In 2018, my husband walked through the door hours before he should have been home from his shift. Instead of wearing his work uniform, he was in his everyday clothes. “What’s up?” I asked, trying to keep the alarm from my voice, but internally I already knew: Coming home unannounced mid-shift was never a good thing. My husband had lost his job, completely unexpectedly, for the second time in four years.
Job loss is jarring. There are, of course, the financial implications of losing an income. In addition, getting laid off can bring a loss of identity and independence. In an age when most partnerships rely on both people bringing income to the table, it can also set the equilibrium of a relationship askew. It’s no surprise that arguments over money can be a top predictor of divorce.
I was also six months pregnant with our second child, bringing an additional level of stress to the situation. However, we were determined not to let his employment status define our relationship. Here’s how we protected our relationship during unemployment.
TRIAGE AND PLAN
Until my husband walked in the door that evening, I could tell you how the next six months would unfold: We would continue to build our savings as a buffer for my unpaid maternity leave. He would take a few weeks off when the baby came, and I would stay home with our girls for most of the summer. With the job loss, those possibilities disappeared, and as a type-A personality I needed a new game plan immediately.
Starting the day after my husband was laid off, we triaged. Since I was pregnant, our most pressing concern was health insurance, so our first task was finding a plan to replace his employer-sponsored one.
Once that was done, we reevaluated the next few months. We had been loosely budgeting, but with two full-time incomes that more than covered expenses, our approach was lax. So we tallied our monthly expenses and evaluated what could be covered on just my income and where we could trim. We planned for the small lump sum my husband would be paid and our savings.
In my experience, a lot of the stress of unemployment comes from the unknown. Having a financial plan gave us some control. We didn’t know when my husband would be working again, but we did know how we could pay our bills.
TALK EMOTIONS, NOT JUST FINANCES
Next, we discussed the emotional implications. My husband’s job was supposed to be very secure and was a role he had worked toward for years. Suddenly losing that left him feeling frustrated and defeated. Knowing he was in a “good” job, I had planned for the perfect postpartum experience (including time off) that I never had with my first daughter. We were both dealing with the loss of something we had deeply longed for.
Talking about our emotions helped us understand where the other was coming from and lend support. Understanding my worry over being the sole income provider while heavily pregnant and postpartum, my husband decided to take time off from his job search at the end of my third trimester. We could live on savings and having his full emotional and physical support at home while we welcomed the new baby was worth waiting a bit longer to get back to work.
We made space for each other’s emotions, even when they were different. Sometimes one of us needed a day of moping or mourning. Other times we needed to rage. Because we were communicating openly, we gave each other the space and then helped pull each other out of the bad days.
DON’T MAKE YOUR PARTNER THE ENEMY
Even with all the planning and consciousness, unemployment is still incredibly stressful and frustrating. There were days when my husband was sick of doing the primary care for our daughter and the house, and times when I'd be bitterly checking off deadlines as my due date approached.
When these negative emotions crept in, we’re careful not to make each other the enemy. It would be great to have someone to blame for losing a job, because frankly, it sucks. But it’s no one’s fault. Instead of sniping at each other when we’re overwhelmed, we walked away or respected when one of us didn’t want to talk. Other times we raged against the situation together, as a united force. We also have empathy for how the job loss has affected the other.
And when the frustration passes, we give ourselves a little pat on the back, because while unemployment is stressful, we’re proud of how we’ve handled it as a team.