Surviving Unemployment in Marriage

It's important to begin by looking at the implications of your situation squarely in the face. Don't be blindsided or caught off-guard - understand that unemployment will impact your emotional and mental well-being in a very real way. It can also present a challenge to the health of your marriage. If you realize this, you'll know where the stress is coming from, and you'll be less likely to take out your frustrations on your spouse or other members of the family.

There are good reasons for the stress, of course. Job loss can be a serious blow to an individual's sense of identity. This is especially true for husbands, since many men typically define themselves in terms of their work. That's not to mention that, in some cases, his earnings are the family's main source of income. Even when this isn't true, a man still tends to perceive his own worth in terms of his ability to function as a breadwinner. Add to this that without income, running out of money becomes a very real possibility, since many couples haven't saved enough to get them through a prolonged period of unemployment. All this weighs heavily on both partners, especially the one who feels most responsible to "bring home the bacon."

So what should you do when unemployment hits your household and rattles your marriage? We have several suggestions.

First, if you've been providing for your family but have lost your job, do everything you can to jump right back into the job market. Don't wait and don't delay. Try to find a position you can get enthused about, but if that's not available take anything that will provide your family with a living wage. You can work on longer-term career goals on the side.

Second, though moving away from your support system may sound scary, don't rule out the possibility of relocating. Here again, the principle is to be humble, diligent, and disciplined enough to take whatever you can get until something better presents itself. If you have to move, you can look at it as a fresh start and as an opportunity for the two of you to nurture your couple relationship away from the demands of family and friends.

Third, be flexible about the "breadwinner" role. Sometimes a wife may have greater earning potential than her husband - this is just a fact of the world we live in. If she's taken a part-time job in order to care for her children, that arrangement may need to be re-evaluated. At least for the time being, dad may need to be willing to play "Mr. Mom" while his wife takes on the task of supporting the family in a full-time position.

Fourth, look for ways to cut expenses. Identify habits that can be changed and plans and activities that can be put on hold. Do without restaurant lunches. Avoid buying new clothes for six months. Turn down the heat and wear more sweaters. Shop at thrift stores or yard sales.

In all of this, work overtime to maintain your marriage and keep your relationship on a sound footing. Go out of your way to have fun and keep things light as much as possible - it's crucial to keep up your morale while waiting for circumstances to improve. If your spouse loses their job, avoid the temptation to ask a million questions or deliver a lecture about family responsibility. Support your mate in this crisis by helping with the job search and expressing your willingness to cut costs. A cheerful, positive attitude will go a long way in a situation like this.

If you need help putting these recommendations into action, don't hesitate to seek professional counseling. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your locale who specialize in this area. You can contact our Counseling Department at this number. They'll be happy to assist you in any way they can.

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Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family Book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.