an area where that would be beneficial.

Beyond that, as others above have said, the more you can think of the two of you as a team, the easier this will probably be to handle. The two of you, together, can benefit from this. Your partner being happier and more fulfilled in her own career can certainly translate to better interactions between the two of you. This doesn't have to be a one up, one down situation - what's good for one of you can be good for the team, yeah?

And finally, I suppose if it helps you can chalk this all up to the luck of the draw. Her having this opportunity doesn't mean you don't deserve it or aren't as good in this area - sometimes for whatever reason people get offered chances, and who's to say that yours won't come up next month or next year?
posted by DingoMutt at 10:08 AM on April 12, 2013

As I see it, you've gone the entrepreneur route (with all of its particular risks and benefits) and your wife has gone the major-corporation route, which has its own plusses and minuses. One of those plusses she has available to her, is an entire infrastructure that exists to educate and enhance employees' skills and find jobs that are a good fit. You really can't "compete" with that all on your own.

But you have other advantages that she doesn't. For example, you say you are struggling..maybe this is a good time for you to shift to a different (but related) area entirely, or maybe dabble in two or three new areas. This kind of flexibility is something that is rarely available to those of us who work for big companies, so take advantage of it.
posted by see_change at 10:09 AM on April 12, 2013

Do you have a third party with whom you can vent the angry jealous bits?

As others have acknowledged, don't make this your partner's problem, but I can really see you benefitting from have someone else you can work through these feelings with, without judgment and without contaminating your relationship.

Practical strategies for rethinking the jealous thoughts into positive ones are good, but sometimes you just have to let the not-so-nice stuff out there somehow. Maybe less formal than therapy.

Do you have a friend you could tell, "Hey, my partner just got the kind of gig I've been trying to get for months. I need to blow off some steam by shooting paintballs/climbing rocks/stomping grapes for a bit. Can you come? Maybe also primal screaming?"
posted by pantarei70 at 10:25 AM on April 12, 2013

First off: OP, I don't think you are a bad person for feeling this way. It is normal to compare yourself to people, and your partner is right there.
There is good advice upstream on how to reframe this for yourself. She did choose a different career pathway (employed by Big Corporation): are there drawbacks to that that you are overlooking? (less flexibility over her time, answering to more people, etc). Could her opportunity become your opportunity, also? ie, chances to network, etc.

It is OK to acknowledge your jealousy to her. People are complicated; you can be happy for her (you are happy for her, right?) while also being frustrated with your struggles.

Finally, I would not favor approaching this by asking her to change her career trajectory, as was suggested above. That would be unfair: she isn't being successful at you.
posted by maryrussell at 10:27 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

talk to her about how this is affecting you so negatively - perhaps this area is not her top choice anyway, and she can re-consider and move into an area that's not in the heart of your expertise.

Please don't ask her to do this. I had a partner do something similar once -- we weren't as serious as you seem to be, however -- and it actually ended with us breaking up. His inability to be happy and excited for me when things were going well was poisonous to our relationship. It's human nature to feel a bit jealous, but it's also selfish to bring that jealousy to your partner in a prolonged way, because honestly, her success is not about you. I truly do understand how you feel, but I hope you are also able to step outside this and be extremely happy for the person you love, who is happy and successful and accomplished. The truth of the matter is that you are comparing apples and oranges -- she's at a giant corporation. That is essentially, although the bones might be the same, an ENTIRELY different job than the one you have. Maybe reminding yourself of that could help.

I have no doubt that you guys can work through this -- you want to, and that's huge -- but your jealousy is probably making her feel shitty about her success, and that's not a very kind thing to do to a person you love. All of your question is about how you feel (which is okay; that's what you're asking about, after all), but I hope you've thought about her and how your reaction is making her feel. Maybe focusing on that -- and the desire, which I hope you have, to be supportive of the awesome thing that are happening to her, and therefore not to harsh her buzz about this -- will help you move past this.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:14 AM on April 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Apologies if this sounds pedantic, but technically you're envious, not jealous. In that you aren't jealous (worried that someone will steal away something from you), but envious - you covet what she has - good luck, opportunity, success.

I think that it is possible to be both completely envious AND completely excited for someone. And to do so without thinking about how what they are going to get benefits them, you, or both of you as a couple.

My husband is about to get a job that is twice my salary where he is going to work half my hours. I love my job, and I am totally, completely envious. I want the free time he's going to have, the flexibility, the autonomy that the money is going to give him, and yeah, we're married, but really, it's his - not really 'ours'. AND I'm totally excited for him. I know that he's a good man and a hard worker, and someone deserves it, so why not him? Depending on the moment, I look at him sitting next to me and I simultaneously want to hug him tightly and push him off the chair.

And he knows this, and we sort of find is giggly funny, and try to approach it with compassion. Now, maybe we can do this because I'm a career counselor, and he's a psychiatrist, and we've got that poem by Rumi called Guest House on our wall. By that I mean, as a career counselor I know how much personal identity and professional success can get intertwined. I start comparing my choices and outcomes to his because well, that's what people do at times, and it always leads to hurt feelings. And as a psychiatrist, he appreciates how we can have both feelings of envy and joy - in the same body, in the same moment. And there is the Rumi poem, about letting in every emotion, and letting it pass through you - your house - with acceptance. Because of this, he doesn't hide his joy from me, anymore than I try to hide my envy - though I do take responsibility for it and occasionally take a walk outside.

My point is that you can see the two things as separate. You can both be hopping grar and embarrassed that you have not achieved the success for you want for yourself, AND be glad that someone you love is making it in the world. But you DON'T have to turn it into a referendum on the value of her work or your work, or your value, or define yourself as a failure, or decide that she thinks you're a failure or that other people may 'compare' you and decided that as a younger person she is 'surpassing' you. Accepting that part of you thinks or fears that - okay. Indulging in it, not okay.

Also, her success is her success. I'm going to suggest that you don't start thinking about how you can profit off of it. I'm going to suggest that you accept that you're human - and come fully loaded, with both joy and envy. I think it might be enough to just accept sometimes a wave of envy passes your way, and ride that wave without dumping it on her. Other feelings will follow, and it doesn't mean that you are a bad person. It means you're disappointed in this aspect of your life. That's also part of the human experience. You can live with these feelings, and with her, the more comfortable you grow with the fact that your feelings are uncomfortable, and they are yours, and it's okay.
posted by anitanita at 12:00 PM on April 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

You're totally normal to be feeling this way. Acknowledging that you're jealous, and being willing and open to working on it is a really positive thing.

That being said, you can't change this jealous feeling you're having just by willing yourself not to be jealous. Something has to change (hint!) within yourself. Addressing an earlier comment - as many others have said, asking your partner to alter her career path to assuage your jealousy is borderline manipulative, and something you should definitely not do.

I've found the best way to combat jealousy of any type is to acknowledge the feelings, (good job! you're already there!) look inward, and focus on improving your total self worth. This could mean: starting a new workout routine, developing a new hobby, making new friends, joining a club, or taking career development courses. Improving your life independently of your partner will give you an all around confidence boost, and I fully believe that positive life changes of any kind tend to have a magnetic/snowball effect. For example - being proud of sticking to a new workout routine may give you the structure and confidence you need to tackle a career development course that may seem daunting in the present. Fostering a hobby or joining a club may help you to network outside your normal circle and expand your freelance business.

I'd also suggest looking into alternative methods to accomplish a higher level of career training and development. This will obviously vary from field to field, but perhaps there is a lower cost online course you could take in your spare time.

For a good while, I've been wanting to go back to grad school for photography, but haven't had the time/resources to do so. I recently found a well respected monthly subscription website that has these gloriously detailed and thorough training videos for all things related to photography. The cost is negligible compared to grad school. After a few weeks of watching the videos in my spare time, I'm finding that I'm learning WAY more than I ever would in a classroom, because I have the luxury of being able to pause/rewind while I take detailed notes. The lovely thing is that I'm able to do this without sacrificing my current job. Because I love photography (as you love your freelance business), doing this training in my spare time has been a joy, and not a chore.

A cautionary tale: I know a guy who attended a very prestigious specialized school, and 3 years post grad has done little to nothing to further his career in that field. Though he's talented and creative as all get-out, he spends his time being jealous and bitter of the vast majority of people our age with successful careers in that field. He makes constant excuses for his lack of success - those other people have better equipment and I have crap; that person had connections they leveraged to get where they are and I have nothing. My point is that he's letting his jealousy of others dictate his life, when he should be using jealousy as a sign that he needs to practice and hone his craft, and make those connections and successes happen for himself.

