I write this from my heart, not to offend anyone. Read on…
When I lost my job I suffered a terrible loss, and had no idea I would be going through various stages of mourning. Neither did I know what my wife was going to go through.
We made it through. I can’t say we did a stellar job of it, but we had no idea what was going on, or what we should do. Since we are still together I can say we made it through okay. In this post I want to share some ideas of what a spouse’s (see PC footnote 1) role is in your job search.
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot since we went to a new friend’s house for dinner last week. On the way to their house my wife asked “so… how much can I tell her? If she asks how much money we make now, what can I say?” My wife asked because she has a tendency to share… well, everything. I tend to be significantly more private. My response to her was “Honey, you can say whatever you want. Tonight, I trust you :)” (see PC footnote 2)
Even though it’s been 4 years since we lost our job, we’re still figuring out what happened to us and how we got through it, and framing it in such a way that we can help others through it. This dinner was something I wish we could do more often.
After dinner my wife was alone with my buddy’s wife and when I went up to make the “let’s go home” signs I noticed there had been tears. Lots of tears. It was a good reminder of how raw and in-the-moment this “I lost my job, am I am worthless” the feelings are.
This topic has been on my mind ever since. I wasn’t the spouse of the job loser (you feel like a loser, don’t you?), but I lived with one, and I’ve met many. So I’m kind of, almost qualified to write this list of suggestions. I hope it is helpful. I welcome any thoughts in the comments.
- Be supportive. What I really needed was support. Most of how I defined myself professionally, which helped me define who I was as a human being (I hear this is a male characteristic), disappeared overnight. I went from Jason-the-somebody to Jason-the-loser. I really needed support, even though I turned into a loser overnight. Many of the points below are how to be supportive, but this was Number One in my list of needs.
- Let him/her go and network. The job search is probably different than what you think it is. It was dramatically different than what I thought it was. I remember a guy who learned about the power of networking in a job search… he said his wife had a really hard time since he was out networking (lots of breakfasts and lunches), and not at home on the job boards, like JobTonic, and submitting resumes. Please, please know that the best use of time is not sitting at the computer all day… when your spouse goes out to network, be proud, and encouraging (and know that he/she is probably doing something out of his/her comfort zone… any extra encouragement will go a long way!)
- Be intimate. Hm, how to approach this topic. From my perspective, the job search is filled with enough rejection… let me encourage you to continue to be intimate even during the very difficult, emotional job search. Aside from what you are probably thinking, know that a backrub, a snuggle or holding hands goes a long ways. Let him/her know you are still there, and not rejecting or judging. You can make it through this, and continuing the sweet somethings of a relationship can be quite reassuring.
- Be clean around the house. You can’t let this go. There is a tendency to give honey-do lists, and have expectations that “since you are around more you can do more work around here.” I don’t totally disagree with that, but don’t take too much time away from a job search and want him/her to put it into the dishes, laundry or basement project. Both of you should continue to keep up the house and chores like you did before… and if something needs to change, communicate about it!
- Can you make a few bucks here and there? The day I got let go is the day my wife got her first piano student. Within three weeks she had 20 students. She undercharged, in my opinion, but the few hundred dollars she brought in each month was so, so helpful. A few hundred dollars when you don’t need it is play money. A few hundred dollars when you are unemployed might cover all of the utility bills. What a relief it was to know that our utilities were covered.
- Be positive. This one is hard – my wife once got advice to not share normal daily happenings with me if they were only going to make me worry. Build me up, be positive, help me maintain a positive attitude. That is just too fake for my wife, so she shares stuff that frustrates me… I’m not saying that you need to be fake, but you certainly don’t need to share all of the little things with your spouse. Perhaps instead of saying “be positive,” can I suggest you “be less negative?”
- Cry. You have to. You want to. Do it. I don’t know if you do it with your spouse, or with your BFF, or with a tub of ice cream, but don’t suppress this.
- Communicate. A few months into my job search, someone asked my wife “how’s Jason doing?” Her response was “I don’t know, we don’t talk anymore.” I heard about that about a year later and it really made me sad. We went for months and months not communicating? During a time when we both really needed it? Look, I know you both want to be positive and strong for one another, but you can also be honest and sincere… don’t let months and months go without communicating your wants, needs, desires, dreams, and feelings for one another.
- Network. When I lost my job my world shrunk to my neighborhood, since I didn’t commute or travel anymore. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know any neighbors. My wife did, however, and she started talking to her friends about my job search, and what I was looking for. In fact, I leaned on her too much for networking, thinking she could spend her time networking while I spent time on the job board. Your spouse can’t do all the networking for you, but he/she certainly can tell their friends, who might help you network into your next role. This felt like one of the most helpful things that my wife did during that time.
