Help me keep helping my wife deal with long-term unemployment.
March 14, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

The psychological fallout of my wife's 13-month unemployment is going to make me crack. Please help me deal.

My wife lost her job in early 2011, and has been searching unsuccessfully for a new one ever since. She gets, roughly, an interview every six weeks, but nothing's come through yet. Each time, she and I get our hopes up that the siege might be ending, but it doesn't, and then we both feel unbelievably shitty for days before returning to a baseline state of worried, depressed anxiety.

I'm doing everything I can to be supportive of her. I let her know that the long search isn't her fault, that there's nothing wrong with her, and that it will work out. But still (understandably!) about every three days she has a major freakout. I can always talk her down, but the effort of doing so, combined with my own baseline worry, then prompts me to go off and quietly freak out for a while.

Among the worst of her freakouts are when she'll tearfully tell me she feels like she's letting me down, ruining my life, etc. I tell her (truthfully!) that this emphatically isn't the case, that we'll get through this, and so on. And I'm not lying-- I truly believe this. But it makes me very hesitant to even talk to her about feeling depleted, because I don't want to make her feel worse.

The freakout cycles are getting shorter and shorter for both of us as this goes on, and I feel like my emotional reserves are pretty much shot. I want to continue to be there for her until this ends, but I often feel like I'm going to explode from the pressure. I'm looking for suggestions on ways to deal with this, reduce stress, and generally survive until this is over.

FWIW, I set up a throwaway email for side questions about this, at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Among the worst of her freakouts are when she'll tearfully tell me she feels like she's letting me down, ruining my life, etc. I tell her (truthfully!) that this emphatically isn't the case, that we'll get through this, and so on. And I'm not lying-- I truly believe this. But it makes me very hesitant to even talk to her about feeling depleted, because I don't want to make her feel worse.

You know, I suggest being gently honest with her. She probably senses you are depleted. When you sense something and try to talk about it, and the other person just tries to reassure you that it's not the case, it's kind of anxiety inducing. Because your feeling doesn't match up to what others are saying which is crazy-making in and of itself, plus, it doesn't allow you to try to do anything about it. I know she is trying on the job search front but she could try to do something about your depletion, itself.

She might feel a lot better if next time, you were honest about being depleted and (key) came up with at least 2 concrete and honest things she could do that would truly make a difference about that.
posted by cairdeas at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2012 [25 favorites]

Counselling for you and for both of you together to handle this.

She's dealing with her stress by freaking out and letting you talk her down. Understandable, but she needs to understand that she's drawing on a well of support that's not unlimited, and she needs to learn to offer you strength to handle the situation as well.
posted by fatbird at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

1) Get out and exercise - get out of your head and into your body. One of my favorite sayings is "You're only one workout away from a good mood". Granted, it's an over-simplification, but you would be amazed at how much better you will feel afterwards.

2) Counseling. Counseling, counseling, counseling. Right now, anything you say to her directly might be blown up out of proportion as nerves are frazzled, so it might help if you each see someone individually and also as a couple.
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

You've got expenses covered, right? Send her on a cheapo solo vacation.
posted by notsnot at 12:21 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Anon, my husband and I are in very similar straits. I have been without steady employment since 2008, and have a far poorer interview-getting history than your wife. (This after spending $40K on graduate school, which I'm almost out of deferments on, but that's tangential.) With us, and perhaps with you and/or your wife, part of the problem is that I do not want to be totally financially dependent on a man, and was not raised to be such. This is very hard to deal with. My suggestion is to investigate counseling, for her, for you, or for both of you jointly, and consider also the possibility of low-dose antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness are a very common marker of depression (IANAD or MHP, but speak from experience. This is easily corroborated with a quick search). Anyway, that part of depression often does the talking, as when your wife says she's ruining your life. That's why I'm suggesting talk therapy and/or meds. It's not a sign of weakness any more than going to the doc for antibiotics if you have a sinus infection. It can help. I very much hope you have health insurance; if not, there are sometimes low-cost community mental health centers that may help. Very best of luck to you both.
posted by scratch at 12:21 PM on March 14, 2012

Talk to your wife. You're not blaming her for anything: it's a shitty economy and a lot of people are out of work and depressed about it. It's not her fault and she's not a failure as a person or as a wife. It just sucks. And it's hard on her and it's hard on you.

It is just as fair for you to talk to her about how you're feeling as it is for her to talk to you about how she's feeling. This is what marriage is about: supporting one another through the hard times, (and making the good times that much better).

