How to Emotionally Support Your Partner After They Lose Their Job
Nobody ever thinks it will happen to them, and yet, it does. Your S.O. gets called into a meeting with their boss and all of a sudden, they’ve been let go. After a job loss, your partner might go through what seems like an endless emotional roller coaster: depression, anger, a loss of self-esteem, and so on. It’s easy for you to feel like you’re helplessly sitting on the sidelines, but don’t fret — there are steps you can take to help your loved one out of their low place. Below, NYC-based licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Rachel Sussman shares her tips for what to do (and not do) to emotionally support your S.O. during this challenging time.
1. Recognize it affects both of you. While it might be your S.O. who’s lost their source of income, both of you must register that this change will impact two lives, and not just one. “This is a stressful time for both of you… whenever there’s change in a relationship, it’s actually difficult for both people,” Sussman says. “And what I might try to do with each person is get them to understand and have some empathy for what their partner is going through.”
2. Be their cheerleader. In this vulnerable time, what your beloved most needs to hear is words of support. “You want to tell them that you think they’re terrific, that they’re valuable, and that you really, truly believe that they will get another job,” Sussman says.
3. But also empathize. While there’s a time and place for words of encouragement, sometimes commiserating is just as important. “It’s kind of a dance,” Sussman explains. “You want to on one hand be a cheerleader, but on the other hand, validate, like [saying], ‘I know this must be really hard for you. You seem really down. I feel for you.'”
4. Ask them what they want and need. If you’re really at a loss, sometimes the most obvious route is actually the best one. Don’t know? Ask! “People don’t always do that,” Sussman tells us. “The number one thing is to say to your partner, ‘Clearly you’ve been through something traumatic and I feel for you. I really want to be helpful. Can you please tell me what would be helpful and what wouldn’t be helpful?'” If they don’t have an immediate answer, tell them to spend some time reflecting and get back to you.
6. Give them time. After an unexpected round of layoffs or a firing, give them a moment to collect themselves. “Everyone’s allowed to take some time,” Sussman says. “Actually, I get worried about the people that say, ‘I’m going to look for a new job tomorrow.’ I say, ‘What’s the rush? You need to be with this for a minute, you need to process this.'”
7. Help them reexamine their goals. Sometimes life’s misfortunes can become opportunities for positive change. “I know people who have really turned their lives around after they lost their job and decided they wanted to actually do something different,” Sussman says. “This is an opportunity to say, ‘Is this really what you wanted to do? Were you happy?’… It’s really important for you to ask yourself, ‘Why did I lose this job? Is there anything I need to work on? Is my industry changing? Or was it just dumb luck and I was the last one in, first one out?’ You really need to examine all of that, and sometimes a partner can be a really good person to [bounce] that around with.”
8. Don’t become their boss. Bills and mortgage payments wait for no one, so it might be pressing for your partner to get back into the workforce. Your role in your S.O.’s new job hunt isn’t to manage it, though. “Don’t act like you’re the boss and your unemployed partner has to report to you,” Sussman warns. “That’s going to be difficult in the balance in power. What I often see is the person who does have a job saying, ‘So what did you do today? Who did you call today? Did you uncover any leads?’ That’s your own anxiety, and you should work through that without including your partner.” Instead, there’s a kinder, more diplomatic route you can take. “If you want to be included in the job search, sit down once a week or [every] two weeks and debrief each other,” she says.
9. Don’t delegate all household tasks to your partner. This is mostly applicable to couples who are cohabitating or married, but don’t let all housework suddenly fall on the stay-at-home person’s shoulders. Aside from the emotional turmoil your partner is going through, they’re likely sending out resumes, writing cover letters, and making cold calls, so you should still be helping out around the house. However, with the time they have freed up, you can have a kind and thoughtful conversation to ask them to take on a few more chores. “If you come home and the house is a mess or there are kids involved, what you can say to your partner is, ‘Please don’t take this the wrong way, and I know you’re looking for a job and you’re trying so hard, but can you help me pick up some of the slack that I have now since I have to work a double shift? Can you pick the kids up? Can we let go of the dog walker and can you walk the dog?'” Sussman suggests. “And oftentimes, the unemployed person wants to feel helpful and wants to help out. You just have to ask them in a respectful way. You don’t want anyone to lose their self-respect.”
10. Both of you have to practice self-care. If you drop from a double-income to single-income household, being the sole breadwinner can be very stressful. As the employed half of the partnership, you might find yourself taking on extra shifts or working overtime. But it’s important to prioritize self-care. To ensure that you have time for yourself or to save money, you may need to pare down your calendar. “You might have to give up your social life, unless you’re the type of person who recharges by socializing,” Sussman says. But whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself. “Have compassion for yourself and compassion for the other person,” she advises.
Do you have any advice of your own? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)