How Can We Survive Unemployment?
- Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Coming home from work, Paul wondered how he was going to face Susan. How on earth can I tell her I lost my job?
Susan had pledged to love him for better or worse, but they’d never planned on this. Will she really still love me? What if I can’t find another job? What are we going to do?
Driving into the garage, he sighed. I just feel so worthless. The economy isn’t good around here right now. I don’t know how I’m going to find another job.
He opened the door from the garage into the kitchen. There was Susan at the stove, making dinner.
She turned and smiled. “Hi, Honey! How was your day at work?”
“It was okay.”
She looked at him curiously. “You don’t sound okay.”
He swallowed. “Well, I won’t be going back to work tomorrow.”
Her eyes widening, Susan set down the spoon she’d been using. Her voice seemed faint as she asked him to tell her what happened.
Three minutes later he’d explained everything.
“Oh, Honey, I am so sorry,” Susan said. She took a deep breath. “We’ll get through this, and we’ll figure it out.”
Paul felt himself relax, but only a little. What would the next few days and weeks and months hold? Would Susan continue to stand by him? Would she get frustrated with him and lose respect for him as a man? How would this affect their marriage?
As it did for Paul and Susan, losing a job often comes as a shock. Nobody likes to think about being unemployed. But it’s a state that’s more and more common. Whether due to corporate “right-sizing,” termination, or career change, it’s always an uneasy time.
What causes the stress? First, the spouse who’s lost his or her job may have suffered a serious blow to the identity. This is especially true for husbands, since most men largely define themselves by their work. They also tend to believe that the husband’s earnings are the family’s primary income, whether that belief is stated or not.
Second, many couples haven’t saved enough money to get them through a prolonged period of unemployment. Running out of money is a real possibility, depending on how long joblessness lasts. So is going into debt with credit cards or losing a house if you default on a mortgage. All this weighs heavily on both partners, especially the one who feels most responsible to “win the bread.”
So what should you do when unemployment hits your marriage?
- If you’ve been providing for your family but have lost your job, get right back into the job market. Try to find a position you can be enthusiastic a bout – but if that’s unavailable, take a job simply because it will earn a living wage for your family. You can work on longer-term career goals at the same time.
This is especially important for men; male self-esteem seems to require making a contribution. Many men become increasingly depressed and anxious if they’re at home when the family needs their income.
- Don’t rule out relocating. While this may seem to be the end of the world if it means moving away from your support system, you can choose to look at it as a fresh start. If a new position calls you to a new city, you can develop roots and a support network there. This also may be a time when the two of you can nurture your relationship as you’re “cocooned” from the demands of family and friends.
- Be flexible about the “breadwinner” role. Sometimes a wife may have greater earning potential than her husband does. If she’s taken a part-time job in order to care for her children, for example, that may need to be re-evaluated. If her husband is likely to be out of work for an extended period, perhaps he could provide childcare while the wife earns more in a full-time position.
- Cut expenses. Look for activities and plans you can put on hold. Can you and your spouse do without restaurant lunches for awhile, even if they’re only trips to McDonald’s after church? Can you avoid buying new clothes for six months? Can you turn down the heat in the winter and put on more sweaters?
On the other hand, it’s not good to make small children shiver in their rooms or require older kids to give up all extracurricular activities because the price of baseball bats has gone up. Are you eligible for low-income heating fuel assistance? Can you find that sports equipment at a garage sale or secondhand store?
- Maintain the marriage. Depression and money-related stress are no strangers to the unemployed, and both can grind away at your relationship. If your spouse has lost his or her job, do what Susan did. Avoid the temptation to ask a million questions when the “pink slip” arrives. Don’t lecture your spouse about his responsibility to the family. Support your mate in his crisis, even though it’s a crisis for you, too.
Help your spouse in his job search. State clearly that you’re ready to cut unnecessary expenses. Spend time together – enjoying one another instead of letting all your conversations focus on work and money. Reduce anxiety by writing out a plan for your finances, including opportunities to earn cash, barter services, and carry on family activities in less costly ways.
You and your spouse need each other more than usual during this season of your lives. It may be a long season, but you can guard your relationship despite the stress – if you make that relationship a priority.
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