Of the 8 million jobs lost in the United States during the recession from 2008 to 2010, more than 70 percent were lost by men, according to a recent study by Boston College. The highly unequal impact of the recession means millions of women are now shouldering the financial responsibilities for their entire families for the first time. And along with the financial strain that results from a job loss in the household, many women are finding themselves responsible for sharing the emotional burden of their husbands and partners who are now unemployed.
“The fact that almost 75 percent of jobs lost in the recession were lost by men has had a tremendous impact on relationships,” says Syble Solomon, a life coach focused on financial issues and an international speaker on the psychology of money. “Financially, couples are now having to deal with [the question of] what does it mean for one person to be earning more money.
“For some women, becoming the chief breadwinner has been empowering,” Solomon continues. “But many women are suffering because their husbands are suffering from a lack of self-esteem [tied to their job loss]. They are doing everything they can to minimize and play down the fact that they are the primary breadwinners.”
Whether you’re male or female, if your spouse or partner is unemployed and looking for a job, here are five ways to show your support.
- Develop patience and understanding. “Expect that his initial reaction may be extreme, from overdoing everything to completely denying what’s happening,” Solomon says. “Give him six weeks to get over the shock before having the heart-to-heart to discuss his options and a strategy going forward. Remember, on average there are five applicants for every job, so don’t grill him when he doesn’t get a job he’s gone after and make a thousand suggestions of what he should have done differently.”
- Plan ahead. Go through your expenses and upcoming bills together so you both have a good sense of where you stand financially; protecting yourselves from the reality of the situation will only lead to more problems, Solomon says. “Before things get financially overwhelming, try to come up with Plans A, B, C and D to cut costs, sell items, earn more and borrow if absolutely necessary if the loss of a paycheck goes on for a long time,” she adds. “On average, people who are getting jobs have been unemployed at least six months.”
- Give him or her time. “Respect that looking for a job is often a full time job in itself,” says Sally Palaian, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist who counsels clients on financial issues. “He may not be willing to suddenly be Mr. Mom or Mr. Housekeeper because his focus is [on] returning to [being a] provider.”
- Temper your involvement to your spouse’s desires. “Pay attention to whether he wants you to give ideas or not,” Palaian says. “Some men experience wives participation as brainstorming, and others experience it as increased pressure. Some men may want their wives helping to network with and for them, while others are adverse to this.”
- Don’t neglect yourself. “You’ve suffered a loss, not the direct loss because your routine may not have changed, but it is a loss of family resources,” Palaian says. “When you get support [for yourself], it’s one less worry for your husband [or wife].”