I Love My Husband — So Why Do I Feel Jealous Of His Career?

Photograph from Getty Images.
I never thought my adult refrigerator would make me feel inadequate.

Like the proud parents of toddlers, my husband and I display our achievements on our fridge. Over the years, the fridge has displayed many things — my husband’s Marine Corps Marathon number, my writing awards, our wedding photos. But now, when I look at it, it is a constant reminder of the disparity between our professional successes.

On the left side of the fridge is his nearly perfect Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam score and his acceptance letter to a top MBA program. Both represent the next steps in his career and how hard he's working to get there.

On the right side is my latest certificate: Expert In Cheese Tasting. I got it for completing a five-course tasting at a cheese shop in Amsterdam. Now this might be impressive if I were studying to be a monger or even if I could accurately state that I earned the certificate after some intensive course of study, but basically it just shows off my love for cheese. And right now, as I'm staring at it, it mocks my attempts to be happy for my husband for all he's achieved.

It’s been a year since I quit my job and moved to Germany to live with my husband full-time — a decision that I absolutely do not regret. But it has not been a decision without some professional cost. Because we're on a month-to-month contract for my husband’s job, it's too complicated, if not nearly impossible, to get a work visa in conjunction with my immigration status. As such, I am now taking an open-ended “career break” until we move back to the U.S.
Instead of my former title, editor and publisher of a millennial news site, I now have three less dinner-party-impressive roles: Wife, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dog mom. While I was never the breadwinner, my contribution is now almost entirely to our home — a much more traditional marriage role than I had ever expected having. And while I know I am extremely lucky in so many ways, no longer being a professional equal has caused a bevy of unsettling feelings to bubble up inside of me.

Over the past year, I’ve seen myself revert back to old insecurities and anxieties: Am I good enough? Should I even try? I try to write, pitching stories across the internet, but when I hear nothing back, I begin to doubt myself and feel resentful of my husband. This is the man I care most about, during some of the biggest moments of his career. But instead of celebrating his achievements, I’m throwing myself a pity party.

Insecurity, anxiety, resentment — am I jealous?

Back when I was working all hours, my current life seemed pretty sweet. I assumed when we moved to Germany that I would sleep in, watch Netflix all day, cuddle with my sweet pup, eat a lot, and it would be heaven.

One morning, while he was putting his suit on for work and I was lounging in bed in my pajamas, my husband told me that he was jealous of my life here.

I laughed in response and half-jokingly said, “Next time, I’ll go to work and you can stay home.”

“Sounds good, love,” he said, kissing me on the forehead.

But what he was describing was envy. Back when I was working all hours, my current life seemed pretty sweet. I assumed when we moved to Germany that I would sleep in, watch Netflix all day, cuddle with my sweet pup, eat a lot, and it would be heaven.

It feels that way for a couple of days. Then, the emptiness set in. And for someone like me, who had always been defined by my work and title, it meant the loss of a significant piece of myself.

It’s not as if I’m not busy. In fact, some days fly by, filled with household errands, and I wonder how I ever had time to fit them in around a job. I’ve taught myself to cook; we try to have dinner together every night, something that never happened when we both worked outside of the home. I could probably spend more time cleaning, but it’s not as if my personality has changed completely. Has it?

I’ve switched to literally putting food on the table instead of earning money to put food on the table. Isn’t there still value in that? As I wrestled with those feelings internally, I knew I had to do something. But it was a hard situation to talk about. I felt embarrassed to admit my feelings to my husband or to my friends back home, many of whom felt a sense of envy about my new situation.

Turning to the internet for advice is always dangerous, but in this case, it wasn’t that the suggestions were laughably bad. It was that, pretty much, there weren’t any. How can that be when I know logically that I’m not alone in this situation? I can't be. But everything I found on jealousy was for people who believed their husband was being unfaithful or was spending too much time with his friends. Professional jealousy was never a consideration.

I’m left to work it out on my own, which I try to do sitting at my kitchen table, staring at my judgmental refrigerator. I contemplate throwing out the cheese-tasting certificate. But as I reach for it, something tells me not to do it.

This silly certificate helps remind me that my success is fluid. Sometimes, I’m going to be up. Sometimes, I’m going to be down. Just because it isn’t my time right now doesn’t mean that it won’t be again.

And just because I don’t have anything to celebrate for myself, career-wise, doesn’t mean I can stop cheering on my husband. It's selfish to ask my husband to put his success on the back burner. Building up my favorite person should always be a top priority, because at the end of the day, we are a team. His successes are my successes and, one day, vice versa.

As I stare harder at the fridge, I start to focus less on the certificates it holds and more on what holds them up.

My husband and I collect a magnet from every country we visit together, a tradition we started back when we were still dating and took our first international trip as a couple. Since we moved to Germany, our collection has multiplied.

The certificates that tortured me were held up by magnets from Croatia, Portugal, and Iceland — just three of the many magical trips we've taken together. The whole picture is starting to come in clearer now. It’s not his side and my side pitted against one another. It’s our collective achievements.

A “professional” cheese taster and a business professional, complementing one another, building a life together — and a pretty good one, at that.

More from Work & Money


R29 Original Series