- Be honest. My wife and I didn’t communicate for months because we were trying to be strong for one another. We were really only going to share positive things with one another (we didn’t plan that, it’s just how it happened). Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of positive that we saw during that time… and very few words were exchanged. When we did talk it seemed like a fake hope. I wish we could have gone back to that raw time and communicated more, with a lot of sincerity and honesty.
- Ask for help. It’s okay to ask friends and family for help. Let them know your real situation. Many times I’ve heard “if we only knew how bad it was, but they always said they were fine.” I wasn’t sure if I should approach her parents for financial help… if I remember right, she approached them, and then I talked with her dad about the details. After you assess your needs it’s good to figure out who can take what role in asking for help… both of you should participate in this.
- Get professional help. Your spouse should get professional help in his/her job search, because most likely they are doing things wrong. Well, if you have depression, or anxiety, or any other feelings that you don’t want to have, talk to a doctor. There is nothing wrong with getting professional help, whether it’s counseling or medicine… at least you’ll have someone qualified to help you know if you are at the point where you do need the help. And if your doctor is not listening to you, then switch doctors. Some just don’t get it.
- Get a coach for your spouse. You CANNOT be the coach. You CANNOT be the person who asks what they did in the job search, how their goals are going, etc. You are too emotionally attached to the outcome, and any relationship baggage you two might have puts you in a position that makes coaching just wrong. Also, you have other roles… and being the “ask all the hard questions, hold him/her accountable for daily and weekly actions” is not your role. Even job search coaches will hire OTHER coaches, their peers, when their spouse starts a job search. This coach can be a professional, paid coach, or someone who understands the job search enough to not lead them astray and to ask those hard accountability questions.
I don’t have all the answers, for my relationship or for yours. But I know how hard this time is. When I look back on my time I wish I could have taken advantage of the time and drawn closer to my wife, instead of each of us becoming more secluded.
Was this helpful? You might find this helpful also: Religion’s Role in a Job Search.
PC Footnote 1: Spouse can be defined however you need – think significant other. I’m thinking of the person you are closest with, the person who sleeps in your bed, the person who has a strong interest in your ability to find a job. This is not your kid, or your BFF, this is someone who you have a more intimate relationship with. If “spouse” isn’t PC enough for you, plug in your own word.
PC Footnote 2: I am not a heavy-handed, do what I say husband. Simply because my wife wouldn’t put up with it. But she wanted some guidance on her boundaries… read my response with a loving, gentle, trusting tone and that might help you feel less offended 🙂
30 thoughts on “The Spouse’s Role In Your Job Search”
Thanks for the heartfelt article. I think #1 is key for any disappointment that seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of one individual in the relationships, especially job loss.
Thank you for writing this, Jason! Even though my time as “the spouse” came to an end last fall, it will be quite some time before the memories lose their sting.
#8 and #12 are crucial. For my husband and myself, it was not only important to communicate for ourselves, but for our children. As far as #12, well, job loss is not a typical situation. Get the help you need so you can be more effective in all other areas of life.
One thing I would add is to develop contingency plans together. When my husband was laid off, neither one of us knew how long this would last. Yes, we had savings set aside for a rainy day, but that would run out at some point. Neither one of us was comfortable just waiting for foreclosure, so we made a plan to finish up some of the projects that were imperative for putting our house on the market. We were lucky in that he was called back before we listed our house, but if he hadn’t gotten the call, we were prepared to do what was necessary to keep our family together.
A very good article, Jason, and one well worth reading for everyone.
The communication is key, but communication is too broad a term in this instance. What you must communicate is true feelings — how scared you are, how much of a loss the job is and what your hopes are. This means both of you are vulnerable and that has to be OK *before* a layoff happens. If the relationship isn’t right before a layoff happens, it makes the layoff that much worse because what was not working in the relationship before will get naturally magnified with more pressure and stress.
I would also add, as I consistently note on my site, having one year’s take-home pay in the bank does wonders for your ability to keep desperation away. Very hard to get to, for sure, but given how long it is now taking to find jobs, working towards that goal is important in this age of permanently temporary work.
One of the things that I think would help everyone is practice what would happen in a layoff from a financial viewpoint. If you go for four months with living on the equivalent of unemployment, how fast would your savings go? What would you give up to maximize the length of time you can live on your savings? Since you still have an income coming in the door, you can effectively practice a layoff without all the other natural emotions that come along with it.
When both my wife and I were laid off (a half hour apart!), I can also suggest that when you wake up at 4 AM and you can’t sleep, it really helps to simply write down everything going on in your head — what tasks need completing that you are thinking about, what you need to do to find another job, what priority the bills are, etc., etc. Getting stuff on to a list and out of your head objectifies what needs doing and that helps. No need to organize it yet, just get it out of your head and on to paper. Sounds weird, but true.
