How do I help my husband cope with my unemployment?
March 9, 2011 8:57 AM   Subscribe

How do I help my husband cope with my unemployment?

It seems like there are a million articles online about helping your unemployed husband, but what about an unemployed wife?

We were comfortably middle-class before I was laid off. I had a month's notice about the layoff, so I put the kibosh on most of my spending, wrangled some bills and changed plans to save money. I have applied for employment insurance. We don't have children and are not planning to. Our mortgage is low and we don't have major debts.

My reaction to the layoff was one of relief, because it was hinted at for the past year. I'm not grieving for my old job anymore.

My husband can't seem to decide if he is comfortable with me being unemployed for a while. At first he wavered between "You need a break" and "You should find a job" which was confusing for me. He doesn't really want to talk about it much, but his reaction otherwise has been mostly to spend. He has always been a bit of a spender, so we bank separately. We both earned about the same amount, so things seemed quite equal and I'm sensing that with this inequality our relationship dynamic is about to change. I hate the thought of having to ask him for money for things that I might need until I find work again. I am afraid that I will end up like my mother, dependent on dad doling out an allowance and not having any money of her own.

I just don't know how to talk to him about this. He doesn't seem to want to discuss it much. We have been together 12 years. This is my first time being laid off. He was laid off in the tech bust 10 years ago. It's probably the biggest hurdle our relationship has had to date. I am attending unemployment counselling as part of the layoff package. I really need ideas because I'm just not finding any.

Throwaway email - - Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That he doesn't want to discuss it much doesn't really matter; because you two are in a committed relationship, he HAS to discuss it. The largest hurdle for you is not an issue of money, it seems to be bringing up how to work through this period of unemployment together.

You are doing the right things - applying for unemployment, attending counseling, but currently the partnership is unequal because he isn't doing anything to help you get through this phase. Maybe he has fears about being able to support the both of you, maybe he believes you won't find another job, but ultimately, neither of you know what the other person is thinking.

You two need to sit down, either alone or with a mediator/counselor, and talk about financial expectations for this period of time and redistribution of funds. More importantly, you need to take this opportunity to talk about those unspoken thoughts and fears that you both have. You clearly see this as a temporary situation, but you are afraid of ending up financially dependent in a negative way. My mom did not work for a long time in order to take care of us kids, but that was an agreement that she and my dad negotiated, so it was not a negative situation on her to depend on my dad financially, since he depended on her to support the family through taking care of the children and the household.

The This old Get Rich slowly post on how couple manage their finances might help. Even though readers differ on how they share financial responsibilities with their partners, the underlying theme is that they have talked about it together. It will be hard to get the conversation going, but once you do get it going you two will be in a better space. Good luck.
posted by mlo at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2011

I hate the thought of having to ask him for money for things that I might need until I find work again.

It's his job as your husband to help support you when you need it, just like it's your job as his wife to help support him when he needs it.

You shouldn't have to stand there with your hand out like you're asking for an allowance or something.
posted by crankylex at 9:42 AM on March 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you guys need a plan. And to talk with each other rather than running on unspoken assumptions and avoidance of difficult topics.

1) Your work: what do you plan to do next? Do you want another job? If yes, you'll want to discuss your action plan with your spouse: (example: I'm looking for a job in x field. In the next x weeks, my goal is to send out y resumes and attend z networking events. In talking with others in my field, it sounds like the average time to find a new job is w weeks, so I'm hoping). If you don't want to jump right back into job hunting, you'll want to articulate that (example: I feel like I need some time to decompress before going back into the job market. I'd like to take x weeks off before starting my job search.) Perhaps you want a career change that requires retraining or a return to school (I'm interested in becoming a whateverologist. I've read that it takes x months/years to earn a degree in that field and the job outlook is (fill in the blank). Which leads us to...

2) You guys need to lay out a financial framework that allows both of you to avoid spending/not-earning yourselves into financial problems now that the income has been halved. That framework is built upon agreed-upon goals, an estimated timeline and projections of future income (which can range anywhere from zero-never-working-again to yay-new-job-better-pay-than-before). Do you have a budget? If not, it's time to work together to make one.

