March 15, 2011

Partners of the Unemployed Have Their Own Challenges

With all the attention paid to people who are out of work, it’s easy to forget that unemployment affects someone else very directly: the spouse or life partner of the unemployed worker.

Having someone out of work in the household stresses out the other partner, while also shining a spotlight on the differences between the two people.

And how do I know? Besides the vicarious experiences I share through my job search clients, I also have the expertise that comes from my own household. When one marries a carpenter, one learns to accept that unemployment will be part of the package.

Given my profession as a career counselor, you’d imagine that I could get my hubby back to work in a blink. Well, in fact, I could – if he were an inert mass with no will or ideas of his own. But since he’s actually a grown adult with his own life to live, I am relegated to the same status as every other partner in this situation: Watchful waiting.

And waiting. And waiting. Herein lies the most difficult part of this process for me and for many of the spouses I’ve spoken with: I married someone who handles things differently than I do. Where I hop on situations immediately, my hubby is a thinker and processor. And, where I communicate almost hourly when I’m working a problem, my husband feels he’s overdone a topic if he brings it up once a week. As a consequence of these key differences, I’m left in the dark with the feeling that things are moving slowly. And yet, as I keep reminding myself, he always manages to solve the problem in the end, even if his solutions aren’t always the ones I had envisioned.

I keep my own household in mind when I’m counseling others because it helps me to understand both sides of the equation. In case you’re wondering, here’s the counsel I generally give to the unemployed person’s partner:

1. Don’t offer advice unless it’s requested, but do explain how the situation affects you
2. Build your own support network
3. Consider attending personal finance classes together
4. Agree on a deadline for re-employment, even if that means taking lower level work

In the end, you have to accept that you can’t control the situation – but you can control your own reactions and behavior, so that’s a good start.

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