This kind of stuff about layoffs isn’t talked about enough. Kudos, Jason, for doing so.
Thanks for posting this. I don’t think it could be easy to write down all that you have gone through without having the life experience of losing a job.
My partner lost her job and it was like she had a death in the family. I wanted to be there for her and try to offer as much as I could but she needed to go through her own grieving period. She felt that she could have kept her job “only if I had…”. As a direct result of that she felt angst that I was the sole provider and she had no means of contributing. Her self esteem hit rock bottom. She is a very successful media consultant and says that the constant rejection makes her feel like all of her years of hard work has gotten her nowhere.
Those are just a couple of examples and I could go on and on. The only way we got through it was exactly what you said: communication. Once she wanted to open up what she was feeling I was there for her. She IS doing all she can to find a job. I am proud of her efforts because it seems like it is a full time job for her and in this economy it’s an uphill battle everyday.
It is so tough out there and I don’t feel it’s going to get any better for a long time. I am usually the optimist in life but this economy has given me a dose of pessimism.
I remember a date I went on where the guy said, you want a reality show? Go into a house after a man has lost his job & record that. In fact, with the recession I’m could actually see a show like this happening (like Extreme Home Makeover but for people who lose their jobs – bring in a coach, etc).
You write this in a way only someone who’s been there can – with such openness. I also have to say that I respect what you’ve done and how far you’ve come since then. I barely knew you when this was going on but I could tell from your blog posts that it was tough.
You mention this briefly but faith (even if it’s just in your own resilience) & prayer had a huge impact on my job search and direction.
So next I’d love it to see a guest post on the same topic – from your wife.
Jason, I absolutely love, love, love this post. In fact, I think I will make copies and share it with my clients. Besides the post you wrote a while back on Depression, this might be my most favorite post you’ve ever written. Thanks for your candor…you are an inspiration to many.
I see so many individuals… well couples that aren’t banding together these days when it comes down to the job search. A client of mine actually told me the other day their life was like Tom and Lynette Scavo on Desperate Housewives… Both want to work – both are in the same field- and when one or the other is out of a job- they both are cutthroat at each other. Not good!!
My main advice- be happy that the out of the job spouse actually cares to look and is not letting being out of a job get them down. Spouse that is looking- keep focused- regardless of what is going on… focus on the job search.
Need help with a resume? Want a free resume review? Google me… I’m The Resume Chick. https://www.blog.theresumechick.com
Great post! I made the mistake of BEING the job coach when my hubby was unemployed. Allow me to reiterate what a mistake that is. An honest open guide like this is great when you are trying to deal with losing such a significant income and in many cases, identity.
Jason, you’ve hit another one out of the park….without steroids. SMILE.
I’m one of the lucky ones who spouse supports me by “never asking” what did you do today? So to all significant others and friends, stop asking “what” questions and start asking “how” questions.
How was your day?
How was your meeting?
How was the interview?
How are you feeling?
How can I help you?
Great list! A key aspect of communicating is to openly talk about your expectations. We’re looking at relocating as part of the job search and that opens a very complicated can of worms! It is very important to establish clear criteria as to what would be acceptable for the whole family in a new location.
Thank you for writing this. My unemployment situation is really taxing my relationship with my wife and family, of late. What you wrote is reassuring and helpful.
I would feel uncomfortable with my spouse helping me look for work. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I feel a lot better knowing that I can go out and get something done myself; I would only feel like I was burdening her by having her help me.
The mourning of a job loss is a complex process and you’ve given good advice on how to cope with the loss. Talking openly about issues that are difficult, makes everything easier. Trusting yourself and your spouse, gives you the stamina needed to continue your search each and every day.
Thank you for the thoughtful, helpful post.
WOW! As someone who has been a job seeker, significant other to a job seeker, and coach to many job seekers, this article touched me quite a bit. This is an area that no one seems to focus enough on. Speaking as someone who has supported a spouse through a job search (as a control freak who just happens to be an outplacement coach with a heavy recruiting background-my poor significant other), I wish you had added one more point:
#14-Realize that you cannot do it all for him/her and just let it go
THANKS FOR YOUR HONESTY
You said some VERY important things that many workshops don’t cover!
Because I am single, I’ll add a few notes.
Regarding older singles with Significant Others, UNEMPLOYMENT can be even
MORE of a Trial by Fire in some ways and not so in other ways.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
I’ve gone through layoffs as a single and had various outcomes.
The options I can think of are as follows–by the way
I have not had all of these in my OWN life and am
interested in what other singles have to say.