The hard part about all of this is stuff like money and spending and families tends to come enshrouded with legacy baggage (such as your worries of turning into your mother and whatever unknown reasons your SO buries his worries in over-consumption). The way around this is to treat family budget-making in a more business-like manner, where things like goals, timelines, income, and expenditures are all discussed and agreed upon.
posted by jamaro at 9:46 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two suggestions: First, since you are in counselling for the unemployment, you could perhaps bring it up there, whether it's individual or group. How are other people handling this? Secondly, you could just put it out there to your husband, as in, '"Honey, I want to talk about our finances, because I feel funny relying on you for money, and I want to know if you feel funny about it, too? Do you?" Then, "So how do you want to deal with the finances until I'm back on my feet? Can you pick up the bills, and my unemployment insurance will be my pocket money? That way I won't have to ask you for money. What do you think of that idea?" If you just start talking about it and end with an open eneded question he has to answer, you will start to get somewhere hopefully.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:51 AM on March 9, 2011

The suggestions that have come in are good--but they're about what needs to be talked about. You already know those things.

The real issue in your post is that he doesn't want to discuss it. Unfortunately that's a tough nut to crack.

You know your husband best--whether he'd best respond to an appeal to emotion, or a well-structured and well-documented outline, or a come-to-Jesus ultimatum.

If you try some or all of those things and get really do nowhere, hie thee to counseling, no ifs ands or buts. Marriage is a partnership and he has to step up and be engaged, or you two are in a bad, bad spot.
posted by Sublimity at 9:54 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been in the position of being the one "still working". It's easy in this position to be jealous of all the free time the partner has.

One thing that helped a LOT was that my partner did all the work around the house, all the errands, all the chores. It turns out that stuff occupies much less time than a full time job, but it made my life easier to not have to deal with any of that stuff. My job was just to go to work and bring home the money.

If you previously split housework 50/50, realize this split is no longer the least bit fair to your husband. 0/100 is the fair split now.

See what you can do to make his life easier and more enjoyable. The two of you might discover that you both like being a one-income couple better than a two-income couple. But the secret to both of you deciding that is that you both need to see improvements in your lives because of it, not just you.
posted by fritley at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

On preview: what jamaro said. On another preview: fritley's suggestion about aligning non-work duties to with the new arrangement is great. Not that you are his maid, but you have free time that he does not, so shared household duties should be adjusted.

Something I can't tell from your post is whether you are okay with "being unemployed for a while" (your words). If your husband is already unenthusiastic about discussing the matter, one thing you can do to help the inevitable discussion is to be clear about what you are feeling. Are you feverishly applying for new jobs? Are you viewing this as a needed break, and you would be happy (relieved?) to be unemployed for 6+ months? Whatever your feelings are in the matter, it's important for you to understand them pretty well before staring the conversation. You might not know 100% what your feelings are, and you certainly don't know when you'll be employed again, but starting a conversation yourself when you are wishy-washy is a recipe for a difficult discussion. I know it bothers me when someone brings up a tough issue and can't tell me what their plans or desires are.

Moreover, you two are accustomed to a large amount of financial independence. It sounds like you are nervous about how this changes things, and it's likely that your husband is equally nervous. So just as your husband should be attentive to your needs and not demand that you beg for an allowance, you should be attentive to the fact that his expectations for the relationship have suddenly had the rug pulled out from under them.

Finally, you do need to talk about this with your husband. But he has to want to talk about it. So as Sublimity says, you should bring it up with him in whatever way works best for you two. I can't speak for your husband, but I like to know that a tough discussion is coming so I can mentally prepare, settle my emotions, and avoid my knee-jerk reactions. So maybe you could mention to him on a Wednesday that you want to talk about finances next Saturday afternoon. Then keep that appointment. It gives you two time to think about your feelings.
posted by Tehhund at 10:06 AM on March 9, 2011

Others have already given good suggestions for the emotional and relationship-related things, but I wanted to respond to this:

I hate the thought of having to ask him for money for things that I might need until I find work again. I am afraid that I will end up like my mother, dependent on dad doling out an allowance and not having any money of her own.

Since you'll be getting unemployment compensation (and you mentioned that you already do your banking separately anyway) just make sure you set aside a portion of your unemployment money each month that's just for you. It's not selfish and it's not irresponsible as long as your regular bills are being taken care of. It will do wonders for your self-esteem and your stress if you know you still have money of your own.
posted by amyms at 10:19 AM on March 9, 2011

I think your situation is a good argument about why married couples should always co-mingle finances so they know where their money is going. If one of the couple in the above scenario loses their job, their spending money still comes from the same place.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:55 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am personally not a "bank separately" kind of person, so YMMV, but... there would be something wrong if your husband didn't contribute more financially after your layoff. If you want to keep your separate bank accounts, he should pay all of your mortgage/recurring bills, or however much so that his free cash after these major expenses is the same as yours.

