While it’s always important to support your partner, there are going to be times when they really need it. It can be difficult to watch our partner struggle, especially when there’s a situation that is genuinely just really hard—like losing a job or transitioning into a new career or passion project. If someone values their career or their work in a way that feels like its an integral part of who they are, any shift can feel seismic. So it’s important that you’re ready with a supportive shoulder and an open mind if your partner is going through a major change.
That being said, it’s not always easy. Admitting that you only have so much agency in a situation, watching your partner feel down, fighting the urge to micromanage—a lot of things can make giving your support complicated. So here’s what you need to keep in mind when your partner is going through a large career transition, because it’s about way more than just being a cheerleader.
Acknowledge the Bad but Focus on the Good
When we’re trying to support someone, it’s natural to want to jump to the positives. If someone loses their job, you may want to say, “It’s a great opportunity!” or “They weren’t good enough for you!” If someone is starting a new passion project or career, you don’t want to talk about how scary it is, you want to talk about how exciting it is. But actually, sometimes people just need their struggles acknowledged. Sometimes, just saying “That sucks, I’m sorry,” is a great way to make them feel heard. Sure, you should focus on the good and try to get them excited about the future, but you also shouldn’t ignore the fact that their scared or suffering.
Ask How You Can Support Them
It may just be easier to just come right out and ask. If you’re finding it difficult to support your partner, try just saying “What can I do? How can I help?” Rather than assuming you know what they need, let them be the ones to tell you. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to listen to them if you think they’re being unreasonable—but it’s a great place to start the conversation.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be desperate to know what’s going on, what their plans are, what the next step is, etc.. You’ll want to ask if they’ve applied for that job, if they’ve followed up on that job, if they’re thinking about getting their own studio, or if they’ve booked anything yet. Take a deep breath. Take a step back. If your partner has just had a knock to their confidence, they don’t need you treating them like you’re a parent rather than a partner. Of course, if they’re doing something that’s self-destructive or harming you, that’s a problem—but if they’re just handling the situation differently than you would, that’s OK. And, ultimately, it’s their decision.
Ask the Big Questions
If they’re going through a transition period—whether they're starting a new job, are trying to figure out what to do next, or have pulled a total 180—it’s a good time to talk about the future. That doesn't mean putting pressure on them to come up with a five-year plan, it means reassessing what their priorities are, how they’re feeling, and if their needs are being met. Unexpected curve balls in your life—especially in your employment—can be a great opportunity to really open things up and calibrate.
Set Some Boundaries to Protect Yourself
Even though it's your partner going through this difficult time, it’s OK to acknowledge that it’s difficult for you too. Having an unhappy partner isn’t easy—especially if it’s an unhappy partner with a lot of time on their hands, waiting for you to return home from work every day. So make sure that you’re protecting yourself. This means making time for your own needs and self-care, rather than spending every moment focused on being a support system. But it also means, in the larger sense, making your needs from your partner clear. If they want to take some time to figure things out and experiment, that’s fine—but if you need there to be limits and an end date on that, that’s fine, too. Even if they’re having a rough time, there should still be room for communication, negotiation, and compromise. Make sure that you acknowledge their feelings and give them the room that they need, but you can also try to create a forward momentum. Most importantly, make sure that you’re doing your best to tackle the issues as a team, because that’s how you’re going to get through it.