What to Expect From Your Spouse When You Lose Your Job

Paul was laid off about two years ago. His wife works. But she earns probably a tenth of what Paul was accustomed to bringing home. Suddenly, things were very different. The uncertainty of how long Paul was going to be on the sidelines was hard for him. It impacted his morale, perspective, sense of self, while all the while testing his sense of humor and networking skills. For his wife, in some respects, it was worse.

She wasn’t in the industry and just couldn’t grasp the new reality. The media suggested hiring was increasing and unemployment was at record lows. Hm. Why couldn’t her husband find a job?

Jerome’s wife was a stay-at-home mom with several children. When her husband was told his job was being eliminated, she was, understandably, very anxious.

This is normal. For a spouse, it’s anxiety provoking for numerous reasons. First, of course, a lack of income is unnerving. But a lack of knowledge of the industry, in combination with a limited understanding of the process of finding a new job, is unsettling.

Watching an unemployed spouse go through the interview process is often frustrating. This isn’t painless when the person is employed, but when they’re between jobs, it’s far more stressful. Candidates may think an interview went well and never hear back. Candidates may have countless interviews and then learn there’s a hiring freeze. Or an oral offer may be made and then no written offer is provided. Meanwhile, the spouse, trying to be supportive, can, and usually does, struggle to maintain composure. As time passes, the rollercoaster ride is harder to endure.

This can really test a marriage. When someone said “for richer or for poorer” maybe they hoped that they could skip the “for poorer” part. Whatever can be done to make this easier, should be. A few ideas follow.

  1. It’s almost always easier to discuss financial matters on a walk. Get outside.
  2. Limit how much time each day you will discuss your search.
  3. The spouse shouldn’t expect the unemployed spouse to be spending 8 hours a day looking for work. It’s unrealistic. And it’s better to take some breaks during the day.
  4. Try to save more money when you’re employed. This is seldom easy.
  5. Spend some of your day laughing about something.
  6. If you have a pet, that will help.
  7. Expect to move a few steps forward, a few back, and so on. That’s normal.
  8. Try to remember that your spouse probably asks how you’re doing because they want to be supportive, not because they’re trying to cause more anxiety.
  9. There are few people who are able to navigate a career that excludes some time on the bench. Nearly everyone either finds themselves out of a job at some point. Still, it’s enormously challenging. And uncomfortable.

The good news is that some folks, even after two years or more, get hired. And many find new roles long before the two years. When that happens, it’s typically the spouse, more than anyone, who is over the moon. Because, while no job is perfect, and it’s often the case that people complain, at least periodically, about their work, living with someone who has a routine and is earning money, almost always beats being on the sidelines. And often, if someone has been unemployed for a patch of time, they have a different relationship with their job once they find a new one. Their perspective helps them ignore most of the nonsense and focus on how glad they are to be back at work.