Supporting An Unemployed Partner
While there is a lot of help available to job seekers these days, the same can not be said for the partner’s or spouses of the unemployed. So this blog is directed at you if you are in a relationship with someone who is out of work and looking for a job.
One assumption I’m coming from in writing this piece is that you WANT your partner to get a job. With that stated, your actions and words can go a long way to helping or hindering the job search for the one you care about; maybe more than you think.
Okay so first of all I want to acknowledge that your partner might be the one getting much of the sympathy from family or friends. “Poor Dan…he’s trying to find a job so bad.” So what about you? All they say is, “Must be hard on Sheila and the kids”. Whatever. It must be tough on you too. After all, the combined family income dropped affecting you, your partner is miserable, moody and frustrated which affects you, and you don’t even know if you should share your own frustrations and stress because you don’t want to add to the stress of your partner. All of this and you feel extra pressure to keep your own job and cut back on groceries etc. even though your job hasn’t been affected.
Have you thought about talking about your own stress as it relates to your partner’s unemployment with a Counsellor or a good friend? Might be time well spent, and your employer might have provisions in your benefit plan to cover any costs of this service. After all, by helping you out, you are more productive when at work for them.
One suggestion I’ve got is to take an active interest in the job search. Offer to tackle it together which can not only help in the here and now, but in the future when the unemployment period is a bad memory, what will endure is the support you gave, and your relationship may be stronger because of it. In real terms, you can offer to type up a cover letter if keyboarding isn’t your partner’s strong suit. Sometimes its little things, like just saying, “I know things are tough, but we’ll be okay…you’ll see.”
Those words of reassurance can start rebuilding self-esteem. Your partner is fragile; part of their identity is gone, and they might even start doubting their contribution to the relationship if the time out-of-work drags on. Have a look at the finances. If you are the one who normally pays the bills, look at areas where everybody can cut back a bit. Maybe dinner out less often is one place you can target to save some money but you can still have some fun by changing up the menu. Having a fondue isn’t something you might have had in some time, so the meal becomes just as special as going out.
Other things you can do to be supportive is watch your words. Something as casual as, “How many jobs did you apply to today?” as you walk in the door might be better phrased as, “So how was today?” Asking about the number of jobs applied to might make your partner feel worse if they only applied for a single job, when prior to your arrival they really felt they put in a quality effort in researching that one company and putting together an awesome resume. After all, they don’t want to fall short of your expectations do they?
A spouse out-of-work also needs to reassurance that the rest of the things in your relationship are stable. So if you normally spend time cuddling on the couch or romancing each other in the bedroom, make sure this activity doesn’t just stop cold turkey. If you are used to getting together with some other couple or friends on Friday nights, find a way to keep that happening. Social contact is not reserved for the employed, and it can be strongly argued that isolation is one of the worst courses of action that unemployed people sometimes take. Fear of shame and embarrassment in being unemployed shouldn’t keep you from nurturing your other relationships, especially with people you call your friends and family.
If your unemployed partner is really looking for work, don’t load them up with household chores just because, “you’re home doing nothing all day while I’m at work.” Ouch. Now your partner knows how you really feel, and instead of looking for work with enthusiasm, they’ll feel guilty looking for work and distracted if they know you’ll be mad when you find the dishes haven’t been done or the bedroom isn’t painted. I’m not saying an unemployed partner shouldn’t be doing things around the house; it’s in the delivery of the message that you can support or break them down.
Not only will your partner focus better on a job hunt, but they will perform in an interview better too because they can concentrate fully on the task at hand. When successful in finding a job, or landing an interview, be sure to congratulate them as only a partner can. All relationships involve times of challenge and stress to some degree. How you handle this stress and meet those challenges TOGETHER can go a long way to having a deeper, more meaningful relationship. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.