How to support a spouse when you don't agree on their plans?
October 8, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

My spouse wants to quit their current job. I want to be supportive, but I find it difficult when I don't understand or agree with the decision to walk away.

My spouse wants to quit their current job. It's "not bad" pays well, has benefits, and is somewhat secure. They feel that it doesn't fit them and they want to quit. My own work situation isn't that good. I was laid-off from a long term career and took a job at a much lower salary with no benefits. I want to be supportive but I find it difficult when I don't understand the decision to walk away.

I'm finding it really hard to be supportive of my partner leaving their current position. I want them to be happy, but I don't think quitting is the best thing to do. I'm torn. I know that fighting this isn't doing anyone any good. But I can't bring myself to be very positive about the situation. I'm sure people have been in similar situations. I'd love to know how people have navigated this territory.
posted by jade east to Human Relations (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are there other issues in your relationship? Because quitting a job that "isn't bad" and leaving your family without benefits (and, I assume, health insurance if you're in the US) is an inherently selfish and crappy thing to do.

Can you tell spouse you'll be 100% behind a new job search if they look while in the current job?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:23 AM on October 8, 2013 [32 favorites]

Does your spouse have a plan? A new job lined up? An educational requirement they are going off to fulfill that they have fully thought out paying for etc.? Or is your spouse just quitting because they want to quit? Can you, as a unit, afford to have your spouse just quit?

There needs to be a plan. At least I would need for there to be a plan.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:24 AM on October 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

Do they have an option lined up to replace it? People should probably almost never leave a current job without a good, solid plan.

If not, have they made a solid examination of the financial situation? How long can they/yall stay unemployed? Realistically? Are there children? Emergency funds?
posted by Jacen at 8:24 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, the question does NOT say that quitting the job means financial catastrophe. The poster is also working and doesn't indicate that there are kids or an inability to self-insure. It says that the job "pays well, has benefits and is somewhat secure".

How old are you? How long have each of you been in your jobs? How long have you been married? How dependent is your household on both incomes? On these benefits? What economic cushion do you have? Do you have lots of debt? Is your partner hoping to get a Unicorn job or just something better suited? These things all matter in answering this question.

Even if you don't agree with the decision, it is not necessarily catastrophic to quit a job that you're not happy with for no other reason than you're not happy with it. It's not inherently selfish to lean on one partner's income and benefits more than another's while you figure out what you want out of your career and your life. Some people have an easier time segmenting a job that doesn't thrill them from their feelings of self-worth than others do. It's an adjustment that everyone has to make in life--except for a rarefied few who get to be Lady Gaga or [insert dream job here]--but it takes longer for some people than others. And some people are happier trading some types of job security for jobs that feel more like the kind of work they want to do.

So I rather respectfully disagree with the people above who are slamming your partner for being unhappy in a " 'not bad' job pays well, has benefits, and is somewhat secure." Having a happy partner who makes a little less cash or who is on your insurance instead of their own or is self-insured would be much more important to me than a partner who is constantly wishing he were somewhere else.

But you do have to be in it together. Which it sounds like you're not. So you need to talk about it. You need to try to understand and empathize with why your partner feels this way and what they hope to get from moving to a different job. I mean, it's possible your partner has unrealistic expectation about what difference a new job will make in how they feel about the work-a-day world, but your question doesn't say that. So find out.

Your partner needs a specific goal in quitting this job and a plan for getting there. Your partner needs to get the house in order, too, before quitting this job. Your partner needs to start thinking about what job they'd rather have. How to get it. What can your partner be doing, without quitting this job, to get that more compatible job?

You need to assess together how you will pay rent, for food, and cover health insurance until your partner has another job. And your partner needs to figure out whether the job-hop is covering for another problem.

So I would ask your partner to wait to quit the job until you've talked about it in greater detail. Then, if it seems like your partner has a good plan and a reasonable goal, even if you wouldn't do it this way, just say "Honey, I don't get, but I want you to be happy." and have a little faith in your relationship and your partner.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:41 AM on October 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

My son is at his first job and he doesn't love it, even has ethical qualms about it (McD's) and he's struggling with the "don't quit job A until you have job B lined up" rule, but he gets why it's a rule. Your spouse is an adult in a partnership with another person. Job decisions aren't made in a vacuum once you partner up and/or take on adult financial responsibilities.

