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Background

I'm a 22-year-old and have a long-time partner, who I have been with since we met at university. We both live in the Midwest in the United States, and have been planning to move into an apartment together by year's end. We're in a very good place as a couple and I love the guy to death, and there aren't any problems there. He works a service job at a local retail chain, having started shortly after graduating, and he has worked there ever since to save up money. It's a middling-wage job, but it's better than a lot of alternatives in the area and pays above minimum wage. He's been trying his best to find a better one and scope out other opportunities, but so far not much has panned out for him and the job market in our area is pretty rough, so he told me he would try his best to stay there and deal with it while he looked for something better.

The problem

Over the past few months, I can tell he is getting so stressed and sick of the job that it's affecting his everyday life, and he has grown to hate his job. He tries to bottle it up and not complain, and insists he has no right to complain because at least he's employed at all, but sometimes the dam will break and he'll vent to me about rude customers, last-minute shift switches that ruin his schedule, dealing with people who won't wear masks, etc. I can tell it's getting to him to the point that it's making him upset even outside of work, and when he stays at my place and has to work in the morning I can tell he's holding back frustration about having to go.

On some level, I think he feels like he has to work even if he hates it, and I feel like a contributing factor is that he wants to make sure he can pay his fair share of rent and utilities if we start living together and be a good partner. I really want him to know that it's okay if I end up being the breadwinner for a while if he wants to search for something new. I've been struggling to find and keep work myself this year, and the job I was finally able to nab recently, while decently-paid, is not the one I wanted and it's in a different industry than the one I was hoping to break into. He supported me throughout that process and was a bright spot in my life, and I want to do anything I can to help him with his own career struggles.

My question

I need to know how to talk to him about his job and what kind of support would be most helpful to him, and how to communicate that my support of him doesn't rely on his career. My goals for the conversation would be that he feels better about his career prospects and knows that I want to be there and support him in whatever he decides to do from here.

I could ask if he would be happier if he switched jobs because I don't like seeing him so unhappy, and I would be happy to help him fill out his resume and support him in the process. This feels like pressuring and I don't want to be another person in his life pushing him to think about jobs, since I know from personal experience that is stressful and often unhelpful. Alternatively, I could continue what I've been doing and be a compassionate listener, and try to support him in having the mental energy to keep working at the current job. This feels like it would just continue the unhappiness and that it wouldn't be conveying what I want to convey.

Would some other approach be best? Are there other things I should emphasize? Any help is greatly appreciated.

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  • Hi Sciborg. I'd recommend wipping out the "should I / Do I" as they're off-topic as opinion-based polling questions. There's some good material in your post, better cut out the VTC parts :)
    – OldPadawan
    May 7 at 20:03
  • @OldPadawan Sounds good, I will revise a bit :)
    – Sciborg
    May 7 at 20:05
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You should definitely have a conversation about this. I have been this person who worked retail and grew to hate my job so much that I had to talk myself into going in each day, and my partner never seemed to notice or care, which made it a lot harder to deal with. You are also right to feel hesitant about attempting to solve your partner's problem for them, as they may not appreciate that, especially if you don't actually fully understand everything about the problem.

So pick a time when you're both calm and not in a rush, as you always should for these conversations. The "trick" to helping your partner through a problem without dictating a solution is simply to ask a lot of questions. Instead of saying "I think you should quit your job, since you're so clearly miserable, and I don't mind paying for everything", instead say "You seem to hate your job so much that you dread going in every day, is that right?" Assuming he says yes, you can follow it with "I care about you being happy. How would you feel about quitting and letting me take care of the bills while you focus on finding something you're happier to do? Or is there a reason you wouldn't like to do that?" See how one is a conversation where you two work towards a goal together and both of your feelings are considered and valued? That's what you want to strive for. Most importantly, if he says something that surprises you, pay attention to that and ask as many questions as you need to understand before you start pitching solutions.

Once you thoroughly understand his position, then you can make suggestions. If he doesn't want to quit but does want to refuse last minute schedule changes, then maybe knowing you're okay being the only income will allow him to push back on management without fear. Maybe you can be the only income for a couple weeks while he takes a vacation and decompresses. Maybe you can discuss moving to a better job market, and what you two would need to make that happen. You'll figure it out as you talk. The key is being flexible and listening to each other.

The one last thing I'd advise is to check in on this regularly. Maybe he thinks a vacation will allow him to deal with it, but it turns out that he's more miserable than ever when he goes back. Maybe you think you're fine being the only income, but then you start to become stressed or resentful over it. Keep talking and listening to each other.

Source for this advice: I've been in several relationships, and have always appreciated being treated this way and have had good results having conversations in this manner. It works well in professional situations too.

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  • This is absolutely stellar advice. I want his feelings to feel valued and these are great pointers for making sure I ask the right questions and being an active listener to him. Thank you so much, this will help a ton. <3
    – Sciborg
    May 9 at 23:51
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As someone who has a partner who used to be the main bread winner and lost his job, and struggled with that a lot, I'll offer my two cents (in contrast to the answer you got from Kat).

I think there's a middle ground between "pushing him to think about jobs" and being "a compassionate listener". You can actively offer your support, for example by initiating a conversation about his job, but without telling him what you think he should do. Instead of hearing him out when he's so fed up he ends up venting to you, create a space for him where you're both calm and can talk about his well-being, his job, what he wants his career to be like, etc. In that conversation, you can tell him you're open to financially support him for a while, if that's something he wants. But I think the best you can do is open the conversation, ask some questions, explain what you've noticed the past months and that you're worried, and then listen to him.

Also don't dismiss his feelings if for example he tells you he's not comfortable not having a job. I did that at first, minimised his worries ("we've got some money set aside, we'll be ok", "I don't care if you don't have a job right now, don't stress about it") and I only realised later on that this wasn't helping anything. Hearing him out, validating his feelings, giving him a space to be sad and scared, telling him I love him,... In short just being there for him, the way he needs, and letting him know that, that's what worked best. Also, therapy. Therapy helped us a lot to go through that rough patch and how to best support each other.

One last thing : you're talking about helping him in his job search. Only do that if asked, and only in small doses. I talked to a hiring manager (how to best help my partner in their job search), and they told me to not get too involved. In their experience, it's quite noticeable when the applicant is not the driving force behind their own job search. They also told me the more a third party (partner, parent,...) gets involved, the job searcher gets less busy, which is reflected during the hiring process.

They suggested talking to him about how things are going, maintaining a helpful interest without pushing or directing his efforts. Plenty of encouragement and affection, without being in charge, more like a sounding board. Be the cheerleader, not the coach.

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