How to Support Your Spouse Following a Job Loss

You are in a good rhythm. Family is going well. Bills are being paid–on time. Life is not perfect but your content. The week ends and you’re looking forward to wind down together for family night with pizza and Netflix. Your spouse pulls into the driveway, enters the house with a distraught look on his face and announces that he was laid off his job.  At the sound of those words the relaxing weekend went down the drain. Forget about going out for dinner tonight.  We are staying home and having Ramen noodles. Have you ever had that sick feeling? You’re not alone. A few months ago my wife announced she was being laid off from a job she held for 21 years due to a corporate restructure. The writing was on the wall earlier in the year, but based on her performance we thought she would survive the cut. When it became official it was devastating. As her husband I wondered, “How do I support Marian during this difficult time following her job loss?” I was in unchartered waters and did not want to make it harder on her.  Some things I did worked, others not so well. Here are 6 ways you can support your spouse following a job loss.
Focus first on how your spouse is doing
A job loss impacts both of you. While you might initially be aware of how it affects you, hit the pause button and focus on your spouse. This is a time to support your partner as he/she processes the initial reaction to the situation. Sometimes they are in shock. It may feel catastrophic, or they may act upbeat to show they can handle the situation. The initial reaction is often short-lived, however you want to listen as they let out their reaction. They may feel angry, betrayed, fearful, guilty. These are normal reactions that need a safe release point. Be emotionally supportive and validate their feelings.
Convey your support to get through it together
Wedding vows come to mind here. “…in good times or in bad…” Your spouse may feel like a failure and might be too hard on him/herself. Normalize the experience. “You are not the only one going through this. We will get through it together.” It may take a while for your spouse to get through the loss. Depending on the significance of loss your partner may experience a season of grief. Marian worked for her company for over two decades and managed several teams. It took time to recover from the loss of relationships she treasured.
Share your reactions to the job loss
This can be a little tricky because you just emotionally propped up your spouse and now they are going to hear how the job loss affects you. Think about the timing in sharing your reactions. If your spouse is not emotionally ready, delay it for a few hours or a day or two. You may have similar emotions of anger, betrayal, or fear. In my case, I was angry at the company. Marian was a hard-working, dedicated, and caring individual who gave 100% effort. I felt she deserved better treatment. Some spouses have a difficult time being supportive when job loss is a pattern based on poor performance. If there is a pattern of job loss you may need to express other concerns.
  • How this pattern causes mistrust
  • The need for a protocol to address factors contributing to the pattern
  • Are there coach able issues
  • Are there underlying issues that need counseling focus
Collaborate on a plan to modify budget
Financial pressures increase following the loss of employment. Your spouse’s worry about being a provider is compounded by loss of income. This is a time to come together and discuss finances. Find ways to cut fat out of the budget.
Be a sounding board to provide input into their plan to find a new job
Give feedback on job hunt, resume writing, career focus, etc… Be careful about your boundaries regarding the responsibility to solve the problem of the job loss. Avoid the polar extremes of enmeshment or complete disengagement.
Try to remain patient and positive from beginning to end
Job loss can be an emotional roller coaster with no definitive end in sight. Nagging, criticizing attempts to motivate generally don’t work. Nor does being emotionally cold and distant. Your best approach is patience and a positive attitude. Don’t focus on the negative. See the positive no matter how little it is, and punctuate it. Bite your tongue. If you have to share a criticism in his/her approach or attitude, be sure it is constructive and communicated respectfully.

Now it’s your turn

If you’ve been through this before what did you do to support your spouse that worked? What didn’t work?