You have a low salary and no benefits resulting from a layoff, so your partner's higher salary and benefits play a bigger role here than he/she feeling "not bad" about the job. So definitely fully support the new job search, and definitely fully support your partner finding a good fit for him/herself. But you don't have to support a decision you don't agree with that will have predictable, avoidable negative impacts.
posted by headnsouth at 8:46 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

crush-onastick, OP has a low salary and no benefits. It's not a matter of adding partner to OP's benefits - if partner quits the secure, benefited job, there are no benefits.
posted by headnsouth at 8:48 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Maybe you can make a deal with him that you BOTH launch a job search, and that either he finds a new job with benefits, or you find a job with benefits - either way, once that's done, he can quit his old job.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:49 AM on October 8, 2013 [18 favorites]

I understand what it's like to be frustrated with a current job.

The grass being greener can really be appealing.

If your partner hasn't been out in the job market in the last 5 years, they really really need to step back a moment and look at what's out there.

Highly skilled and experienced workers around where I live are taking fairly crappy not-their-field jobs because there are no jobs in their fields right now. This then pushes out the people who normally take those jobs and they take the even crappier jobs.

New Job Search? Heck Yes. You both should get on this!

Support for this? That would be great.

Support for leaving job without a new job? I would have serious issues with this, if it was my partner.

Aside: Read this about the T Cover letter. I'm going to use that from now on.
posted by PlutoniumX at 8:53 AM on October 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

a couple that is working properly would discuss both job situations in the entire context of money/benefits/security/growth/happiness/balance and decide together how to move forward to achieve their goals. it seems to me that when one person says "i've made a decision that i need your support on" there's trouble in the relationship. i feel like it should always be, "here's my problem - here's the solution i've been able to brainstorm - how do we make this work/what are the alternatives/what do you think?"

i think fingersandtoes has what sounds like a very fair compromise, but i think you'll have to at some point look at the underlying issues of how you guys got to this place.
posted by nadawi at 8:58 AM on October 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

headnsouth--my spouse is a contractor with no benefits. he buys insurance for both of us out of his income.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:59 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd say it is a dealbreaker.

You guys are a team. You need to work out a different strategy that puts you both on reasonably sure footing, then you can address issues like career satisfaction or self-actualization.
posted by 99percentfake at 8:59 AM on October 8, 2013

I don't think you're obligated to be supportive about a stupid decision (which could be anywhere from mildly stupid/selfish, if you'll still have health insurance/good savings/ability to support both of you on your current wages to catastrophically stupid, if not).

You're obligated to not be a total asshole about it, but you're not obligated to pretend you think it's a good idea, or even to stay in the relationship, if it comes to that.
posted by randomnity at 9:01 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

My original answer got erased.

I guess we need to know more about your situation. If your spouse quits, what happens? Would he be getting a better job? In which case, great! Would he just be sitting around hoping a new job came along? I'd be a bit more concerned.

Do you have children. Could your job support you both? What is his plan?

I assumed that he wanted to quit with no prospects on the horizon and that while you have a job, it would not support the both of you. Is that right or wrong?

Husbunny hated being a nurse so we made a plan. I transfered, we sold our house and got an apartment. He went back to school full time to study Actuarial Science. When he was done, he got a job.

We sat down and evaluated what we wanted to do, we planned and budgeted for it, then we did it.

I suggest you do the same.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your partner quitting will put you in a financial bind due to the reduction in cash flow, loss of benefits, etc. then quitting without a suitable plan B ready to go is selfish.

Selfish behavior is typically frowned upon in relationships.
posted by COD at 9:09 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are two people in this relationship. Your partner wants to leave this job. You want economic stability. You support each other not by either of you acting unilaterally, but by talking through the issues and figuring out how to reconcile these two positions. Support is a two-way street.

Like you, I feel that leaving a job without a back-up plan is hard to understand, because I have never lived in a world where groceries, a roof over my head, clothes to wear and medical care if I were to get sick were NOT a concern. A job, for me, is primarily a means to an end, a way of paying those bills so that I can get on with the rest of my life without them weighing me down. Pretty much everyone I know views their job in this light as well; you are not an anomaly.

While I would not want to be miserable in a job, I have worked in places where I had to hold my tongue and swallow my pride for the sake of earning that paycheck. I went to college so that my job market would not be forever limited to that kind of employment, and of course I look for jobs that will not make me downright miserable if I have an option, but I still do not expect personal fulfillment to come from my job.

Your partner's desire to quit out of, for lack of a better descriptor, a vague restlessness, feels shallow and unrealistic when seen from that perspective. If you also rely in part on your partner's paycheck, it also seems very selfish. Finances are the #1 issue married couples fight over, so it is not unreasonable for you to be worried!

