Joint Accounts

When Unemployment Is Killing Your Relationship

Tying your self-worth to your job can backfire

Dear Joint Accounts,

I have been married to my husband for two years. After our wedding, I gave up my job as a corporate lawyer so we could move abroad to be near my in-laws. Ever since the move, I’ve been trying to figure out a new career plan, but being in a foreign country makes it extremely difficult for me to get a job.

We get by on my husband’s income, and I try to keep my expenses as low as possible — I almost never go out, and I keep groceries as basic as possible. My husband has said that I’m going overboard and that I’m going to make myself miserable. To be honest, I’m already miserable, but I feel uncomfortable spending any money we have on anything besides necessities, because it doesn’t feel like mine. My lack of personal income has created a lot of issues for my self-esteem and a lot of tension for our marriage. How do I get out of this downward spiral?

Sincerely,

Jobless in a New City

A job loss can be a tough thing to cope with, even when it’s voluntary. It’s totally normal to go through a period of grieving that loss.

But you are more than a job. You can get into emotionally dangerous territory when you start to think of your career as the only thing that makes you valuable, and it sounds like that may be part of what’s making your misery as acute as it is.

The other aggravating factor, of course, is that you’re still adapting to a life that’s changed in nearly every conceivable way: a new culture, time zone, house, environment, and friend group (not to mention a new kind of relationship with your in-laws). It’s no wonder you feel like you’re hitting a downward spiral.

I know money is tight right now, but if you can afford a therapist to guide you through the transition, it can be a great help. If that’s cost-prohibitive, a less expensive option might be to find an online therapy service — I don’t know where you live, but it’s worth doing some searching to see what’s available in your new home country.

At the same time, work on finding some other ways to take care of yourself. If you’re this miserable, maybe it’s time to loosen the financial grip a bit. It’s great that you’re being frugal, but it sounds like all that frugality is truly coming at the cost of your mental health. You’re already struggling with the transition and the job loss. Saying no to yourself all day, every day, can compound the negativity.

As an experiment, try giving in to a small splurge at the grocery store. Buy the prosciutto or the brie, and take note of how this little luxury makes you feel. Does spending that extra money make you anxious, or does that $5 treat lift your spirits? You might find that it’s worth it. And if you can budget for this occasional indulgence, you might not feel so bad about spending the money in the first place.

I know you’re uncomfortable with your husband paying for your expenses, and that’s understandable. Depending on someone else financially can feel like losing your independence. But that’s not really what’s happening here. You made a big concession for your husband because you’re sharing a life together. It’s okay to share finances, too.

Marriage is give-and-take. If you’re only giving, it will lead to resentment. It’s not fair to give, reject your partner’s desire to give back, and then resent him for it in the process. Your husband doesn’t owe you anything — you made this decision on your own because you wanted to support him — but he wants to support you, too. It’s okay to let our loved ones take care of us sometimes, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Kristin Wong is a journalist and freelance writer. She’s written for the New York Times, ELLE, The Cut, and Glamour.

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