Focus on the Family

Coping When Your Spouse is Unemployed

Here's how to safeguard your marriage and family relationships when a spouse loses his job.

by Roberta Rand Caponey
The loss of a job can put the vow "for better or for worse" to the test.

Unemployment rates high on the list, along with death and divorce, as one of life's top stress-inducing events. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources and guidance for those coping with their own unemployment. But what about the rest of the family? Unemployment impacts spouses and children, too.

Joe's wife JoAnn says she feels a combination of sympathy and anger towards her jobless husband.

"I don't know what to say to him when I come home from my own job and he's obviously had another rough day of dead-end leads. The house is a mess and he's lying on the couch in his underwear," she explains. "I know he's had a rough day, but can't he make himself useful while he's waiting for callbacks?"

A Delicate Balance

Unemployment places strain on a marital relationship for obvious reasons. Aside from the financial burden unemployment places on a household, a spouse who continues to work faces his or her own issues in dealing with a displaced, depressed family breadwinner. A wife whose "secondary" job is now a couple's only source of income may suddenly shoulder the burden of paying the bills. Not only that, but she must also play the role of counselor and cheerleader to a traumatized, demoralized husband.

A woman in this situation walks a fine line between compassionate helpmate and tough-talking coach. If you happen to have a "caretaker" personality, you may have to watch a tendency to give your spouse unspoken permission to stay stuck in self-pity and inaction. Push too hard and you risk coming off as cold and uncaring.

Anticipate What's Coming

As soon as possible after a job loss, you and your husband should sit down together and strategize not only the job hunt, but ways you can head off (or at least minimize) conflicts that come with unemployment stress.

The days ahead aren't going to be easy. Put your heads together to come up with a "plan of attack" — because that's exactly what you'll need to handle the pressures that can undermine a marriage in these tough circumstances.

Marriage and Family Survival Plan

Your spouse is facing a tough time, but you are, too. Pray to God for the energy, compassion, patience and insight to get you through this challenging season. And remember: like all the seasons that make up a life, this too shall pass!