Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
I would like to comment on a recent column about an underemployed husband (Murphy’s Love, Oct. 3, 2012). I like your suggestion to the wife of the underemployed husband about how she can constructively represent his situation to those who ask about his job search. However, I believe that he was mischaracterized as some- one going through denial. Instead, he feels embarrassed because others may judge him by his employment status. That certainly will happen if he lives in the Washington, D.C., region.
Also, if he tells others that he is employed in a sales job, others will forever label him as a salesman without considering that it is an interim job for him. (While shopping or ordering coffee, people often forget that the people behind the counter may have goals outside of their current employment.) As do all people, the underemployed spouse wants to be understood, but he knows that most communication, including what job-search experts call “networking,” does not promote understanding.
As someone who has a master’s degree and has been unemployed or underemployed for most of the last ten years, I speak from experience. For what it’s worth, I am single and 47-years-old. I haven’t any further advice for the wife because your advice is exactly what she and her husband need and because she seems to otherwise be enduring the situation very well.
–Sympathetic Underemployed Man
Thanks for the feedback. I definitely hear your argument, particularly with pop culture’s more recent interpretation of “denial” as a derogatory term (e.g. “it ain’t just a river in Egypt”). As part of a larger grief process, however, the denial stage is simply the period when we experience or re-experience the shock of a loss and find ourselves trying to return to the reality we had before things changed. This when we say “Everything’s ok!” even when it’s not. It’s a coping strategy that is in no way a personal failing. My perspective was that if Underemployed Husband was in denial about his change in circumstance, it’s just a part of a natural grief process.
Your point about him feeling embarrassed and worrying about being labeled makes a lot of sense – particularly, as you said, in our fair city, which while wonderful in many ways, has a ten- dency to be somewhat unfair in terms of status and judgment. I agree, embarrassment is quite different from denial, and I can imagine that if Underemployed Husband is, indeed, embarrassed, being told that he’s just going through a “grief phase” would feel discouraging, at best, or humiliating, at worst. There’s no room for the latter in a healthy coupling. Thank you for the reminder.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.stacymurphyLPC.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.