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A Labor of Love

Lean times can be a blessing in disguise for a young relationship

by Elizabeth Knapp on February 11, 2010

When newlyweds Rhea and Brad decided to move from Jacksonville, Fla., to Troy in 2008, they were expecting to enter a whole new world of opportunities. Rhea, 27, was offered a job in Internet marketing, and Brad, 39, was finishing up his last semester in order to gain his Master’s Degree in modern European history. With 12 years of production experience under his belt from a job at a local news station in Florida, he was hoping to combine his two passions by obtaining a public history job, ideally with an educational television production company.

The Northeast seemed to be a Mecca of historical opportunities, and Brad considered himself lucky to have the chance to relocate so close to the state’s capital. The job market, however, was bleak. It’s a competitive field, and though Brad has excellent credentials, there has been a nationwide surge of recent doctoral graduates in the field of public history.

As Brad continued to search for a job, Rhea came to find out that hers was not what she expected it to be. So she and a coworker branched off to start their own Internet marketing company. Financially supporting herself and her husband for over a year, Rhea felt the pressure of keeping her own startup company afloat and tensions between the couple became palpable.

“In the beginning, I didn’t really understand the anger and frustration that I had,” she says, “and I would get mad at him for the situation, rather than be mad at the situation itself, and I think over the last couple months I’m starting to realize more and more that it’s not his fault. It’s not his lack of motivation or desire to get a job, but in the beginning that anger would come out in weird ways.”

Though it can be frustrating, Rhea continues to give Brad the motivation he needs. She has always encouraged her husband to pursue his dream. Instead of looking for a part-time job to bring in some extra money, both Brad and Rhea find it more important that he focus on securing a job that he really wants. Every day, he goes online to search for any new job postings, to which he responds immediately.

The biggest problem, according to Rhea, is that they have been forced to push back future plans, like buying a house, upgrading their car, or starting a family, because of their financial state. “We can afford to maintain our lives, but we can’t do anything to invest in it,” she says. “We’re certainly not contributing to a savings. It’s kind of demoralizing because you expect to be at a certain point at a certain time, and you’re not.”

Through this situation, Rhea and Brad have discovered more about themselves and each other, and, in doing so, became stronger as a couple. “It took me a while to realize, however frustrated I was feeling, he’s 10 times more so. I just learned how to respect his feelings,” she says.

“It’s given us a lot of time together,” says Brad. “We got to know each other better and it’s given us a chance to explore where I might have a strength that complements her in an area and vice versa”

Rhea is particularly strong in an area that has helped Brad make himself more known in the local historical community. “I feel trapped in the situation because there’s nothing I can really do to help him,” she says. “So I tried to do what I do every day, professionally.”

Knowing the importance of an online presence, Rhea helped her husband create a Twitter account to network with influential people on the local history scene, as well as helping him create a profile on LinkedIn and his own professional Web site, which is starting to gain traffic. Through this networking, he has been able to pick up small projects, like guest blogging on a prominent Boston history blog about an interesting fact he recently discovered.

While maintaining themselves financially, the couple have been doing their best to maintain their romantic relationship at the same time.

“You can have fun with it,” Rhea says. “Be creative!”

The two have found fun and cheap date alternatives, like hiking for a couple of hours, which, aside from being free, allows them to talk and bond in a calm atmosphere—more so than they would in the seats of a movie theater or loud restaurant. They’ve realized that there are more important things to life than their jobs or the amount of money they have.

“As people, we’re more than our jobs,” says Rhea. “We have interests and hobbies and talents and love for family and friends, and that’s had to come through. And in the end, we still have each other. The job you hold is not the absolute—it’s not how you define yourself.”

Both Brad and Rhea have remained exceptionally positive through this experience, and are finally beginning to see the light at the end. “My husband is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met in my life,” Rhea says, “and I know he’ll get there.” They’re extremely hopeful about an interview he has scheduled for this week. This will be the third interview he’s been on in eight months.

“The last year had been so hard,” says Brad. “I know things are going to turn around, and when they do, I’ll feel like, if we got through this year, we can get through almost anything.”