Coping When Your Spouse is Unemployed

By Roberta Rand Caponey
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Coping When Your Spouse is Unemployed
Here's how to safeguard your marriage and family relationships when a spouse loses his job.
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

  • First, practice an attitude that treats unemployment as a temporary — and manageable — situation. The repeated rejection that goes with a job search is hard, but the odds are that a new job will eventually surface if you both remain focused and deliberate in your quest. Keep a healthy perspective. Be open to what God might be trying to teach you both through this experience.

  • If you still have children at home, be open and honest with them about your situation. Communicate realistically, but optimistically, about the future. (It’s not the end of the world!) Plan regular times together as a family to discuss feelings, finances, priorities and how everyone can pitch in to ease stress at home. Explain that everyone will have to sacrifice (temporary cuts in allowances, cutting back on clothes shopping, etc.) for awhile until Dad finds a new job. Remind children that you’re in this together — and together you’ll come through this, better and stronger for the adversity you’ve experienced, and perhaps with newfound compassion for others in similar circumstances.

  • Insist on at least one night a week when you can schedule time alone or with your own friends. Help your husband understand that the time you spend on yourself will help you be a better spouse when you’re together — because it will. Even in the best of times it’s good to cultivate your own hobbies and interests.

  • Remind yourself and your spouse to take this one day at a time. Help your husband avoid catastrophic thinking (I’ll never find work!). Be positive in your attitudes and pray together every day for God’s provision — for your physical, emotional and material needs, and for your relationship. And keep talking! Deliberate communication mitigates the effects of depression and helps boost bruised self-esteem.

  • Accept that you’ll have good days and bad days. On the good days, discuss what makes them good and brainstorm ways to keep up positive energy (going to bed at a reasonable hour, rising together, morning exercise, prayer time, etc.). Maintain a routine as much as possible. Be mutually accountable, setting a daily agenda for both of you: job interviews, personal appointments, chores around the house, etc.

  • Unemployment can make people want to withdraw — but avoid becoming socially isolated. Continue to attend church and keep up social commitments during the week. Share what you’re going through with friends. You need support now more than ever — and contrary to what you might think, friends will be honored by your desire to confide in them.

  • Plan activities together that will help you let off steam. Many big-city zoos and museums have occasional “free” days. Get outside in the fresh air, take a bike ride, have a picnic. Plan a time where you agree to put aside job worries and focus only on having fun.

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!

Copyright © 2002 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Roberta Rand Caponey

Roberta Rand Caponey is Senior Editor at Family Life Communications in Tucson, Ariz. She is formerly Online Editor of Focus Over 50.

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