You can write to Aunt Acid at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Letters are condensed and edited for length.
Dear Aunt Acid,
My boyfriend and I moved to a new city in August and were both jobless for a period of time. I started work at my new position a couple months after that. However, he is still looking for work, and is feeling very down about his prospects and qualifications. It’s terrible, because he really is smart and qualified and would be a great asset for any company.
My question isn’t really how to help him get a job, because I know I’m limited in that department — we work in different industries, and, though I’m keeping an eye on my new employer’s job board for opportunities for him, I haven’t had any luck so far. We’re surviving on my salary, so money isn’t the problem, either. I’m wondering, really, how best to be supportive. When I tell him how qualified and great he is he brushes it off, and the words, however much I mean them, feel unhelpful and repetitive to me, particularly since he seems a bit jealous of my luck in finding a job (and my company, which has good benefits and people). How do I be a good partner to someone going through unemployment?
Guiltily Employed Partner
GEP, my friend, what exactly do you feel guilty about? You’re going to work each day and coming home every night. You’re providing stability in terms of a paycheck and benefits, and society in terms of new coworker-friends. And you’re working an unpaid second shift, expending emotional effort to try to convince your less fortunate boyfriend how great he is. Now you’re asking for help as to how to be better?
Yes, it’s hard to be on a different wavelength than your partner when it comes to any significant life situation. Hell, it can be hard when one of you really craves greasy takeout and the other wants to prep a salad. And the two of you have recently done something very challenging in terms of upending your life and starting over in a new locale. The definition of a city is a big, busy place that doesn’t give a fuck about you. Since you have a job, you probably feel more like you belong to the rhythm and machinations of your new home. Since he lacks that, he probably feels more exposed, more vulnerable, and that makes him lash out. (Some people have never learned to handle feeling vulnerable with grace.)
But the way life unspools, especially over any real length of time, is that while on occasion it seems like you’re both “winning,” at other times it will simply seem like only one of you is. The way he reacts when you’re the one who’s “winning” is really important information. A few nights, even a month or two, of sullenness can be an aberration. Half a year of it is data. Instead of worrying about what you could be doing that you’re not doing—the answer is nothing! You’re being supportive and considerate and great—ask yourself what he’s telling you, both through his words and his actions. Is he appreciative? Is he reliable? Has he figured out a way to contribute to the relationship and the household, even without a job? Can he be unselfishly happy for you, the way you are unselfishly concerned about him?
This isn’t about you, not really. This is about him: his limitations, his abilities, and whether he can once again become the great guy you believe him to be. Guilt can be like a layer of butter we spread on top of a slice of could-be-moldy bread when we’re too scared to look at the bread itself. It’s a way to ask a lot of ourselves rather than anything of other people. Have the courage to scrape off the guilt and give what’s underneath a clear-eyed appraisal.
Dear Aunt Acid,
My husband of almost five years and I have always been open and honest with each other about our sexual pasts and histories of abuse (we were both molested as children). We’ve been through multiple crises and life changes in the past year or so, including my father-in-law’s arrest and trial for child molestation and my husband’s subsequent breakdown and affair with one of our close friends. In the aftermath of all this turmoil, we’ve talked more about how those events have shaped us and how they might still inform our actions and reactions today.
That brings us to the crux of this letter: I was sexually assaulted by a casual partner when I was a teen, but because of how I processed it and chose to reframe it in my own mind, I’ve never told my husband. I honestly don’t feel much lasting damage or influence from that one particular night, which I think has also added to my silence about it; in the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t felt important enough to bring up. That being said, it feels really weird now to still have such a secret while we’re in this space with each other that is even more honest and thoughtful than it’s been before. I’d like to tell him, because I think it’s important to. But how do I even begin broach the subject? And how do I navigate the resulting conversation?
What an immense amount you’ve had to cope with, both individually and as a member of a couple. You have my admiration and best wishes.
As to whether you should share this last undisclosed bit of information with your husband, I wonder whether there’s any underlying logic to why you haven’t already. The two of you have had to initiate plenty of difficult, painful conversations about sexual assault, so you know how to broach the subject. If this one memory is sticking in your throat, it might be worth talking to a professional first about why. Do you perhaps have any lingering issues around trust, for example, that you might want to sort through before exposing yet another aspect of your past to your husband? Over the past five years, he has hurt you as well as helped you, after all.
You can love a person even as you don’t feel entirely safe with him; and perhaps some self-sustaining part of you feels the need to establish a bit more safety before you make this last reveal. Or perhaps there is more to this memory, for whatever reason, than you want to acknowledge.
In any event, this is your story to share, or not, in your own time. If you feel that you owe it to your husband to say something, you can always provide an introduction to the truth: that there’s another story you want to feel comfortable enough to share with him eventually—not a major one, necessarily, but still, one that seems relevant now—and you hope for his understanding and patience as you comb out your own tangled emotions.
Best of luck,