Let's cut your partner a break and assume the best. Maybe coupledom is new, and your partner is not used to considering others when making what have always been personal decisions before. Maybe finances were never an issue in the past because someone was there to bale him/her out. Maybe your partner is obscenely wealthy and works for the novelty of rubbing shoulders with the common folk. ;)

Hey, even if any of those apply, talking about how this will affect you is not being unsupportive! You are in a relationship together. Your partner needs to see the bigger picture here.

OP, please sit down with your partner and talk about this! Make sure your partner understands aw here you are coming from. It is NOT unsupportive to say that while of course you want them to be happy, you also need stability to be happy yourself. Maybe quitting the job is not the answer and lifestyle changes would be a better route to curing that restlessness. But if quitting is what has to happen, you need a backup plan in place, like another job lined up first, so that you can feel secure as well. Then you will be able to support this move 100%.

If your partner does not listen to and respect your concerns, your relationship, not the job, is the real problem.
posted by misha at 9:54 AM on October 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

Can you guys afford to buy insurance from whatever source available if spouse quits? (Husband and I are both freelancers, pay for our own, and it's entirely do-able.)
Does spouse have a plan? Our deal is that if one person decides to change jobs/gigs, and earning is affected, that person needs a plan to either make up the difference (selling on eBay) or cutting expenditures by that amount (gym membership, cable TV, etc..)
You both have to agree to the plan. No one gets to walk in and announce "I've quit! Now I'm a free-lance juggler! Wish me luck~!"
posted by Ideefixe at 9:57 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a big difference between supporting someone's goal and supporting the specific actions they take in pursuit of that goal. You can want your partner to be happier with their work situation without endorsing their leaving a job with no backup plan.

Figure out what actions he can take that you'd be comfortable with (he leaves only for a new offer? He accumulates X months' worth of savings?) and work with him to find a course of action that you're both comfortable with.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

So we did something similar, but had a slightly different situation going into this:

1) my husband's job was adversely affecting his health in obvious, demonstrable ways.
2) I make enough to easily support us, and we have health benefits through my job.
3) We don't have kids. I think this is really important, because we're adults and can leave the situation if it's untenable. Kids can't leave a bad situation. Therefore, you have an obligation to not put them in a bad situation in the first place.
4) We changed a lot of stuff around with regards to housework, etc. He does the majority of the housework, and is now working from home part time.

It was still a really big change, and we talked a lot about it before he made the change. It was definitely a choice we made together. I was 100% on board, because it wouldn't screw us up financially or medically, and because we had strong proof that his job was medically affecting him. Even so, there were definitely a lot of adjustments. It was hard for both of us to adjust to new roles in the house.

If we had been in a situation like yours, I would have been looking for a different job and been encouraging him to do the same. It is a partnership, and one person doesn't get to just unilaterally decide that it's ok to cut the household income and health benefits and then ask for support - it has to be a mutually decided thing between the two of you.
posted by RogueTech at 10:12 AM on October 8, 2013

I think the OP is refering to benefits, not health insurance. Do you currently use the benefits or are they just a nice added layer of security in case you need prescriptions or a massage? If your spouse is going to quit, be sure to max out the benefits by getting glasses etc if needed.

Having a spouse quit their job isn't a death knell in a relationship, but a lack of communication is. Why don't you understand their reasons? Because they are not explaining them, because you don't understand their reasoning, because you can't see their point of view no matter how they explain it? Is this something a counsellor could help with? As part of your benefits you may have access to an EAP for free counselling. This absolutely has to be a team decision if you are team.

Although the Vancouver job market is pretty good compared to the US, it is still true that many employers will look at currently employed applicants over the unemployed. Quitting also eliminates EI eligibility. What explanation will your spouse give potential employers about why they left their current position and why they won't quit the next job too?

Personally, I think it is much better to set goals that move TOWARDS something positive, rather than running away from something negative. Can this be reframed as positive movement in which quitting the job is just one step towards fulfilling a positive, achievable goal?
posted by saucysault at 10:16 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

one person doesn't get to just unilaterally decide that it's ok to cut the household income

One person doesn't get to unilaterally decide that the status quo is just fine, either. And expecting your partner to be miserable indefinitely rather than accept any reduction in income can be as selfish as quitting your job.

You need to find an option that both of you are really ok with—not a solution that one partner is ok with and the other goes along with to keep the peace.
posted by enn at 10:20 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the OP is refering to benefits, not health insurance. Do you currently use the benefits or are they just a nice added layer of security in case you need prescriptions or a massage? If your spouse is going to quit, be sure to max out the benefits by getting glasses etc if needed.

