Marriages are collateral damage in a bad economy. The stress of dealing with financial burdens can fray the “ties that bind.”
Mindy’s husband, Joel, was laid off three months ago. Mindy goes to her job every morning, while Joel gets the kids off to school, and then does laundry, grocery shops and prepares dinner for the family. In his free time, he surfs the net for job openings and, driven by panic, sends out flurries of untargeted applications. Meanwhile, Mindy criticizes Joel’s efforts in the household as inadequate, and lectures him about trying harder to find a job. Recently she ignored his input on a spending decision because, after all, she is “the one earning the money.”
Joel feels humiliated, depressed, and defeated. Not only is his self-esteem suffering from being unemployed, but the person closest to him, whose high regard he cherished, seems to be turning on him and find him lacking. Mindy feels apprehensive, helpless and resentful that the financial responsibility for the family has fallen on her shoulders, and worries that Joel isn’t proactive enough in hunting for work. Each is blaming the other, and all the emotion is diverting valuable energy from the job search.
As a result, this couple’s marriage is seriously strained. In reality, both Joel and Mindy are suffering; both are afraid for the future. But instead of sharing their pain to lessen its impact, they’re facing off in a most uncomfortable and frustrating place.
What could change that dynamic? Couples who find themselves in a situation like Mindy and Joel’s can take a whole different and more constructive approach. They can honestly share their concerns with each other in a non-critical manner. They can reassure each other that they will partner up to meet this crisis and that each sincerely values the other. These responses will infuse the couple with positive energy, thereby strengthening their relationship and helping them find solutions by working together. How exactly can couples do this?
For the working spouse:
• Avoid criticizing your partner’s job seeking efforts, even if you think you know better.
• Express confidence that your spouse is worthy of employment and that he or she will find new work.
• Ask what you can do to help. You could help with internet searches, proofread cover letters, make a delicious meal, give a massage, or be available to help your spouse find a recreational outlet. It could be something as simple as taking a walk together or bringing home a comedy DVD from the library.
• Recognize positive efforts (again while avoiding criticism!). Look for ways to build up the job seeker’s confidence, not erode it.
• Couch all “suggestions” gently and tentatively. For example: “I wonder if we checked what the employer posts on his website, maybe that would help make a stronger cover letter…” rather than: “This letter is so generic; let me write it!”
For the job seeking spouse:
• Remember that harsh reactions from your partner probably come from fear at the situation, and are likely not personal indictments or suggestions of your inadequacy.
• Reassure your partner calmly that you are making every effort. Seeking help from professionals, like the Career Coaches at Jewish Community Services, might quiet your partner’s concerns that you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to job hunting. (In truth, how many average people could be expert about replacing a lost job since they have never had to deal with it before?) Seeking advice from experts is the most efficient way to handle the crisis, and it and may take the pressure off the working spouse who has felt compelled to offer “ideas” or “suggestions” that the job seeker may find naive or not helpful.
• Thank your partner for any help he or she gives you, and look for ways to include your partner in the process. In the absence of information, imagination works overtime and fuels anxiety. This is not the time to sideline your spouse and go it alone.
The best way to weather this crisis and help your spouse or partner find employment is to communicate, be supportive, and take loving care of each other.
By Deborah Weksberg, Career Counselor, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
JCS offers a full range of career services. To learn more about these and other ways JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org, or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.