Dear Tony and Michelle,
My husband was let go from his job through no fault of his own last winter (a few months after we were married) and we ended up moving out of state shortly afterwards. Settling into our new home was hard, and neither of us could find good work at first. I got a good job in a city a few hours away, so we moved again, and he still can’t find work. Work in his field (film/photography) is pretty much non-existent, so not only does he feel bad about not being able to find work, he’s depressed that when he does, it probably won’t be in his field.
His depression is hurting our day-to-day life, and I admit to feeling very frustrated sometimes that he hasn’t found work yet. I know he’s trying, but it’s just been so long, and it’s getting really difficult, especially since my feeling is that he’s being a little picky about what jobs he’s willing to take. Of course I don’t want him to settle for some soul-sucking job, but if he got ANYTHING even temporarily while he looked for something better it would help us so much.
I guess I’m just looking for advice on how to be more supportive and stay positive about our future. We want to start a family, but it’s just not financially possible right now. But I’m already 27 and worried about timing, so that factors into my fears as well. Your recent post about not always respecting Tony for his money choices really rang true for me. I love my husband dearly, but I’m having a really hard time feeling 100% respectful of him right now, and I hate that feeling.
How can I help him and support him when I’m feeling so scared and frustrated myself? Thank you… I love your blog, it’s really helped during this first year of marriage!
This is a tough one. Most of the time we want to shrug off standard gender roles, but in this instance, the age-old fears of both sexes seem to apply: most men long to be providers and most women long to feel secure.
Since you’re really asking such a good question – How can I be supportive? – I’ll speak to how I’ve felt when I’ve been out of work.
In my particular instance, I was let go of a position I held for a few years due to the department I oversaw splitting into many smaller groups and spreading out all over the map. I was eligible for unemployment and had a little severance to work off. So, if I’m completely honest, it felt really nice for a little while to get to sleep in, apply for a few dream jobs every day, and have no responsibility to a boss. This was before I had children of my own, so really my day was spent playing video games. It was THE LIFE… for like a week.
Then I started to feel different about the situation. I started to get bored with my responsibility-free life. Unemployment was not enough to pay rent and bills, and my severance was quickly dwindling due to my poor money management.
The jobs I was applying for to meet unemployment criteria were dream jobs that I really, really wanted. Art Director This and Web Designer That, but mostly I was just aiming REALLY high in hopes that one of these 15 applications per week would stick. And… nothing stuck.
It took shifting my focus and lowering my expectations to land a job. The job I held previously for seven years was in customer service, so I went back to it. I went to work for a web conferencing company (that no longer exists) in their customer service department, but on my first day I went to the web guy and introduced myself. Within a couple of months he did ask for my help with a project and because the company wasn’t huge, the executives noticed the work I was doing and praised me for it.
In a couple more months they pulled me from customer service and placed me as a full-time Web Development Assistant. Now I had the title to put on my resume… it was official! It was hard work at really low pay, but sooo worth it.
All that to say, things didn’t really start working my way until I lowered my expected entry level. Here I was thinking, “Maybe I’ll get lucky in an interview and land the perfect job” instead of saying to myself, “Get a job. Work hard.”
As to how I felt about not having a job…
At first I felt ashamed for having lost a job. I held a job with my company for seven years, developed a bit of an identity with that position, then had it taken away from me. I felt like I had screwed up, even if I hadn’t.
Next there was blissful relief… the same you have on your first day of vacation. “Ahhhh… I do not have to commute to the office today. The world is my oyster. I’m going to take my time doing everything, starting with getting out of bed.”
Next I felt lonely. Even though I spent a couple hours of my day searching the web for job offerings and sending in resumes for at least three of them, there were 5+ more hours of downtime. All my other friends had jobs, so they were working. I started to get really bored with all my free time.
This led to feelings of inadequacy and stress. “Why does Hank have a job and I don’t? Geez that bill is a lot more than I remember. Ummm, this unemployment check isn’t going to cover things. What’s wrong with me that people don’t want to interview me?”
And finally the feeling of enough-is-enough. Looking back, taking the position as Customer Service Rep was the best decision and career path I could have taken at that time. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve failed my employer had I landed my dream job. I was fooling myself into thinking that I had earned or deserved to have a better job than the one I left.
Meredith, it’s very likely that your hubs is in the inadequacy phase. He’s feeling stressed and overwhelmed with the perception that our society puts on him… “You’re the breadwinner! GET A JOB and support your family.”
Shaunti Feldhahn, in her research for her book For Women Only, found that 76% of the time men would rather feel alone and unloved than feel inadequate and disrespected if they had to make the choice. It’s no surprise to me that if he’s feeling inadequate, those feelings are taking a toll on your relationship. It might be hard for him to pull himself out of such a rut, but there are things you can do.
Here’s what helpful support might look like:
Make him a cup of coffee the way he likes it in the morning before you leave. A note on the computer keyboard saying, “I love you. There’s nothing you can do to change that.” A text during the day saying, “Thinking of you today.” A longer than usual hug when you see him at the end of the day. Sex initiated by you, his wife.
These might sound trivial, but little things can make the biggest difference. Even though you are feeling stressed and a little afraid about him being unemployed, showing support in these simple ways will help build his confidence in himself and in your marriage. This is a temporary situation, it is not the end of your story. How you treat him, love him, show him you are proud of him no matter his job status will mean everything in the long run.
Here’s what unhelpful support might look like:
A reminder to get up and start looking for jobs. A note on the computer keyboard saying, “I think it’d be a good idea to submit two extra applications today.” A text during the day saying “How goes the job hunt?” Separate plans at the end of the day. Sex as a reward for anything.
He is already pretty bummed out that he doesn’t have a job. Feeling like he is a big disappointment to his wife will only compound it for him. Little “reminders” can feel like nagging and aren’t actually helpful. Michelle wrote a great piece on the 4 Types of Supportive Behavior and How to Identify the One You Need. Take a look at it with him and perhaps ask him from the list how you can best support him.
I feel happy in my career, my vocation. It took me seven years removed from that unemployed gap in my life to get here. It took me setting aside my pride. It took me working harder than anyone else in my payscale. It took me taking a few jobs that I didn’t want. It took moving across the country and back. It took changing my priorities. It took Michelle being there for me over and over again.
We have, together, gone through many seasons of unemployment, under-employment, and being flat out broke. What has mattered during each season is the way we approach our marriage as a team, lifting each other up, and reminding each other of how good we have it as long as we #staymarried
Rooting for you guys,
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If you enjoyed this post, you may also like some of these from our archives:
♥ The 4 Types of Supportive Behavior and How to Identify the One You Need
♥ Yours, Mine, and Ours – Money and Your Marriage
♥ Living with My Partner’s Baggage – Coping with Depression in Marriage
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