Many people in the US use the term "benefits" to mean health insurance, since that is the way most Americans get their health insurance, and which can be more or less generous in terms of what it covers (e.g. eyes, prescriptions, etc.). Just so you know.

OP, if your spouse has a plan but isn't sharing the details, or the plan is too vague for your comfort, you have to talk about it. If there is no plan, you have to talk about it. You are not required to be supportive of something you don't agree with or have details on, especially if you haven't sat down together and gone through all the what-ifs.
posted by rtha at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2013

> Many people in the US use the term "benefits" to mean health insurance, since that is the way most Americans get their health insurance, and which can be more or less generous in terms of what it covers (e.g. eyes, prescriptions, etc.). Just so you know.

Some of the OP's comments suggest they are located in Canada.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 10:33 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you should frame this as your wanting to be supportive of your partner's happiness. That's the sort of commitment you make on getting married; it doesn't mean supporting their every decision.

So if the end goal is a happy partner, I think you two should have a realistic discussion on how to get there, and specifically on how unhappy he's going to be if he spends the next N months looking for his next, more fulfilling position and you're left trying to support the two of you on your one, smaller, salary and no benefits.
posted by drlith at 10:54 AM on October 8, 2013

EXISTENZ IS PAUSED - I live in Ontario, Canada - when talking about employment benefits it will includes drug plans, possibly dental, and likely an extra health plan. The "extras" for a health plan which may include physio therapy, physical health devices, and many specialists and therapists which might not be covered by OHIP. Going from a job without benefits to one which did saved us about $80/month in presecription costs at the time, not to mention ~$1000/year for dental, and glasses x 5 people. Heck, my wife's plan even covered 80% of braces/retainer for our middle one.

If there aren't kids in the household, bennefits might not be as big of a deal. But I remember in the pre-dental plan days, it was far too easy to let time go before regular appointments for the adults. And then when a tooth breaks one's stuck finding $800 for a root canal, and using the temporary crown for far too long waiting to get the $800 for a permanent crown.

OP - I agree with the multitudes, you don't need to support a stupid decision; you need to be reasonable about how you don't support it. Ideally you two reach a compromise about where you currently are, and where you want to be both tomorrow, and in the months and years from now. Sometimes the sacrifice is to stay in a crappy job for a bit. Sometimes the sacrifice is to budget and hit the savings so one can get out of a hellish job.

As others have pointed out, it seems like it's mostly restlessness making him want to leave his current job. Perhaps it's time to use the benefits from the current job for some therapy? Or you both need to communicate better to find out the extent of just how unhappy he is; he might have been putting on a brave face when he cries all the way in to work.
posted by nobeagle at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2013

"Not fighting it" doesn't mean you have to be in favour, and being supportive can mean saying "I love you, nut I think this is a bad idea for x reasons, and I can't get behind it. I don't want you to do this, and I won't pretend to be happy about it, but I hope that it works out". You're not obligated to try and force yourself to agree with all of your partner's decisions.
posted by windykites at 10:59 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know that I would be very supportive of my partner if he just decided to quit his job and had nothing else lined up.
This is a very basic thing for me and I have a strong lack of tolerance when someone is (in my opinion) making a very bad decision, and this is a no brainer to me - Your husband is making a very bad decision.

The best compromise would be to ask him to start a job search and apply for at least 10 jobs whilst still employed and see what happens. When he realises that finding another job is not as easy as he thinks it is, hopefully he will re-evaluate.

If he still wants to quit his job with nothing else lined up, I would question his motivations and potentially start worrying a bit.....
posted by JenThePro at 11:00 AM on October 8, 2013

Whatever plan you come up with should include how to deal with you also losing your job the week after they quit.
posted by Sophont at 11:17 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My partner recently was let go from his job, but we'd been talking about him quitting it anyway. The job was harming him in demonstrable ways, such as expecting him to work 55+ hours/week, blaming him for things that are outside his control, making him travel for way more than they said they would, literally not letting him sleep a full 8 hours on some nights, etc. It also paid 50% more than the job he now has (which is low pressure, laid back, and not so thick with politics).

We still made a 6 month plan together in order to quit, even though I agreed with his reasons. During this six month, he would save up enough money to pay off his financial obligations and have 6 months to live, pay someone to spruce up his resume and cover letter, let his non-coworker contacts know he's looking for something else. We also looked for a place to live that would have cheaper monthly obligations. We discussed how we would cut down expenses equitably (e.g. he does housework instead of hiring a housecleaner, he will cook all the meals at home and gets to save the difference we spend on food). We also made contingency plans for if he ended up running out of savings.

