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 🙂