Expert Q&A: Reacting to Your Partner s Job Loss
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Q: My husband just lost his job. How can I help him through it?
A: Losing a job is one of the top stressors in life. Not only are your finances affected, but your self-esteem also takes a big hit. Even more troubling, you're in the middle of one of the worst job markets in history. And if you have an intimate partner, you'll most likely have to deal with your mate's anger, anxiety, and disappointment.
Fortunately, the advice for managing job loss applies to both partners. These tips are more effective when you do them as a team. My clients said that weathering the crisis together strengthened their relationship and expanded their coping skills.
1. Get informed about your benefits together. Job loss can temporarily make your brain feel fuzzy. Anxiety goes up, neither one of you sleeps very well, and you can't remember things. Go with your partner to the Human Resource Department or equivalent at the job and learn about unemployment and health benefits. Two heads are better than one, and perhaps you can ask questions that your partner has overlooked. Sometimes, just seeking information can have a calming effect. You both feel you are making progress, and your partner views you as supportive and clear-headed.
2. Learn about normal reactions to loss. Most losses in life are accompanied with an unpleasant mix of anger, depression, helplessness, and anxiety. These are expected, normal emotions. You and your partner are not weak or unreliable if you feel as though someone slugged you in the stomach or sat on your chest. Your mission is not to avoid or deny these reactions but to educate yourselves about them. Information will minimize panic. Browse the Internet together for key words such as job loss or mourning. Call your local social service organizations and inquire if there are job loss support groups that you can attend as a couple.
3. Be mindful of your non-verbal reactions to your partner. It is difficult--but not impossible--to control those instantaneous reactions such as rolling your eyes or sighing/grunting. Think about how you automatically respond to bad news in a non-verbal way. Get mindful of your reactions so that when bad news of any kind comes along--which in some form it does for most of us!--you will not make the situation worse by seeming insensitive or too angry. The more you each take charge of your knee-jerk negativity, the stronger you build your team. I am not saying that you shouldn't feel frustrated or frightened, but I am saying that you need to focus on how you express your feelings.
My clients become better problem-solvers when they report how they are feeling rather than being their feelings. For example, you can tell your partner, one a scale of 1 to 10 how fed up you are. This approach is far less damaging than arguing or remaining in a funk.
4. Don't accuse or blame. Again, many of us have instant verbal reactions such as: "You knew it was coming." If you tend to blurt out these instant messages, once again get mindful of your usual reactions so that you can reduce the chance of spitting them out! Stressful events can turn the best of us into blamers. When you feel the urge to lash out at your partner, take a breath instead and think of words such as team and solution.
5. Hug, hold hands more often. Touch is important, but don't make them either "pity touches" such as back-patting or looking down-in-the-face or "leave me alone touches" such as half-hearted hugs. Better touches are warm hugs, kisses and words such as "We'll get through this together."
6. Be aware of your partner's style before you storm ahead with remarks or ideas. Hopefully, you know your partner. Does he or she like to talk things out or retreat? Give your partner some time to be who she or he is. By now, you're probably realizing that dealing with loss is a balancing act between taking action and allowing expression of feelings. There is no magic formula. The key is to communicate. For instance, you can say something like: "I feel down today. I don't want to talk about it now. Check back by tomorrow." Good teamwork both communicates feelings and gives clear directives.
7. Stay healthy together. Eat healthily and don't use substances such as alcohol or drugs as coping tools. Work out together.
8. Seek job counseling. Don't assume you can only do one kind of job. Go to career counseling together so you can learn about other careers or training programs.
9. Review your financial situation. Sit down together-or with a trusted friend, family member or accountant-and tweak your budget and expenses.
10. Brainstorm networking venues together. Make lists of all the companies in your area. Contact the Chamber of Commerce to learn about networking meetings. Call family members and friends for help. Volunteer to make connections.
11. Think outside the box and big and small picture. You might have to consider things such as relocating, getting trained in another profession, working a different shift or type of job. Some couples move in with the family. You might have to keep a dual time perspective: What should we do now? What should we do long-term? As you can see, working as a problem-solving team is not only a good idea, it is the only way to triumph. Maintain a problem-solution instead of playing a bad game of history where you get stuck on what you should have done.
12. See the silver lining. Often, when one door closes, another one opens. Perhaps this job loss is an opportunity for both of you to reevaluate your skills, goals, and lifestyle.
Most importantly, stay positive and loving.
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com. Also on her website, if you donate $5 to Habitat for Humanity-Sarasota, Florida, you can receive a download of her relationship advice cartoon book for women, "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie."
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