Carolyn Hax: She wants to quit, but feels guilty

Columnist December 20, 2011

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I have a job that pays me extremely well (a blessing in these times). I hate it . . . I have hated it for many years, but am now realizing that it is not just the place but the career. I am miserable in this job/career and am lashing out at everyone.

I am very fortunate that my husband does very well and I could stay home with our kids if I chose. But I feel guilty . . . why do I get to quit my job when my husband still has to work? It’s not fair that he has to work longer until retirement because I am miserable and want to quit.

But I am so miserable that I would do ANYTHING to quit. My husband and I have started to talk about it and he is (understandably) scared and overwhelmed, as am I. I guess my question is, how do I get past my guilt and feelings of unfairness?

Job Woes

Recognize that these feelings aren’t useful to you — or to your husband right now — unless you respond to them in a constructive way. So, take them as a hint that quitting to stay home indefinitely isn’t right for you or your family, and start actively weighing alternatives.

Training for a new career? A part-time or volunteer job in a field you’d like to explore? A job hunt while you’re still employed, in a related but different field, using the skills that are apparently so valuable to your current employer? Keep talking with your husband about realistic, concrete next steps.

It’s great that you recognize the fairness issue, but you have to keep that momentum going by making sure you put yourself in your husband’s and your kids’ shoes at every decision point you reach. Show respect for the power of your self-interest.

Also, now that you’ve identified the source of your unhappiness, please summon the willpower not to lash out at everyone. Crappy jobs do wear down our defenses, but that’s an explanation, not an excuse, especially when you have those zeros keeping you warm at night.

Re: Job woes:

I was laid off from my well-paying job and became a stay-at-home dad while my wife, also well-paid, continued to work.

My wife and I both felt I would not be able to contribute as much to our household as I did when I was working. Just the opposite has happened. Our marriage is better, our home life is much happier, and I am working just as “hard” as before. It is something how reduced stress can lead to a better life for all, even with less money.


Love this, thanks.

It’s just so important that both parties invest themselves fully in their share of the responsibilities and in their respect for the other’s. I’ve seen too many stay-at-home-parent arrangements go off the rails when, for example, the working half assumes the home half is lounging around, or when the home half actually is lounging around, or when the working half decides to ditch the marriage without regard for the home half’s lost career footing, etc. If the respect for each other as equals is not there, then this “pro-family” configuration is deceptively high-risk.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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