Basically, you should realize that having separate bank accounts doesn't mean you are totally financially independent of each other. There's a reason "for richer or poorer" is in wedding vows.

Having said that, I'd advise you not to just take unstructured "time off" while you're unemployed. Doing extra chores around the house, having some extra marital stress due to reduced income, and not knowing where you're headed doesn't sound like a combination I'd enjoy. Make a plan for how you will get back into the workforce (which could involve just sending out resumes, or going to school, or volunteering in another field, etc.) and treat that as your job. If you want to try being stay-at-home partner, by all means do, but do it because it's your choice.
posted by _Silky_ at 10:57 AM on March 9, 2011

Lots of good advice here. I am very much with fritley: take on the housework, not because you are a maid or because it's the "wife's place" or any of that outdated bullshit, but because you're a partner and you have the time for it.

More importantly, Sublimity is also correct about making sure you have that talk. After 12 years, such talks might still be a challenge, but hopefully you know what angle works best with your husband.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:03 AM on March 9, 2011

Unemployment and financial issues can result in major stress, that's too big to ignore. Your husband needs to get over his unwillingness to talk and discuss with you what both of you want and need to do.

All this advice on how you should do all the housework somehow rubs me the wrong way. When the roles are reversed, the advice is often given to treat the job search as a full-time job and not to get sucked into doing a lot of housework and then not having enough time to look for work.
posted by meijusa at 11:23 AM on March 9, 2011

For what it's worth, I am not a fan of an unemployed woman becoming the new housemaid. I would try many options before taking on that role, as ultra-evolved and progressive as we are all supposed to be.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:37 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

an unemployed woman

My partner was male. You are seeing sexism in my suggestion where there wasn't any. Check your assumptions.

before taking on that role

It's not shameful or regressive or unevolved (?) to take on the housework and the running of errands if your spouse is working an eight hour day and you're not. It's fair.
posted by fritley at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

She's not taking on the housework because she's the woman. She's taking it on because she's not at the office. On the days when she's out and about doing the job search thing, she won't be doing it, and the days she's at home researching on the computer she'll be tossing laundry from the washer into the dryer.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:25 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Couples counselor? Helped us get over some minor communication speedbumps. I sympathize--my partner can be non-communicative about money and also tends to spend when stressed. When that stress is financial and I'm counting every penny, it's nervewracking and makes me feel like I have no control. Hang in there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:12 PM on March 9, 2011

anonymous: He was laid off in the tech bust 10 years ago. It's probably the biggest hurdle our relationship has had to date.

Well, how did you manage money then? Is that something the two of you need to talk about again? I have no idea if that conversation is "sweetie, when you were unemployed it put a lot of stress on our marriage; let's talk about how we can work to avoid that now, having learned from our previous experience" or "listen, motherfucker, I supported you when you were out of work; do not treat me like my value in this relationship just dropped."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:18 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

My husband can't seem to decide if he is comfortable with me being unemployed for a while. Whether you start looking immediately or not, it might be a while. (Mr. Getawaysticks was just unemployed for 2 years although he looked basically the whole time.)

Nthing taking on the housework. Mr. Getawaysticks did all the cooking and cleaning while I kept working (and I am/was also going to school). It was a relief to come home and have the house clean, meals cooked, and not have to go grocery shopping on our weekends anymore. Maybe that will help.
posted by getawaysticks at 3:01 PM on March 9, 2011

My partner was male. You are seeing sexism in my suggestion where there wasn't any. Check your assumptions.

I was actually really clear about how progressive and evolved we are all supposed to be. I assure you, I don't need to 'check my assumptions.' I know my assumptions, and I know there are exceptions to the rule, but I also know about the dynamics of The Second Shift and the realities of gender and housework, and still believe this issue is much more fraught than it is being presented. Especially combined with a non-communicative spouse, a wife afraid of having to ask for handouts, separate finances, etc. Taking on all the housework as a main contribution to the equality of the pair is not, in my opinion, remotely the solution to this problem.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:16 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

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