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Commentary: Your partner's support is key to your career, but managing love and work can be an emotional minefield

The comedy-drama You Hurt My Feelings pivots on what seems a tiny event. 

Commentary: Your partner's support is key to your career, but managing love and work can be an emotional minefield
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The comedy-drama You Hurt My Feelings pivots on what seems a tiny event. 

Beth, a New York writer played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, overhears her husband saying he doesn’t like the manuscript of her novel. 

“I am never going to be able to look him in the face ever again,” she says, utterly wounded. 

My initial reaction to the film written and directed by Nicole Holofcener was, “lucky her!” 

Not because it was, to use the jargon du jour, a first-world problem, which Beth acknowledges. “I know the whole world is falling apart,” she says. “But this is my world. My small little narcissistic world.”  

But because she did work that her spouse could understand. 

Many office jobs are opaque to outsiders — and, no doubt, to some who do them. 

In the television series Friends, the mystery of Chandler Bing’s profession is a running gag.

“Something to do with numbers,” guesses Rachel in a quiz, before settling on “transponster!” “That’s not even a word!” Monica replies. 

Its humour is bleakly resonating. 

Another common challenge the film’s central character, Beth, avoids is that by working on a solo project, she does not have to map out personalities and processes in the workplace. 

Office politics is only interesting to people involved in the intrigue. And trying to keep up can be stupefying. 

However, I suspect there has been increased understanding due to lockdowns, which forced people to inhabit their partners’ white-collar worlds. 

Some took to social media to share their revelations. “My husband has learnt I am the ‘let’s make sure that this is brand-aligned’ person, and he is mildly horrified,” a woman wrote. 

“I’ve also learnt that HE is the ‘OK we’ll hammer out the details when I ping you about this later’ guy.” 

The Holofcener film underlines a significant professional issue: A partner’s support. 

“The most important career decision you’ll make is about whom to marry and what kind of relationship you will have,” asserts Money and Love: An Intelligent Road Map for Life’s Biggest Decisions, one of the few books on the topic, published this year.  

It’s more than finances, splitting childcare and chores. 

When Dr Blake Dustin Mathias, professor of entrepreneurship at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, looked into the impact of spouses on entrepreneurs, he found “emotional support [was] critical” more so than tangible assets — including money, he told me.  

This topic frequently arises in sessions with Ms Kate Franklin, an executive coach. 

Yet she says few clients know what such assistance looks like because it’s so private. 

“Those who have spousal support, won’t say, ‘I’m lucky.’ It’s smug.” 

Some of the behaviours Prof Mathias identified among entrepreneurial partners seem broadly applicable — like empathising with the challenges, listening, celebrating milestones and offering distractions — particularly during the lows or when experiencing loneliness at the top.  

Love plus work adds up to an emotional minefield. 

Couples in the same industry might understand the substance of the job, provide networks or job openings, but other pressures come into play with the potential for jealousy. 

An actor friend observes “misery loves company”; however, if one’s career picks up and becomes successful, the other “can be devastated”. 

For Beth in You Hurt My Feelings, there is an existential question: Can her husband love her if he does not respect her work? 

It can require partners to buy into long-term ambitions. Or, as my actor friend puts it, understanding that stints handing out leaflets in the park dressed as a chicken are stepping stones. 

Respect is an issue that comes up in therapy sessions with Philippa Richardson, founder of The Circle Line, which provides therapy to corporate clients. 

It applies not just to artists and creatives but also to lawyers, chefs and business people whose self-worth can depend on their career. 

“It’s like they forget everything else they are,” she says, advising people to see themselves as more than just their work.  

The belief that a partner does not respect their work might also reflect their own feelings. 

This was the case for Chandler Bing in Friends, who ultimately changed jobs after admitting he was unhappy. 

Sometimes, ditching your partner is the solution. 

And here there’s some good news. Recent research into individuals going through divorce found that many believed it harmed their work. 

However, a surprisingly large number (39 per cent) found it had “a positive impact . . . [freeing] up time and energy” and amplifying motivation. Sometimes self-reliance wins out. FINANCIAL TIMES


Emma Jacobs is a work and careers writer at the Financial Times.

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