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Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

With unemployment still at 7% and long term unemployment benefits getting cut, millions of Americans are going to be stuck in a most unpleasant situation. How will it affect your marriage if you lose that income? What should you do to begin to cope? Are there specific suggestions?

Years ago most American families were one income families. That was in some ways much better, since if one person lost his (usually the man) income the partner (usually the woman) could look for ways of making up the shortfall. Today such a situation is extremely rare. Most of us need two incomes to maintain our lifestyles. Even worse, there was a time when we could expect to find a new job within a few months. People have lost that expectation. Some say that the reason that the unemployment rate is “only” 7% is because so many people have given up looking for work.

Numerical Calculations with Emotional Consequences

The loss of a job is much more than a financial question. Cold economic calculations, if allowed, would find solutions. But cold calculations are almost impossible. If Joan and John had good paying jobs and Joan was laid off, does that mean that they should sell the house and move to a less expensive neighborhood, and have the kids readjust to a less prestigious school? Doing that would engender guilt, anger, frustrations and interpersonal and intrapersonal stress. On the other hand, making insufficient adjustments will cause the same amount of stress.

Job Loss Affects Men and Women Differently

It makes a difference who lost the job. Men and women relate to money in different ways. In spite of all the progress made in equalizing income rates, American men often still feel emasculated when they are dependent on their wives for income. That loss of identity, self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness has implications that reverberate throughout the whole family. Of course, similar feelings can affect the woman if she gets a pink slip. Furthermore, the stress affects the children as well as the couple.

One more factor makes this situation particularly difficult. Talking about money is often more difficult than talking about sex! As Americans we have learned how to talk about sex since the 1960’s, but most of us never grew up learning how to talk about money. When it becomes the “elephant in the living room” we need to learn how to talk about it without causing more stress. We need to develop strategies that will keep both sides feeling safe in a time of great vulnerability.1

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind if you and your family are in this situation.

8 Tips for Coping with Unemployment

1. Acknowledge the Loss

Acknowledgment is more than admitting that there will be less income for the foreseeable future. The loss includes aspects of self-esteem, identity and status (in the family and in the community). Recognize that, as with all types of loss, there can be periods of denial, guilt and anger. Understanding these feelings as natural processes helps you to weather the storms. It is best to talk about it openly. Hey, the kids could learn how to handle difficult times!

2. Get Financial Advice

Very few of us received proper financial education. Belt tightening is a personal process, but there are professionals who have seen it done hundreds of times and can give valuable insights. Don’t think that professional advice is not important if you have significant savings. Getting advice is more important if you have more money. Losing a job and savings is a double disaster.

3. Improve Empathic Communications

Above and beyond acknowledging the loss is validating your partner’s feelings. Listen to your man’s feelings of guilt and vulnerability without blame. Listen to your woman’s worries about the consequences and implications without belittling. Be careful not to give advice while your partner is venting. Problem solving will happen once the feelings are worked out.

4. Develop Coping Strategies for the Stress

Stress has physical implications as well as psychological effects. You need to take care of yourself during rough times. Exercise. Even if you never did before, this might be the opportunity to make that habit. It is not the time for a personal trainer or club membership, but there are good workouts you can do on your own. (You can find tons of instruction on YouTube!) Schedule time with friends, and play time with your kids or grandkids! Additionally, even though many of us eat worse when stressed, this is a time to dedicate to a better, healthier diet.

5. Network (Not Just for Work)

Well, duh. How else does one find a job? I am not talking about only in order to find a job. Networking keeps the sanity and important social connections. If you network only for the purpose of finding work you run the risk of feelings of uselessness and failure if you don’t find a job quickly enough. If you network with the goal of keeping and developing important social connections you can be successful. Those feelings of success will, in turn, increase your likelihood of landing a job. People like people who are successful.

6. Work on Your Family Connections

Go out on dates with your significant other. Visit family that have fallen distant. Have fun with the people you love. When you put in that effort you will be appreciated and feel appreciated. That works wonders for negative feelings of loss.

7. Focus on Gratitude

One of the most reliably proven mood enhancers is cultivation of gratitude. Make a daily habit of recording at least three things that you can be grateful for and why that thing happened. This goes a long way in training your brain to notice positivity in your life, and when you find yourself without employment you really need to find positivity on a daily basis.

8. Don’t Lose Hope

When you start feeling hopeless, listen to your partner’s hopefulness. If she is feeling hopeless, you encourage her. You might have to fake it till you make it, but she needs to do the same. If this doesn’t work, you might consider professional counseling.

Many people find that crisis is a great time for growth. It is certainly an opportunity to strengthen a marital relationship. Weathering bad times helps people grow closer, but it takes work and cooperation.

  • 1. Atwood, J. D. (2012). Couples and Money: The Last Taboo. American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(1), 1-19.
About the author Ari Hahn:
I am a professional helper since 1976 and an LCSW since 1991. I have specialized in survivors of trauma. Presently I also have an on-line therapy and coaching practice where I also specialize in helping families and loved ones of ex-abused people. I also am a professor at TCI College in NYC.
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Page last updated Jan 03, 2014

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