Your spouse bounds through the door after a long day of work, flush full of stories about staff meetings, client calls, tiffs between co-workers, soggy lunch sandwiches and the bad traffic on the way home. There are still a few emails to return and documents to read tonight, too. The work never ends.
Then out pops the question: And how was your day?
Well, let's see...what did I do today? Um, hmm...
This question can be the worst question of the day when you're either unemployed or severely underemployed. It can take a few seconds to create an interesting storyline. You tweaked your resume and applied for a few jobs online. You spent a few minutes talking to the retired neighbor lady about the proper care and feeding of potted plants. You went for a long walk. You changed the kitty litter and vacuumed. If you have young kids, there's all that, too.
Your daily war stories never seem to measure up in conversation, though. Even you get bored relaying the details. When it comes right down to it, you're feeling kind of jealous that your life partner always has so much to say, albeit both good and bad, about the day. Everything your partner says sounds so wonderful because the longer you're out of work, the more you're starting to idealize the workplace and everything that goes along with it. You might even begin to romanticize your partner's work life as being much better than it really is (going to a staff meeting sounds like so much fun!) while you think back to a time when you were just as busy, breathless and able to bitch about the long commute.
But now you're just biding your time alongside the other 13,999,999 unemployed Americans (official number, cough) who are spending their days surfing job boards and trying to make a two-minute conversation with the neighbor or store clerk sound utterly fascinating and truly groundbreaking. Alert the media, because we're talking gardenias, guacamole, and fallen garden chairs!
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Studies reveal that employed spouses are feeling the pressure of living with an unemployed partner, and worrying about it is hurting their own productivity. So how do you keep the green-eyed job monster at bay? Here are six tips for handling job jealousy:
1. It's the economy, stupid. Don't blame your spouse, put the blame squarely where it belongs: on the economy. Or on Wall Street, whatever works for you. Just don't blame your spouse or partner because it's not his or her fault. In fact, this person is in your corner, or should be, and is rooting for you. So root for your partner every day, especially if he or she is paying the electric bill right now.
2. Work isn't a party. As your partner leaves for work, it's easy to envision his or her work life as being as energetic and exciting as a made-for-teevee movie. You can block out the passive-aggressive co-workers, the backbiting, the angry customers, the overbearing boss, having to working late, and everything else that sucks about work in this recession. It's human nature to block out the bad and play up the good. But in this economy, your partner isn't playing and partying like it's 1999. No, he or she is partying more like it's 1979, only without the high interest rates and long gas lines. Don't forget it.
3. Find another outlet. Your world can start to feel awfully small when you've been unemployed for awhile. Don't just sit around the house sending resumes into an online black hole and feeling frustrated; find other people you can talk to about your job search and being unemployed. Look for message boards, other job seekers, former colleagues, a good friend, a local group. Whatever you do, make sure your spouse isn't your only sounding board.
4. Have a sense of accomplishment. Applying for jobs online without hearing anything back can make you feel like you haven't done anything all day. Do something tangible every day that gives you a feeling of moving the goal posts a little bit. It might be as simple as going through an old box of stuff, weeding the garden or exercising. You might also start a blog, volunteer, listen to a guest speaker at the library or local college, get together with friends for coffee -- whatever floats your boat and gives you a quick, necessary mental boost. The good feeling that comes from dealing with a nagging issue, learning something new or engaging others in lighthearted conversation will stay with you all day, even if it's not completely job-related. Plus, it's something new to talk about tonight.
5. Be honest. An argument about the toaster is never really about the toaster. Be honest with your spouse and simply say that sometimes you feel a little bit jealous that he or she gets to go work because you wish you could be doing the same and you're not trying to be a pain. That is all. Your spouse will probably refer you to Tip #2, substitute "has to go to work" for "gets to go to work," and remind you of the daily, grinding stress of it all. But at least you're being honest about your feelings and it's a fairer fight.
6. Appreciate your partner. It's rough out there and he or she needs to know that you're in their corner. Do something nice for your partner every day, even if it's a small gesture like buying/making their favorite kind of cookie or brewing the morning coffee. Your partner is carrying a heavy load these days, so help lighten it a bit here and there. Little things make a big difference. You're both in this together.
Keeping job jealously in check takes work, but it's worth it. Besides, green doesn't look good on most people.