Carolyn Hax is on leave. This column originally ran on Dec. 19, 2008.
Dear Carolyn: In May, my husband finishes a graduate program in a field he has decided he does not enjoy. He would like to start a gardening business, work he loves and is very good at. I want to be supportive, and I would never want to subject him to a career he finds unsatisfying. However, I also think this is a terrible time to start up a business, especially a luxury like gardening.
I have been the main breadwinner for the years he’s been in school, and I was looking forward to some assistance. Oh, yeah, and there are those student loans …
When I raise these concerns, he feels I am being dismissive of his dream. I think I am being practical. How can I be both supportive and realistic?
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The Gardener’s Wife
The responsibility to be supportive and realistic isn’t yours alone. He, too, needs to be realistic about his plans, and supportive of your needs.
Unfortunately I have only your attention, so my telling you of his responsibility is a micro-version of declaring that everyone should recycle: all duh, no action.
Still, it’s something for you to keep in mind. It’s not about what he owes you, or what you owe him, it’s about what you both owe each other. Please start there when you reopen the topic. In the midst of an emotional discussion, it helps to have such an anchor in mind.
It also gives you a healthy angle from which to approach his you-pooh-poohed-my-dream complaint. How, exactly, do you approach your own dreams? Do you think you get the last word on the way you pursue them, or does the marriage have final say? If it’s the former, then reconsider his leeway accordingly. And if you’re no more restrictive of his dreams than you are of your own, then say so.
Obviously you both want his dreams to come true with steady income included. Since you’ve both probably heard “Don’t quit your day job” about 700 times like the rest of us, you both also know he could train or moonlight his way into this dream career gradually. So the question becomes, who’s ruling out that option?
The one who won’t consider it is the one who’s being unfair. He needs to pursue his interests with an eye to yours, as you pursue your own interests with an eye to his. It’s not unsupportive to spell that out.
Dear Carolyn: I must not have been acting myself, because my husband “got it out of me” that I’m attracted to someone else (no action, just spaciness). The problem is that the conversation ended there, and although it’s business as usual, there’s an elephant in the room.
I know he’s hurting, but don’t know what to do. An apology’s not in order because I haven’t done anything; if I’m not free in my mind, then where am I free?
Attracted to Another
He noticed, which means this attraction seeped from mind to actions. An apology is in order. And an explanation is, too, or at least a reminder, that your distraction is as commonplace as it is unwelcome.
And finally: Just as married people aren’t immune to crushes, their spouses aren’t immune to feeling under-wanted and insecure. Affirming your love wouldn’t hurt.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.