I happened to see an email my partner had written to a girlfriend and I am so upset. It seems she thinks I'm a "lazy sod" and I'm "driving her mad by being at home all day". She said, "if he doesn't get a job soon, I don't know what I'll do!" I've been searching since February, sometimes writing five applications a day, and I've been for several interviews without any luck. She seems loving on the outside, but I feel she's betrayed me. I can hardly bear to touch her, but I can't tell her why because I shouldn't have read the email. Yours sincerely, Clive
Virginia says... The truth is that most of us can find some negative things to say about even our closest friends. And if they're really close, letting off steam to a third party can often be a way of maintaining a calm and kindly attitude to them.
Your girlfriend does feel upset and exasperated you're out of work, but she's too kind to tell you, knowing it would make you feel worthless and unloved. So she tells a friend privately about these bad feelings, feelings she probably feels guilty about, because she knows, of course, how hard you're trying to get a job.
The problem is that you've seen her support, compassion and understanding as the whole picture. Which it never was. But now, having read the email, you're seeing her negative feelings as the whole picture. These are no more true than her other feelings. She almost certainly feels both compassion and irritation at the same time.
We do it all the time – and I'm sure you do it, too. Someone's 15 minutes late for an appointment with us, say, and we find ourselves raging and saying to ourselves: "How rude they are! Don't they realise I'm a busy person!" and then when they arrive with some perfectly valid excuse, we go into: "Don't worry at all, I quite understand!" mode. Both feelings are true.
The only way you'll resolve this is to admit to your girlfriend that you read the email. Try, if you can, to be understanding and say you can see why this long period of unemployment must be getting her nerves, and you're sorry. But tell her, also, what a dreadful effect it's had on you, when you're at your lowest ebb. Say you realise she didn't want to hurt you, but you're terribly hurt, having read her feelings (be careful not to say her "real feelings". Remember that the compassion and the fury are both her real feelings.)
She'll be mortified, I'm sure. She may try to retaliate by saying you should never have read her private emails (which you shouldn't have done) and there may be a few days in which you both feel betrayed and hurt. But in the end, airing this will make things easier for both of you, I'm certain. She'll be able to be completely honest with you and you'll be able to reassure her that truly, you couldn't be trying harder to get work.
She's sounding off
Clive, most women talk to their friends about everything, including how they feel about their husbands. We may say things we don't really mean. I'm sure she understands that you are struggling to find a job. It's not easy – but why not play a more active part in the household while you're waiting? Surprise her. Some serious housework may make you feel a whole lot more positive about your partner, your relationship and yourself.
Let her explain
This is not so tricky as you might think. You have plainly been very wrapped up in trying to find another job and have not had the time to think about the effect upon loved ones. There is no need to explain that you've seen her email. Raise the subject casually one day. For example you might, one day, explain the outcome of the most recent effort to find a job, and you could simply say that it must be pretty grim for her to have you about the house all the time. A simple question would show that you appreciate this and give your partner a chance to explain how she is feeling, then you can discuss whatever that reveals.
Next week's dilemma
Dear Virginia, I have a friend who is obsessed with her figure. She keeps telling me how fat she is, and in fact she's just a normal weight. But she goes on and on about it, and it's driving me mad. She's always trying diets, and no matter how much I tell her she looks great and she doesn't need to do anything about her weight, she can't stop. I'm starting to feel it is something of an obsession. We can't talk about anything until she's gone through beating herself up about how she looks for about half an hour. How I can I help her? Yours sincerely,Zara
What would you advise Zara to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewine. sellers.co.uk)
Virginia Ironside will appear in her one woman show, 'Growing Old Disgracefully', at the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Festival