by Dr. Kim Clark
When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. Coping with a difficult situation and trying to make the best of it is difficult at best. Unemployment brings a lot of uncertainty, about one’s future, finances, occupation. It can also bring self doubt and often times, a loss of self-esteem and fear of failure. Unemployment is a loss and with any loss a person must grieve it, heal, accept it, and move on. Unemployment brings change and the only person who likes change is a wet baby. Most of us settle in the patterns of our daily lives and become comfortable or maybe even bored with them. Even if we are bored, we resist change. But sometimes, as in the case of unemployment, at least most of the time, it is thrust upon us.
In November 2015, I lost my job after working at the same company for almost 7 years. I had planned to retire from this company and had not planned on leaving when my position was eliminated. There was nothing I did wrong. I was told it was purely a business decision. That did not make me feel any better about the situation, in fact, I felt devastated. Everything that I had worked so hard for at that job was now gone. Six weeks later, I got another job, but it was a terrible working environment to work in with a boss who took advantage of me. My spouse, Sam, and I agreed that I could not leave that position until I found something else since it could have serious financial implications. I found something else four months later only to be fired after being there less than a month. Again I felt devastated and became very depressed. Sam said to me that I just got my feet knocked out from under me, and that it was a bad situation. He did not blame me, yell at me, or call me names, even though after being fired this is what I felt I deserved. I blamed myself for getting fired and I blamed myself for the financial situation that being fired brought upon us.
When someone loses their job, even if it was not their fault, their self esteem can plummet. They can begin to question if they will ever get another job and if they do, they wonder if they will be successful. Then as they look for a job and receive one rejection after another or no response at all from potential employers, they experience more rejection and self-doubt. This especially true of men as many men find their fulfillment and sense of competence through their employment. Repeated rejection and prolonged unemployment can lead to depression and anxiety. Depression related to feeling rejected both by former employer and prospective employers, anxiety related to uncertainty about the future and future employment and financial situation coupled with fear of failure. The unemployed person may need to see a therapist if they are having trouble coping with their circumstances. They will need to talk to someone about their feelings and their spouse may not be the best choice. The spouse may grow tired of hearing about their situation and feelings related to it and lose patience.
The unemployed person must change his or her thinking. He or she must go from feeling rejected and anxious to feeling that he or she can and will succeed. The saying is, “if you think you can or think you can’t, you are right”. The spouse of the unemployed person can encourage them in this by telling them they believe in them and believe that he or she can and will succeed again.
Unemployment also causes other problems. The couple may experience financial problems. They may fight over what to do about their financial situation. Having to scrimp and save, cut corners, and not be able to do some of things they liked to do all creates stress. Sometimes people lose their home. The unemployed person now has to spend all of their time and energy finding employment again instead of what they planned to do. Recreation and other fun things get cancelled or modified at best because they don’t have the money to do them.
How does a married couple negotiate this stressful situation? They must listen to each other, really hear and try to understand each other’s point of view and feelings. It is helpful if the spouse can encourage the unemployed person. Blaming is not helpful and neither is name calling.
It is not helpful for the unemployed person to engage in self-blame either. They must forgive themselves for any mistakes they may have made that led to the unemployment. They must accept that they cannot change the past. What is done is done, so accept it and move on. The spouse can help the unemployed person see things about themselves and their situation in a positive light. Instead see it as an opportunity to change, do something better and greater.
As for the spouse, remind your spouse of their gifts, talents and skills. Tell them that they can and will get a job and remind them of successes that they have had in their life. Encourage your spouse to begin believing in themselves and believe that the situation will improve and even if it doesn’t, that you are there for each other and still love him or her. Help your spouse move on. The unemployed person needs to move on but may need help to do so. Some people have a harder time with moving on than others. Help your spouse to accept what has happened and to realize that they cannot change the past. Be loving, kind, and patient. Be affectionate as much as your spouse desires.
Above all, talk, keep an open line of communication. If the financial situation becomes dire, discuss your options and decide together what you are going to do. Really listen to each other’s point of view, wishes and desires and hear one another, then decide what to do together. Believe that you can and will get through this together and express this belief to and in each other. Remember that you committed to each other for better or worse. Unemployment will test your commitment to one another. Stand together and you get through this.