Rep. Sherrod Brown and his wife, Connie Schultz, at a football game. (Courtesy of Connie Schultz)

Juggling life as a congressional spouse with a job is always complicated. Case in point: Connie Schultz, wife of Ohio’s senior senator Sherrod Brown (D), resigned from the Cleveland Plain Dealer Monday.

After 18 years at the paper, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, 54, decided to leave before her husband’s reelection bid next year.

“My concern is that I write for the largest paper in the state,” she told us. “They are going to be covering Sherrod’s race on a daily basis. I have a target on my back. Everything I do gets refracted by a partisan lens by those who would like to see me lose my job — or Sherrod lose his.”

In a column earlier this month, Schultz had to apologize to readers after she was seen at a Tea Party rally videotaping Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, Brown’s likely next challenger. To some, it looked as if the columnist were in campaign mode. “What I failed to consider,” she wrote, “is that I am never just another journalist when the public official who is speaking is bashing my husband.”

Schultz didn’t envision things turning out this way when she started dating Brown, then a congressman, in 2003. She disclosed the relationship to her editors right away, and continued writing her column after their ’04 marriage.

“I wanted to set a different precedent,” she said. “I wanted to show that a strong woman with a mind of her own can have a strong career after she marries — that includes being married to a senator.”

Hasn’t been so easy for other political wives. Maria Shriver gave up her high-paying TV gig when she became first lady of California; broadcaster Gail Huff, wife of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), moved from a Boston station to D.C.’s WJLA to avoid conflict-of-interest questions.

Schultz took off for a year while Brown ran for Senate in 2006 because she didn’t feel she could write about politics or social issues without being perceived as a mouthpiece for her husband. After Brown won the race, Hillary Clinton called to congratulate him — then added, “Tell Connie not to let anyone tell her she can’t keep her job.”

Schultz returned to the paper after the election and says she frequently disclosed her relationship to Brown. But she still drew plenty of criticism. Other congressional spouses reached out to her in support, but she decided it was time to move on.

Did she quit to campaign for her husband’s 2012 race? (Brown has not yet formally announced.) “That’s not why I did this.” Nor is she moving to Washington — Cleveland is still her town. Schultz said she’s going to write essays for Parade magazine, produce a syndicated column and work on a novel — and no, it’s not about life as Senate spouse.

(An earlier version of this story described Brown as the junior senator from Ohio. He has been the senior senator since January of this year.)