After a global pandemic that has left millions of people unemployed and eager for work, you may find yourself carrying the brunt of the financial responsibilities in your relationship if your spouse lost their job. When your partner is laid off, furloughed, or otherwise unable to bring in an income, it’s bound to cause stress — and at times — tension within your couplehood. However, while expected, relationship experts say it’s vital to be a source of support and encouragement during this stressful period.
As Briony Leo, a certified psychologist and the head of coaching at HelloRelish, explains, the stress of a spouse’s lost job impacts every area of a person’s life, making them feel stressed, isolated, anxious, and potentially ashamed. “Having a partner who is supportive and understanding is something that helps enormously: it can stop someone sliding into depression and withdrawal, and can be a valuable sounding board for next steps,” she explains.
If your spouse lost their job, here’s how to provide support and encouragement.
Have and practice compassion.
Unemployment may be a difficult, unexpected experience and thus, it can feel really strange — for you, for your partner, and for your family and friends. Though you may harbor some feelings of resentment or fear, or even anger if your spouse lost their job, Leo says it’s essential to express and practice compassion and empathy as much as you can. This means allowing them to go through a grieving period for the job they lost, so they can come through with a plan to move forward. “You can think of this period as a time when your partner is going to be vulnerable and not themselves — and understanding that this is not forever is really important,” she continues. “You might imagine what it would be like for you to lose your job — and some of the emotional responses you might have. Even if they didn’t like the job they lost, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to be affected by losing it.”
Don’t undermine your partner’s feelings.
Beyond genuine, non-judgmental support, remember that you bring a valuable perspective to the table, says Bert Miller, the CEO of MRINetwork. How come? You weren’t recently laid off, but perhaps, you have been in the past, so you have an objective, unemotional voice of reason to their experience. He recommends sitting down with your partner to help bring that realism as you start to make a plan together. “Don’t undermine your partner’s feelings, but instead provide balance where they will struggle to find it themselves,” he explains. “Building a plan as partners will take the onus of responsibility off of their shoulders and protect your relationship.”
Communicate constantly about roles.
Because the power dynamics are often upended by unemployment, so things like finances and home duties need to be re-negotiated, Leo explains. That’s why it’s a smart and helpful idea to discuss what this new landscape may look like while your partner is job searching. “If your finances are combined, you need to know how you will plan to keep things fair. “One example might be that the unemployed partner takes on more responsibility at home, such as cooking dinner or doing laundry, while they are looking for a job,” she suggests.
Even having a conversation about what might happen six months down the track is useful too, Leo says, so at least there is a plan, and these things are open to discussion. “We know that no relationship is going to be totally equal, but making sure that both people are working towards fairness is often enough — otherwise, we may be left feeling resentful or taken advantage of,” she adds.
Take space as you need it.
Repeat after Leo: You are not selfish for needing some space and time for yourself during your partner’s time of need. This is always true, but particularly if you are carrying some of their emotional weight, too. “This might look like taking some time to spend with friends during the week, having your own hobbies and self-care,” she explains. “By looking after yourself and staying engaged with your interests, you’re giving your partner a reminder of what normal life looks like and what they have to look forward to once they get back on their feet. Relationships need oxygen, and in this situation, it might be up to you to seek this as your partner may not have the ability to.”
Become a source of encouragement.
Relationship and dating expert and author Lauren Peacock says it can help and bond for a partner to volunteer to help your spouse during their job hunt. This may include looking over their cover letter and resume, reaching out to your network, or simply being an example of healthy habits. Your partner will likely feel pressure to find a job quickly, but they need to care for themselves to manage stress and anxiety, too.
“Go on a walk or jog around the neighborhood or at the park. A change of scenery and exercise always helps boost the mood,” she shares. “If your partner is struggling to find this appealing, frame it as a day date in the park and not as a full-blown workout. Getting out and active is healthy for the body and mind.”
Don’t neglect your sexual relationship.
Since much of a person’s self-worth is tied to their career, Jacqueline Berchielli, the CEO and founder of Meetnorth, says having a positive sense of self and well-being is essential to a healthy sexual relationship. “Negative feelings surrounding a job loss can manifest into your spouse not feeling worthy of your physical affections, so make sure you remind them that your physical relationship is still intact and as strong as ever,” she adds.
Pull together or get pushed apart.
As licensed marriage and family therapist Amber Trueblood says, even though your partner is going through unemployment, you should think of it as a team effort. This requires you to pull together to avoid being pushed apart. “If your partner spirals downward emotionally, they’ll likely either pull you down with them, or you will separate emotionally,” she continues. “Figuring out how to emotionally support your partner while still maintaining your own personal emotional strength is incredibly important. It’s vital to show consistent and genuine compassion without taking on responsibility for solving their employment problem.”