Q Two years ago I completed my MBA and this year I got a promotion. However, my husband’s reactions to these changes have actually been hurtful. Before my graduate degree he seemed confident and considered himself the thinker and the smart one in the family. Now he seems more critical and competitive when we discuss business, politics, and our future plans. He also doesn’t like it when I talk with friends or family about my career interests and passions. I feel resentful and angry, especially since he seems to have no qualms about enjoying the additional income. When I try to talk to him about it, he says I am making a big deal of little statements. He says he has always been this way and that I am the one who has changed since my promotion. How do I address this issue effectively before I blow up?
A There are several issues that are part of the dilemma that you bring up here: First, there is a significant change in your identity as a professional woman. This does affect how you see yourself and relate to family and friends. Second, your husband’s reaction to all of these changes is related to his current opinion of himself in the arena of career, education, intelligence, and capacity to earn. Some men are fine with women earning more, or being more educated or powerful. Many men, however, prefer to be the breadwinner or at least make more money than their wife or partner. Third, anytime there is a significant shift in the family (changes in income, moving, illness, death, etc.) the entire family system is affected. Most families deal with the outer changes—taking care of a sick person or buying a new house—but never get around to dealing with the internal, emotional changes and how they impact relationships.
Let your husband know that you need to have a serious conversation about how your professional life has changed you, and how this may be affecting him and the rest of the family. Don’t do this in reaction to another comment he makes, rather as a separate request at a time when he is receptive. Start with accepting that you may have changed since your MBA and promotion. Do you feel more confident, smarter, or stressed and resentful? How do you see him now versus a few years ago? Let him know how you still appreciate him. By sharing your thoughts and revealing your own emotions you show vulnerability. Let him know that it’s natural for people to have reactions and even feel insecure when one partner grows in a certain area and the other does not. Jealousy, fear, hurt, and resentment are common and natural reactions and not to be denied; they need to be accepted, explored, and actively worked around.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com