Unemployment and Marriage—Use the Strain for Gain

By John Tommasino

Losing your job isn’t just a shock to your system and a wound to your self-esteem, being laid off can place terrible stress on your marriage.

Don’t give in to fear when you lose your job. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not necessarily a great new job. Sometimes the unexpected situation of unemployment can put a career-minded individual on a path of development that will lead to new personal strength and marriage resiliency, a professional counselor told LaidOffLounge.

John Becker, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist serving families in the Detroit Metro area, advised that the experience of unemployment is a major shock but not typically understood as such. The shock often leads to a specific pattern of stress for the worker, their partner and the couple’s children.

“Losing your job is a traumatic experience. Both the worker and the spouse will experience a shock at first that isn’t directly tied to losing resources. It’s more based identity, as the one who is laid off begins asking, “who am I as a person?’” Becker said.

More than just the paycheck that provides resources to live, having a job is a key aspect of feeling empowered, Becker said. When lost, a job is mourned psychologically the same way people observe other losses such as a death of a friend or a family member. They experience specific stages of grief such as denial, bargaining, anger, depression and finally acceptance.

The initial shock is so strong that some can’t accept the situation and start to deny it.  People can often remain in denial about the job loss for weeks, sometimes dressing for work and leaving home every morning. They are fearful of telling their families the bad news.

This stage passes into the bargaining stage, where the unemployed spouse reasons in their mind that they can somehow get their job back if they give up something or do something else. This troubled reasoning is followed by the anger stage, which can be particularly challenging for families, as time in the home is disrupted by angry outbursts and arguments. Anger is most frequently expressed within the confines of the person’s home, in front of family members. The depression stage follows, as the unemployed person internalizes the pain and loss. This can lead to full-blown, clinical depression for both partners.

The emotional roller coaster of the loss stages must be endured before the unemployed spouse can accept the situation and move on with life. All the while, the other partner experiences these same stages and endures the pain of watching the unemployed spouse suffer. Children often don’t understand the pain their parents are feeling, and cannot accept the major life changes as the family’s entire domestic routine is disrupted. The stress of this situation often ends in separation and divorce.

The good news is that there are positive steps a couple can take to survive the turmoil of unemployment. By engaging in positive steps individually, and as a team, a couple can assess the situation and move on. Becker recommends that the couple should understand the severity of the unemployment first, and how the grief stages work. Understanding what is happening is empowering. The couple must be in agreement as they do damage control and reassess their finances for what may be a long haul.

With the free time granted by the job loss, the unemployed spouse should occupy time productively and constructively. Becker recommends exercising and eating healthy food to help effectively manage the stress of unemployment and uncertainty about the future. Becker also recommends reading and meditating in order to employ the mind in healthy, positive outlets.

“It’s important that the person do things that are empowering. In the midst of difficulty lies opportunity. This can be a time for a person to reassess the quality of their life and come through grateful for the experience because they’ve found something within themselves they didn’t know about before,” he noted.

An unemployed person can re-examine attitudes towards work, children, marriage and community. Engaging in volunteer work or community service can restore self-esteem damaged by a job loss. It provides a sense of satisfaction, even if such activities are not generally viewed the same way as having a job.

As the individual considers going back to school or starting a business, it’s vital that the couple be on the same page first to avoid future friction.

“Any time you engage in a new endeavor, difficulties will arise. There are going to be challenges along the way and a spouse can point out potential difficulties as one person might not see some of the pitfalls,” Becker said.

It’s also important for a partner to steer clear of taking on too much of their unemployed spouse’s situation. They too are already experiencing stress. Making verbal inquiries on their spouse’s new job search can be seen as nagging and do more harm than good.

John Becker is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Detroit.

 

 

 

 

 

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