My intent in using the word spouse is more inclusive, so as to refer to significant other or life partner as well. I’m unfortunately qualified to write on this subject by being a married practicing career coach who has personally experienced a 30-month transition.
Although I never ask my clients for personal information, many times they volunteer information about their spouse’s behavior during this period of transition, and I am appalled at the stories I hear. For instance, one client mentioned that years ago, while getting herself ready for a morning interview, she felt all pumped up, energized, excited, and ready. Just before leaving the house, she asked her husband, “So, how do I look?” His response was “Well, to start with, you’re too fat.” That assessment ruined not only her day but also her interview. As shocking and demoralizing as such a statement can be, especially from a spouse, it’s not unique or singular.
How can the spouse help?
First, remember your wedding vow? It probably included the words for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health—the exact ideas that apply to support of partners through hardships such as unemployment. Most couples face life’s bumps in the road along the way, but it is expected that the partners’ connection to each other involves a team relationship of support and understanding—not only through the fun times.
A period of employment transition puts a strain on any relationship, including in the area of, say, finances, not to mention loss of identity. People identify themselves by the position they hold at work and in society. When that is lost, people feel as if they’re nobodies.
When job loss occurs, a couple should sit down, put their heads together, and strategize. Unemployment lasts for an unknown period of time, yet the previously committed financial obligations continue. The situation requires a plan of action. Typically, the duration of unemployment is temporary and should be treated as such. But things can get very difficult when the period of unemployment is extended, and the continued emotional support and encouragement must be there unequivocally and unwavering. Being in transition can make people want to withdraw and isolate themselves socially. The spouse should watch out for such frames of mind and prevent them. If not, such a mind-set can lead to clinical depression, and what employer wants to hire a depressed person? One more thing: please don’t nag by asking why it takes so long to find a job. This is no different from asking an expectant woman in the last weeks of pregnancy, “So, when is the baby coming”?
It’s OK or even expected that the other spouse will be encouraging, but not become a career coach or counselor. Leave those aspects of job search to the professionals, because if done incorrectly, it can backfire—with destructive consequences. Suggest instead that your life partner volunteer. Although an unpaid activity, volunteering often results in a thank-you, which are two words that people in transition don’t hear frequently. It can also lead to meeting new people—and even a job.
A few suggestions
- Facilitate the spouse’s getting out of the house to job search network.
- Be emotionally supportive.
- Be positive, encouraging, and constructive.
- Let the other person communicate and be heard.
- Encourage your partner to get professional job search support.
- Remember that this is just a stage in life, and better days are ahead.