We sorted through ALL of that stuff before I became fully supportive of him quitting his job. (And in our case, I am fully able to support our lifestyle on my income, and my benefits cover him.) And I think you're being unfair to yourself to ask for anything less from your partner.

Your partner has a right to do what he thinks will make him happy. BUT if he's committed to being your PARTNER, then your happiness should be important to his happiness too. He should explain to you his reasoning in a way that even if you don't empathize with, you can sympathize with. You can be supportive of him by understanding how the practical parts of your lives will accommodate this change, and feeling secure in that everything will in fact work out.

You clearly don't feel secure being the only one bringing income (on a reduced income and no benefits, no less). And that's a valid feeling. You can support your partner's wish to EVENTUALLY change jobs. But there is no reason you have to support your partner quitting RIGHT NOW, unless you actually do.
posted by ethidda at 11:22 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was the one who quit.

We talked about it, a lot, before I quit. We made plans. We changed plans. We adjusted. We got frustrated. We got optimistic. We got pessimistic. We made new plans.

We do this whole thing together, one step at a time.

There are a lot of missing information in your post that would make giving specific advice easier, but the major thing that is missing is the dialogue between you and your partner about your current life and your future, as individuals and as a couple/family.
posted by sm1tten at 11:38 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking from experience, it may be that your spouse is signalling a desire to start a new life without you.
posted by No Robots at 3:15 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been the one who quit; I was making twice my husband's salary at the time. It was a pretty quick and non-negotiable decision after months of searching for a new job and being extremely anxious/depressed about my current job. Basically my hail mary. It was quit or go on medical leave.

The problem is not quitting, it's the "then what" that can cause issues. For me, I wanted to try hanging a shingle and starting my own thing -- I had the qualifications to do it and a few leads on clients; we had the option for health insurance through my husband's job; his salary could pay our rent and very basic necessities (and I would be home all the time, so we cut out the dog walker, I cooked all the meals, bargain shopped for food, etc.). It was hard, not gonna lie; but the improvement in my mental state was well worth it (Mr Saurus agrees). After doing that for a few years, I decided I wanted back in on a traditional employer-employee relationship and found an amazing job that fits all of my needs and wants. Had I stayed in the soul-crushing job, we probably would have split up or needed couples counselling because my depression from that job was eating away at all of my interpersonal relationships and ability to cope. We are now happier than ever.

This is all to say that quitting can sometimes be the right thing to do, even if it's a ballsy/not-financially-conservative choice. BUT you need to have a plan for after you quit -- are you freelancing? looking for another job? going back to school? can your budget handle it? what if the other partner loses their job, do you still have options?

If your partner plans to look for another job in a traditional employee role (i.e. not freelance or open a business), then they'd be wise to stay in their current role until securing the new one -- many employers these days won't even look at someone's resume if they aren't currently employed.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think some more information is needed. Quitting a stable job without anything else lined up should be a last resort. Is quitting the only proposal your spouse has put on the table? Has your spouse been searching for other work? For how long? Has your spouse looked into the state of the job market and considered how long they might be out of work for? Do you have any money in savings?

It's one thing if you have enough money saved to tide you both over for at least 6 months, and your spouse has done their research and is pretty confident of their ability to find something else quickly if necessary. It's another thing if your spouse quitting would put both of you into a situation where one unexpected emergency expense could have you living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to pay bills. Quitting might be justified in the first scenario, though most would still consider it to be premature. As for the second scenario, your spouse shouldn't get to unilaterally decide to put both of you at such risk, and you shouldn't feel obligated to go along without complaint.

Also, have you asked your spouse to elaborate on this: They feel that it doesn't fit them and they want to quit. Is your spouse totally burnt out and at the end of their rope? Is the job having a measurable effect on their physical and/or mental health? Or are they just looking for an easy out, or chasing some unrealistic ideal? There would be a big difference in the answers here if we had a better idea of whether your partner is having a mental health crisis because of their job, or your spouse is quitting because they want to pursue their dream of becoming a rock star.

No matter the facts, your spouse should be willing to sit down with you and go over the household budget in detail. You both need to have a clear picture of what your finances and lifestyle will look like once your spouse's income is eliminated, and whether it's all sustainable on your income alone. You should know exactly how long you'd both last if you suddenly lose your job too. Are there kids, or future kids in the plan? Are there debts? Play out all the scenarios. You can't make a call until you have all this information in front of you.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:32 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older How Do I Take in Better Stuff?   |   Estimating the value of charitable donations Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.