How to Support an Unemployed Partner | Ladders

How to Support an Unemployed Partner

There’s a difference between encouraging and enabling. Read on to uncover the nuances and effects of both ways partners support each other.

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I am known as the “tough love” workplace guru. (Which is why I’m hosting the upcoming TV series “The Headhunter From Hell” — a “Millionaire Matchmaker ” meets Chef Ramsey from “Hell’s Kitchen,” if Ramsey were a headhunter.)

My advice is, “Tell it like it is.”

The stress of losing your job is a nightmare. Even today, when the specter of unemployment is touching everyone you know, it is not any easier to go home and tell your spouse or partner or loved one, “I just got fired.”

As bad as it is for the person getting fired, it is worse for the loved one.

After a health issue or family crisis, nothing is worse than seeing the person you love and cherish going through a career search.

The longer the unemployment lasts, the worse it gets, and the situation has destroyed many relationships. Yet, I have seen first hand the silver lining: It has made many relationships better and stronger.

Today, marriage rights are in the news almost every day. Straight or gay, the semantics of the word “marriage” may be less important then the vows that word represents — in particular, “richer or poorer,” which to some is code for employed or unemployed.

Support; don’t enable

Here is the deal: There is no set formula. The one rule I have is if your spouse has become unemployed, remember you need to support them emotionally — not enable them.

Where as I don’t think it is helpful for you to nag your partner about a job search, it is wrong to enable someone. Enabling your partner means that you never talk about the status of the search. It means letting them get out of the routine of getting up with you in the morning. After all, finding a job is a full-time job. And, yes, they may be able to have dinner on the table when you get home now — and that is nice — but that does not make up for them not having a job.

I personally am not a subscriber to the philosophy that this down time is a time to go on vacation. Or live at the gym. And remember, misery loves company; so while it is important to network, hanging out with a bunch of other unemployed friends feeling sorry for one another is not going to help.

If you think your spouse has become clinically depressed, encourage them to search for professional help and even go together.

Sometimes, saying less is really saying more. Your unemployed spouse feels bad enough that you are supporting them.

Encourage; don’t become their career coach

You are the spouse, the partner; encourage them to set realistic goals, but do not conduct the job search for them.

And under no circumstances should you think you should become their career coach or that you are suddenly their outplacement specialist.

Now, you should certainly act like they’re unemployed. No sense in avoiding reality. Change your financial lifestyle, even if you do not have to; maybe even change some of the chores around the house.

I am a believer that any job is better then no job at all. Volunteer or per-project jobs will lift the unemployed person’s spirit. The bottom line: Say you live in an area where the real unemployment rate is 25 percent — that means that 75 percent of people are still working.

These are all things a supportive spouse or partner can mention.

Just don’t turn in to a career counselor. If you have a loving relationship, this trying time should only make it stronger. Do not point out how patient you have been while your spouse is looking for work; they will only resent it once they find work.

And sooner or later, they will find work. They will climb back up that ladder. Right now, your job is to hold the ladder for your spouse and keep it steady while they work to climb back up.

Let me know what you think. Happy holidays, and Happy New Year to all.

Stephen Viscusi

Stephen Viscusi Stephen Viscusi is the author of "Bulletproof Your Job" Follow him on Twitter at "WorkplaceGuru" or on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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