A few months after we were married, our relationship faced the stress of unemployment. It was a situation that neither of us were prepared for. For many relationships, job loss can mean the end of what was once a happy relationship. In the middle of the stress, depression, financial struggles, and resentment that came with the the job loss and subsequent instability in employment, I saw the warning signs that our relationship could seriously be altered by how we chose to handle it.
Compartmentalize Financial Stress from Personal Life
Finances can be a struggle for any couple, it is one of the most common things that couples fight about. It becomes increasingly difficult when you are barely paying your bills to begin with. Any change in employment status for a lower-income family can mean the difference between having a place to live and not.
When one spouse becomes unexpectedly unemployed, the financial burden can be heavy if the couple isn’t in a comfortable place financially to begin with. Even if you do live comfortably, a drastic change in means could alter your lifestyle and add money stress.
Finances are important to discuss regularly and openly, even when its difficult. But, they shouldn’t consume your life or affect your relationship with your family. During times of instability in income or employment, it is more important than ever to choose how and when to discuss finances.
I regularly dedicate time every weekend, just after pay day to budgeting and paying bills. Even though I was stressed about our ability to pay our bills and provide essentials like food and transportation to work, the only time I brought it up was during the time that we dedicated to budgeting.
Even now that everything has stabilized, we still restrict money talk to that one time per week. The rest of the week, we focus on spending time together and complaining about or otherwise discussing money stuff is strictly off limits.
Acknowledge Your Spouse’s Feelings (about the job loss) and Provide Support
If you have ever had the unfortunate experience of a job loss or extended period of unemployment, you may be familiar with the dark side that comes along with the perceived failure. There is a part of our self-esteem that is tied to our successes and failures in our careers. If you have never experienced a job loss yourself, maybe you can relate to the feeling of confidence that you get in all areas of your life when you are doing really well at work.
At first, and for an embarrassingly long amount of time, I was so wrapped up in my own feelings of anger and resentment about the situation that I never even considered how my husband felt about the job loss and the lack of opportunities for a new job.
I had a bit of an ‘a-ha’ moment one day that changed my entire perspective on our situation. When I remembered how I had felt during my own stint of unemployment, I immediately realized that I had made a huge mistake in overlooking that my husband was experiencing those same feelings and I wasn’t providing the support that he needed. The only thing I was doing was berating him for not preparing (to my standards) for interviews or not writing his resume as well as I would have.
From the moment that I set aside my own negative feelings about the situation and focused on being a supportive partner, the situation improved dramatically. We were finally able to move past the distance in our relationship.
Know that Your Feelings (about the situation) are Okay Too.
While your spouse is likely feeling the failure of his or her job-loss, manifesting those feelings in various forms of anger or depression, your own feelings about the situation come from a different place.
I found myself getting resentful that I still had to spend 40+ hours every week at a job that I didn’t particularly like while my spouse got to stay home. I set unrealistic expectations in my mind for what I expected him to get done at home. And, I made sure to let him know when he disappointed those (unrealistic) expectations as soon as I would get home every night.
This behavior wasn’t helping the situation. The only thing that I was accomplishing to push him farther away and farther into feelings of depression, failure, and inadequacy. It certainly wasn’t motivating him to meet my expectations.
Know that it is okay to have feelings about the situation. It is okay if you feel angry. It is okay if you feel disappointed. But, it is not okay to punish your spouse for your own feelings. You need to be a grown up and deal with your hurt feelings. Accept your feelings and be honest about them, but only do so in the interest of open communication. If you can’t talk about your feelings calmly, you have not accepted your feelings and you need to do that work on your own before taking your feelings to your spouse.
Work Twice as Hard on Your Personal Relationship
At any point in your relationship where there are additional stressors, and a job loss is certainly one of them, you need to actively focus on your relationship. Your feelings and your spouse’s feelings about the job loss are likely affecting all areas of your relationship. Maybe there is less effort to be intimate, or maybe you just sit quietly on your phones all night instead of talking about anything in fear of starting a fight.
Make a conscious effort to be more intimate, to spend more time bonding as a couple and a family, and let the strength of your interpersonal relationship carry you through the stressful times.
Money might be really tight, and spending more money on date nights and family outings is probably out of the question. That is totally okay. Better quality bonding time for couples and families can be found at home for free.
When All Else Fails, Remember It is Only Temporary
It is far too easy to get wrapped up and consumed with the stressful situation at-hand. Negative feelings can cause negative interactions which create distance in any relationship. But, regardless of how impossible the situation seems at the time, unemployment is a temporary stress that will be alleviated once your spouse lands a new job.
I had to repeat this to myself almost daily, like an affirmation. I had to actively remind myself every time that my anger and resentment would bubble up, that this situation is only temporary and I don’t want to risk losing our entire relationship over one negative, and most importantly, temporary event in life.
The simple reminder that it was a temporary problem was enough to bring my focus back to what was important and remind me that despite my negative feelings about the situation, I loved my husband and I wanted to protect our marriage.
I actively chose to protect our marriage over fighting and complaining. I did not do all of this right away, for the first solid month I was the absolute perfect example of how to be a nagging wife and ruin your marriage in six easy steps. Luckily, my husband is a patient man. I came around, and I knew that a good deal of the unhappiness at home was not because of his job loss, but more because of the way that I was choosing to handle it. This realization empowered me to make a different choice, one that lead to a happier outcome.