Your partner probably worked her ass off to get where she is. At the very least, I doubt she was just handed this opportunity out of the blue. Take a look at yourself, and examine the changes you probably already know you need to make.

You will have nothing if you make nothing for yourself. Harness your jealousy and use it as a driving force toward making your freelance business successful. Work your ass off, get training, better yourself as a person in general, network, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and you will have no time to be jealous because you'll be too busy being kickass at whatever it is that you do.

I wish you the best of luck, and I totally believe that you can pull yourself out of this funk.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 12:30 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]
posted by tacoma1 at 1:03 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think jealousy can actually be one of the great emotions, because it can tell you what you really, really want. There's nothing for clarity like total barfing jealousy.

When you say you 'can't afford the time' for the degree, are you certain about that? If you would have to scrounge for the money, would it be better to take a couple of years, or even three, to get that diploma-level degree?

Other thing is, careers and relationships are both long and have great reversals of fortune. People have huge highs and lows, career-wise, over a long time, and it's good to have that perspective--just the relationship is the constant, and other things are weather.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry that you're struggling with your career and with jealousy. For some reason, I'm frequently a jealous person and it's hard - I want to be happy for people I care about when good things happen to them but I would like good things to happen to me too and I feel frustrated when they don't.

I try to remind myself that everyone has good times and bad times and I just need to hang in there, etc. That said, when I got a cool opportunity to speak to a group of people, my husband said that he felt a little jealous of me. It meant a lot, especially because it seemed like his career was going amazingly well, to hear that he actually felt jealous of me. And it was a reminder that, while I felt like it was a small thing, it was still an opportunity that not everyone had, so I should feel excited about it and prepare for it.

I also try to channel negative emotions into something positively. When I felt jealous of people who had gotten great career opportunities, I went home and applied for jobs. Or I would think about it while I went for a run. Use this to make you better, not bitter.

Finally, when I feel jealous of others, I try to think about what makes me different - not better, necessarily, but different. Even if it's something stupid, it's something. My siblings all have more degrees than I do but they also have more student debt. That girl I used to work with won an award that I wanted but I run a get-together for professionals. My husband is brilliant but he can't pack a suitcase to save his life. Everybody's different and that's something to celebrate because that means we can help each other out. For now, your partner is on the up and up but history indicates that that won't be the case forever and then you can help her. This is just another part of your journey together - a less fun part for you, but that just means your turn for a fun part is around the corner if you keep working on it. Best wishes.
posted by kat518 at 1:27 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the key is - do you really want to be doing what you're doing?

If you do, then personally you're going to have to make efforts to move forward with your career. And you'll find a way to do this because you'll have enough passion for what you're doing.

But if not, then this is the perfect opportunity to look for something else. Perhaps what you're currently doing is not the best thing for you, even if you've been doing it for a while.

But this is all your responsibility and not the responsibility of your partner.
posted by heyjude at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2013

I have the same issue. My partner is a step ahead of me in his career, way more skilled than I am in numerous areas, and doing more interesting things (to me anyway) than I am.

We've solved this by working together on a project, while allowing me to catch up on completing the requirements of what I'm already doing. It's imperfect, and I still often feel a bit "less than" in the career department. But I'm running as fast as I can!

Can you guys work together on something since you're in the same field? Can you consult for her corporation? Can she send some business your way?

Can you do a joint project together? It doesn't matter if it's money-making. Maybe you could run a networking group for people in your industry, or create a workspace for professionals, or a conference or industry-specific software tool or something.
posted by 3491again at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2013

I don't know how intertwined your life and that of your partner is [are you building a life together?], but I think often about the closing lines of the Washington Post obituary for Martin Ginsburg. Martin Ginsburg was the husband of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He was no legal slouch himself, known as one of the preeminent tax-law experts in the United States. But he was also the husband of a Supreme Court Justice. Which entailed both actual sacrifices as well as notoriety-sorts of sacrifices.
The last lines of his obituary say:
Mr. Ginsburg said he was proud of his wife's accomplishments and had no regrets about the compromises they made for each other.
"I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me," Mr. Ginsburg told the Times in 1993. "It's not sacrifice; it's family."
Easier said than done, but a sentiment to aspire to.
posted by atomicstone at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

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