Dear Wendy: “I’m Jealous Of My Boyfriend’s Salary”

My boyfriend and I have been together for a year now. We went to the same school, majored in the same field, graduated together, and thus have similar levels of expertise in our chosen careers. After college, I took a low-paying job at a small company with a high-level of prestige in the hopes of building a portfolio, gaining experience, making contacts, and starting my career with the respect of my peers. I have been at this same company for nearly three years without a single raise or substantial bonus while being told that I’m the “best employee” they’ve ever had. Ever since I took the job, I’ve been told by former classmates and others in the community how lucky I am to do such great work for such a prestigious company. However, the median yearly income for my profession is $15,000 more than what I make. My boyfriend, on the other hand, took an average-paying job at a large niche company. He has also been there for nearly three years and has been given stocks, bonuses, and very recently, a significant raise. My boyfriend now makes $20,000 more than I do. I’ve been trying to ignore these intense feelings of jealousy, but am losing the fight. I feel as though what I do at my job is important and the respect I’ve gained from others while doing it is priceless. But I do not make enough money to support myself (I am lucky enough to live with family), and the fact that I make so much less than my boyfriend is starting to take a big toll on my self-esteem and our relationship. — Underpaid

Wait, you’re upset that you haven’t advanced in your career and so you’re taking it out on your boyfriend? Talk about misdirected resentment! It’s your career and your responsibility to make sure you’re being fairly compensated for the work you do. I don’t care what kind of job you have, if you’re doing good work—good enough that your bosses commend you for it and call you the “best employee they’ve ever had”—you should have received a raise after three years. Even employees at McDonald’s get regular raises. But whose fault is it that you haven’t gotten a raise? That you’re in a job where you don’t make enough to support yourself? It’s not your boyfriend’s fault, that’s for sure!

Take the jealousy you feel towards him and channel it into assertive behavior at work. First, sit down and write out all your major accomplishments and new responsibilities you’ve been given since you took your job three years ago. If you have anything saved in email or writing where your bosses or any of your colleagues have commended the work you do, print them out. Make note of any outside recognition you’ve received—awards, invitations to conferences, anything like that. Once you’ve collected all these items, request a meeting with your bosses. Lay out your argument for a raise—a substantial raise. Let them know you love the work you do, you believe in your company, and you’re proud to have them as colleagues, but after three years you want a raise that reflects the contributions you’ve made to the company. If they resist, or if the raise they offer still isn’t enough to allow you to support yourself, it’s time to consider looking for a better-paying position elsewhere. I mean, how long do you plan to keep living with your family while making tens of thousands less than what you could be earning?

The four reasons you gave for taking your job in the first place—”building a portfolio, gaining experience, making contacts, and starting my career with the respect of [your] peers”—have been fulfilled by now, haven’t they? Any resentment you may feel for not using those building blocks to climb your career ladder is your own fault. You are absolutely in control here. There’s no reason to feel jealousy and resentment towards your boyfriend when you’re the one driving the car. If you’ve been sitting in neutral too long—it’s time to fuel up and shift gears. Only you can make it happen.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]