Dr. Mramor agrees: “People go through a grief reaction because the comfort level and the lifestyle they knew has been lost. This causes a problem because both the laid-off spouse and their partner are grieving, and the partner is also going through some specific emotions around the laid-off spouse. Those reactions can either be supportive or very critical.”
Katie Wilkins, a 34-year-old Atlanta-based public relations executive, supported her husband for 18 months after his marketing job was eliminated in a corporate merger. Wilkins’ husband found a job in September.
“We were lucky in the sense that we had done a lot of financial planning,” she notes. While the couple had a mortgage and a car loan, they carried no credit card debt and had a six-month emergency fund. “We talked a lot during that time and we were very honest with each other… Sure, I thought ‘yes, it would be great if you had a job,’ but I don’t think I ever resented him.”
Petersen says she has her husband’s unwavering support, but her mood swings and lack of self-confidence tend to spill over as conflicts over money increase. She says she finds herself jealous over her husband’s job security and satisfaction.
Jim Darden* a St. Louis, Mo., sales executive, was laid off in early September. Married for 24 years with two kids, ages 17 and 20, his wife recently learned that the auto plant where she works as an environmental consultant will shut down. She, too, will likely be out of a job within weeks.
Both Dardens are looking for work and plan to live on Jim’s eight-month severance package. “We have to conserve… The hope is I find something before the money runs out. Our kids are more nervous about it than I am,” he says. Socially, he finds some of the couple’s friends face similar circumstances and are sensitive to the Dardens’ spending limits.
Of course, that’s not always the case and social fallout is common. The lifestyle alterations that accompany the loss of a high-profile job create a host of social changes and can lead to estrangement from friends. “You’re not able to contribute to causes or participate in charitable functions, you become out of touch with your social circle,” Dr. Mramor explains. “But if you’re really grounded, those social losses are going to be far less devastating. If your job is tied very tightly to your social status, you’re much more likely to experience anxiety and depression.”
Stein says that networking is essential to finding a new job and for retaining a sense of normalcy. Even if it’s just going out for coffee or to the gym, the social interaction is important for the health of the marriage. “A spouse or partner can help you come up with a game plan. It’s helping a person like a coach would do. Dedicating a little time to your partner can make all the difference in the world,” Stein explains.
Dr. Mramor offered the following 10 tips for helping navigate your relationship if one or both partners has lost a job: