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Dear Fifi: I keep trying - but how do I help my girlfriend with her career?

Same time, same place, same Foof.

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 It’s coming up to exactly two years since this column began. With that in mind, I’d just like to mark the occasion by thanking you all.

Thank you for submitting questions, for reading the column, for sharing it or talking about it, to the experts who helped me, to Emer for the idea and to DailyEdge and the Journal Media team for publishing it.

Thank you to everyone who helped to make Dear Fifi what it has been for these past two years. It’s much appreciated by me, and hopefully has been helpful to some of you too.

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I moved abroad with my girlfriend about two years ago and after a rocky start (financially and socially) we’re both doing quite well. Our relationship feels really strong and we’ve developed a great group of friends and I’m progressing quickly in my career.

I say “I’m” because recently we realised that the career path for my girlfriend here isn’t a promising as it was at home. She’s tremendously talented but is feeling stuck in a rut as she sees a ceiling financially and creatively fast approaching. I’ve checked with some others in her industry and they say that it a bit less regarded over here, so the opportunities are less.

I’ve been trying to help and I have said that if she would like to move home I’ll quit my job and move tomorrow if necessary. I also offered to help with finding another job as I have some contacts in the industry.

It seems that she is frozen into inaction. She has said she doesn’t want to leave but isn’t doing anything to change her situation. She loves the job itself but wants to feel like shes able to progress and develop over time (which obviously makes sense!). I feel a bit helpless in the situation and I feel really shitty that she is so sad lately and we can’t seem to fix it.

For a long time, I was underachieving/unsatisfied and it can be soul destroying, but I don’t know what else to do to help her through this. Am I approaching this in the wrong way or missing something? Is there something else I can do to support her?

I feel we’ve a very transparent communication but I’m starting to worry I’ve got this wrong.

I think you need to back off a little bit. I appreciate this is done out of love, but it seems like… a lot. 

Perhaps you can see from what you’ve outlined above that you’ve already tried very hard to help already – in various ways. You’ve offered advice. You’ve made contacts. You’ve done research. You said you’d move home. You’ve talked to her about it. Now let her figure it out herself and stop smothering her with those things. Let her be. Trust that she can figure this out. 

Advice offered once is often appreciated (if requested) but advice offered twice, three times, four times becomes rapidly much more claustrophobic for the recipient.

It comes off from your letter like you want to ‘fix’ this situation for her, but I’m afraid that’s not how life works. 

We all go through difficult and confusing personal times in life, whether we’re single or in a relationship. Work can often throw up a lot of head-scratchers, as it takes up a lot of our day and in today’s society (unfortunately) forms a large part of our identity to others. But it’s also still personal. This is her career, not yours, even if you’re partners.

If she is currently happy in her job, then things are really not so bad for right now. Progression and what comes next are big questions for a lot of people in work situations.

Frankly, you going off and taking it upon yourself to investigate the industry and its relative ‘prestige’ and reporting back this information to her (who for starters presumably already knows) seems somewhat annoying at a minimum, or suffocating at worst.

She’s ‘frozen into action’ by your assessment. That’s your opinion. Perhaps she processes situations differently to you and is taking the time to assess her next steps. Perhaps not. Perhaps she is fine how she is, or considering moving, or work isn’t a top priority compared to other stuff. Perhaps not.

The fact is, a lot of this issue seems to be based in your perception of how things are. And the importance you yourself are placing on her career and her moving forward. Would that be fair to say?

Maybe if you’re not projecting from your own bad time, you are acting out of guilt. Your job is going great, and you perceive that hers is not. That’s fine, you don’t need to redress it. Relationships ebb and flow. One day you will need her help, perhaps with work or a personal thing or a family problem. Would you really want her ‘help’ to look this invasive, this involved, this inserted into the root of the issue? Be a little considerate of her feelings around your own actions, too.

I think your heart might be in the right place, but you’re putting a lot onto her. Are you really listening to her? Or are you just trying to steam in and sort things out? Give her space to think. Give her genuine time to talk. And listen, rather than rushing to solve. Listening is the best help of all. It doesn’t always come with a ‘fix’ after. In fact, the best listeners don’t try to fix anything at all.

It’s not ‘helpless’ of you not to constantly offer solutions. In fact, what you’re doing to her sounds quite exhausting.  Shitty situations happen. This one doesn’t even sound so catastrophic. Do you think you might be trying to rush in to be the big guy who swoops in and saves the day? Instead, let her live her own life. 

You don’t need to ‘fix’ this. This is not your thing to ‘fix’. Other people’s lives can’t be ‘fixed’. Your job here is to support her, be there for her, listen to her and be a good partner. Not ‘fix’ her life. I think you should really reconsider this way of thinking.

Good luck to you both.

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