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Unemployment and Your Marriage

June 4, 2020 | by Rochel Stoklasa

Practical tips on keeping your marriage stable during this tumultuous (and temporary!) period.

Along with the many casualties of coronavirus is the amount of people who have been laid off from work due to the economic catastrophe. You don’t need me to tell you how awful unemployment is for everyone affected by it. Aside from the financial stress it creates, it hurts both spouses psychologically and emotionally.

This applies to men and women, but I’ll address it from my perspective as a wife whose

husband has spent time unemployed through no fault of his own. Without work, men across all societies feel vulnerable and like failures. Unemployment takes away an essential part of their identity and leaves a void in its place. They may also fear letting down their family if they’re not actively earning money. This can create an atmosphere of strife, defensiveness, and overall unpleasantness at home.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Here are some tips I’ve personally used on keeping your marriage stable during this tumultuous (and temporary!) period.

1. I’ll start with a cliché: focus on the positive in your spouse. He may be out of work, but unless you married him for his job/career, his core characteristics are still there. Remind yourself of why you married him, and seek out those admirable things in him. Tell him what you appreciate about him. He needs you to remind him of these things when he can’t see them himself, and you need to remind yourself that he is the same person you married.

2. Network for him, but within reason. Don’t obsess over finding him a job (looking for a job is a job in itself. I spent so many hours scrolling through job sites that led to nothing; time that in retrospect could have been much better spent doing other things). He’s an adult and can and should look for a job himself, with reasonable help from you. Ask if he wants help, and if he says no – leave him be.

3. Have him do things around the house that he might not have time for normally, but don’t expect him to suddenly triple his share of cleaning/cooking/organizing. Number one, it’ll take him away from his job search, and number two, it will inevitably lead to him feeling resentful and you feeling annoyed that he he’s not ‘using his time well’.

4. Being unemployed can be embarrassing, and sometimes people want to self-isolate when they’re out of work. They don’t want to answer suddenly invasive questions like “how’s work?” or “how’s the job search?” Encourage socialization (attending shul is wonderful for this) but, as always, don’t micromanage. Everyone deals with setbacks differently. You may have to initiate: invite guests or invite yourselves out if you can. Otherwise, encourage getting outside and going for a hike or to the beach. Even simple things like that can really help boost morale and hope.

5. Reach out to friends or whoever you feel comfortable with. Having an unemployed spouse is an emotional burden, and talking it out or having people who can empathize with you can make all the difference for how you, in turn, affect the atmosphere in your own home. Being angry or annoyed with your spouse for being home when he is doing what is in his power to find employment will backfire bigtime. Do what you can to nurture yourself. Your sense of serenity will create a ripple effect for your family. Your spouse will appreciate not feeling that he is responsible for your happiness, and you’ll both be able to approach this very real issue with a calm focus.

6. One line that I always find comfort in is “God’s salvation arrives in the blink of an eye”. It is astounding how much one’s life can change in a minute. Remind yourself that everything happens for a divine reason, and that things can change for the better in the blink of an eye. Every day is a new opportunity for hope. Combining realistic human efforts with faith that everything will turn out for the best is a recipe for success. You never know which day or which lead will result in a positive life change.

7. Do things together that aren’t related to job searching. Go for walks, garden, play games. Read articles on things that interest you that are not work-related and discuss them with your husband. It can be really hard not to focus on job searching constantly. You may feel that every minute spent not looking for a job can be a lost opportunity. But getting away from the job search means your spouse can get back into it with renewed energy and optimism. Job hunting can be depressing. Missing two hours of sending out one’s resume will not impact his long-term future. A more relaxed spouse makes for a more relaxed marriage. Get a break for your marriage’s sake.

8. You might need to use this time to create changes in your lifestyle. Getting rid of cleaning help is a big one. See if it’s feasible for you. Reading up on how to cut costs at the grocery store can help. One of my kids sometimes complains, “you don’t buy food! You only buy ingredients!” Buy real ingredients to create simple, cheap meals from scratch. While this may sound ridiculous in light of the increased stress and the possibility that you may have to take on more work to cover the shortfall in income, homemade pizza is amazing. Lowering your expectations and adapting to a lower budget lifestyle will serve you well long after your income returns to normal.

9. Don’t blame. Unless there is something like a behavioral or executive functioning issue that can be concretely changed to ensure that the next job will be permanent, blaming will only destroy the goodwill and respect between the two of you. Trying to remain positive is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s the only thing that will allow you to emerge from this tumultuous period in one piece, hopefully even better than before. Challenges present opportunities for growth when you’ve done what you can to change the situation.

10. There are organizations that are there to help. Everybody needs help at one point or another, and there is no shame in it. Getting help with food to get you through this period might be imperative. Rather than feeling ashamed, try feeling grateful that such an organization exists (and commit to giving them a donation once you’re back on your feet). Taking a low-interest loan to cover bills might be necessary. Accepting help that’s available rather than suffering more than you need to will result in a more peaceful you, and a healthier long-term marriage.

Being out of work is undoubtedly unpleasant for someone who takes pride in providing for himself and his family. It can be a scary, nerve-wracking time. It is also the perfect time to work on your faith and trust in God, and faith that you will get a job the minute you’re supposed to. When you focus on the blessing that is a good marriage and all the other blessings in the average person’s life, getting a job will only increase your happiness, not create it. Putting in the necessary work and having faith in God and yourself will get your there. May the Almighty provide ample livelihood for all who need it, and may all who are searching find jobs that give them a sense of pride and gratitude.

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