Hax: Husband stuck in complaining rut

The Washington PostMay 23, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My husband has been unhappy in his job for more than five years. He refuses to take any of my advice about changing it - won't see a career counselor, won't go back to school, won't talk to his boss about a position change, won't visit a therapist - and wants to complain about work all the time.

I would understand 15 to 20 minutes of grousing and offloading each evening. But he would go on for literally hours, every night, if I let him.

I've tried everything I can think of, but it's gotten to the point where I become annoyed literally as soon as the words "my job" come out of his mouth. This is what it feels like: It feels like he asked me to watch "The Wizard of Oz" with him every night. And I did. For a long time. But now I have seen it thousands of times, and I want to scream as soon as Toto comes on the screen.

He says I'm unsupportive, and he's probably right. I hate the way I snap at him when he starts to complain. But I just can't handle it anymore. What should I do?

CAN'T HANDLE IT ANYMORE

The Oz analogy is great. And I think you should sit down with your husband at a non-charged time, during the weekend maybe, and use the analogy to explain why you don't want to listen to his job complaints anymore.

You can also say: "So, yes, you're right. I am unsupportive. (The validation is important here.) I don't support your refusal to take any action to improve your job situation. If you choose instead to take such concrete action, then I am all in - you can count on my help.

"Alternately, if you choose to accept that this is your job for the foreseeable future and to find ways to deal with it besides voicing the same complaints every night, then I'm right with you there, too. I'll even listen to 15 minutes of grousing. I just won't let it be the only topic we talk about, because it's my home too … and there's no place like home." (Sorry.)

This isn't about his job so much as it's about coping skills - yours and his. Replace the snapping with acting by offering this clear statement of what you will and won't support.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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