1) Relationship Crumbles–as the problems of the relationship overwhelm
an already stressful circumstance;
2) Relationship Is Put in a “Wait and See Pattern” either consciously or not with much detachment, 3) Relationship is put on a “break” so each can process what is going on with either
an end, and open door, or a date to renegotiate, or
4) The relationship moves to marriage during the transition or unemployment.
OPTION 1) RELATIONSHIP CRUMBLES
As the financial problems, rejections, and challenges pile up
just as for marrieds, the relationship might end. He or she may
find someone else or just get too angry or whatever.
OPTION 2) RELATIONSHIP DRIFTS
This helps both to focus on work yet feel connected. Keeping lots
of distance helps (such as living separately and spending no more
than three days together). This doesn’t work usually if either one
feels used or terribly chaotic.
OPTION 3) RELATIONSHIP “TAKES A BREAK”
This is a kind of limbo–if there is truly a friendship this might work.
It usually means having little or no contact. It gives much freedom
OPTION 4) RELATIONSHIP GOES TO MARRIAGE IN THE CRISIS
I don’t recommend this. The chaos of unemployment creates a false
relationship with many issues that don’t portray the positives
and exaggerate any negatives. But some people do this and it
may or may not work out.
Nice post Jason! It reminds me of the aftermath of my layoff several years ago and how the experience strengthened the bond between me and my wife. Her love, support and encouragement were immeasurable and we emerged from it with a stronger bond. Your story reinforces the value of having someone there to catch you when you fall and be a valuable teammate.
Great post Jason. I agree with all of your tips. The spouse is rarely the focus of “how-to-manage a job search” discussions–but I know, from personal experience, that the spouse is dramatically affected, and also has a significant impact on the outcome. In addition to everything you mentioned, I would add that both parties need to be realistic about any necessary lifestyle changes. Simply making humble adjustments, rather than complaining about them, goes a long way in fostering the positive atmosphere necessary for a job search to thrive.
I totally resonate with your post. My husband and I went through many, many job lay offs that always included a move across country when he finally did land a job. The frequency of job losses became almost unbearable, as well as the length…after his last job loss he couldn’t find work for 22 months.
I wish I had had ANY form of guidance and help during those years, but neither of us knew where to turn for help. That made it all the harder on our family life and our relationship.
I am grateful for your honesty and of those who commented. I’ll keep this with me to share the next time I teach a job search strategy course. It’s so vital. You hear about the “trailing spouse” and their challenges when a partner/spouse must relocate for various career/employment reasons…but the topic of the “spouse in the unemployment relationship ” is rarely, if ever, discussed.
Thanks for sharing about this very touching topic.
This is the article that I am looking for so that I can share with my wife. I agreed with your points. However, if they are from me it would be self-serving. So thanks a lot!!
I don’t know if it’s possible for you to write about what you have been through during that period of time and what kinds of support you needed from Jason. It will give us job seekers better understandings about what we can do to make it easier for our spouses.
Another career coach, Kevin Tucker, sent your post to me. It’s so very important that you’ve shared this and we thank you for that! More and more families are experiencing a job loss and no one is handling it perfectly. Your ideas are great. I will add that each person get their own venting partner. And the venting partner cannot be the motivational partner. As well, don’t keep the kids in the dark. They don’t need to hear all the gorey details, but they can handle knowing things are different. They will be supportive and will help! Say a thank you to your God each night for 3 blessings during the day. Thank you Jason for bringing this up and being brave. God be with you and yours. Karin Combs
Hey all – thanks again for the kind words and great ideas.
I posted this as a question on LinkedIn Answers and had some other fantastic input… you can find that discussion here.
My husband lost his job the day you wrote this article Jason (never been unemployed in the over 20 years I’ve known him & is the sole provider for our family of 4, one just started college this year) and I happened upon your site tonight by chance.
I appreciate your perspective here as a spouse. While we are still in the initial phases currently of shock and regrouping, I am fully 100% supportive of him and his future. We get married for better or worse, in good times and bad and it’s been my experience over the years that you will indeed have the worse and the bad times in life – no one is immune. It’s how we deal with those curve balls that life throws us that is the true measure of our resiliency and faith. I believe a relationship really grows when you survive these types of life events. Not that any of this is easy, just rather channel it towards a positive future than reflect on the blip of negativity that was this job loss.
A thoughtful, well-organized post. What about the rest of a family? I am thinking particularly of a post that gives some insight for kids (tweens and older). They’re part of the mix and some guidance for them would help, too.
Question – Who is going to hire a coach and a therapist when you hope you can pay
for what you already have and want to keep?
Comment- The husband should be involved with the search too. Half of the family income is lost.
Compliments such as the children love having you home now makes a woman
feel shattered when soon after she hears how less needs to spent at the grocery store.
The husband needs to be proactive in a real let’s look together as a team way unless he
secretly likes the smug feeling of being employed over his hurting and unemployed other half.
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