I don't mean to fight you on something that you say, but I'm not convinced you're being honest with yourself -- or her, or us -- about how much her situation is getting to you. I think you are putting on a brave face about something hard, out of fear that you'll make it harder. And that's a totally noble thing to do and I salute you.

But after thirteen months, if your brave face is anything like mine, or my wife's, or those of my friends, it is showing a little bit of wear. How do I know this? Because you said that the fallout from this situation is going to make you crack.

So think about your wife's perspective: she's dealing with all of the burdens of being unemployed and relying on you for support, and she either knows or suspects that you're feeling a little the worse for wear about it. She's probably blaming herself. She may be imagining the worse, that you're putting on your brave face just until you can do something drastic like leave -- and then where will she be? She doesn't know how bad it is because you're not telling her. You're telling her something else, something that she knows isn't true.

Or: she has no idea. You have hoodwinked her, she thinks that you are handling her extended unemployment with verve and aplomb: you successfully manage all of the stresses of working, being a sole breadwinner, and coming home to a spouse who routinely comes apart at the seams and has to be talked down off the ledge. She's already feeling pretty bad about being laid off, and about being unemployed for this long, and to top it off, she lives with this endlessly patient and pleasant facade that you present to her. How is that going to build her confidence?

Please talk to your wife. You both deserve it. You don't deserve to bear all of this alone, and she deserves to hear the truth: either it's not as bad as she thinks, or you're not perfect either.
posted by gauche at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't mention what she's looking for in terms of work, but would she consider aiming for a coffeeshop job for the time being? This would get her out of the house and back in the world -- where she might just meet a person looking for someone with her skills.
posted by lulu68 at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

What do her days look like? Is she doing anything that can give her a sense of accomplishment? Could she work on learning a new career oriented skill? Pick up a new hobby? Train for a triathlon? Volunteer at some place related to her interests?

I'm in a somewhat similar situation as she is, not as dire, but I understand the anxiety and depression, the ups and downs she's going through. The main way I've kept myself sane is to derive my sense of accomplishment from activities other than paid work.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 12:27 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Line of work? drop me a memail if it's in financial services.

Anyway - being out of work is tough. But it sounds like you both can economically handle it, if not a bit painfully, but that she isn't the sole breadwinner. I know that doesn't help, but I can relate, as being out of work for 6 months and *being* the sole breadwinner was extremely stressful.

Getting involved in workshops/conferences/organizations related to the type of work she does can help in a couple ways - keeping her thoughts and knowledge sharp, and continuing to make contacts and keep her name out there. Perhaps even becoming a volunteer administrator for such an organization in order to get in free, etc, and help moderate panels or be the MC for the conference.

The biggest issue, of course, is when going on those interviews and letting the stress show - "trying too hard."

The other suggestions of getting out of the house - all yes, yes. She should get a schedule - getting up, exercise, web searches for 2 hours, get out, have lunch meetings with old contacts and old co-workers, etc. Did her old place of employment provide an outservice? did she use it? If not, tap into that now.

As for YOUR mental health, which was your main question - it's really a 'keep things as normal as possible' from a daily routine, and encouraging her to do some of the above things. Encourage her to start something of her own using whatever her skills are. Have her do local work.

My impulse is to say to keep sucking it up best you can, but that doesn't help with your stress situation. Exercise and doing things together on the weekends - be it bike rides, dog walks, gardening.. but get out of the house, together, doing something you both enjoy that will occupy your minds and bring you closer together unrelated to anything to do with work.
posted by rich at 12:41 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Need her. Let her do things, even reassuring you, that make your life better and show her that she's valuable.
posted by amtho at 12:41 PM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

Can your wife start her own business? Even if it were just something modest, bringing in some money and having something positive to focus on could be a real boost to her self-image.
posted by Scram at 12:42 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you her only support? Does she not have friends or family that she can vent to? Is there anyone YOU can vent to? Because yes, your situation sucks, and it isn't fair, and it is okay to be mad at the situation. After 13 months you can offer reasonable solutions that weren't your first choice a year ago, like her relocating for a job, or getting a personal loan from her family to tide you over. When she starts to freak out you CAN say to her it is too much for you to handle. It sounds like she may be using you as a cheap therapist, which is absolutely a relationship-killer. An unproductive freak-out every three days for a year is pretty toxic behaviour. Not to mention counter-productive as she is trying to make you validate that she is still someone you want to be with, while also acting exactly like someone not fun to be around and making you feel awful.

Are you also the only adult she is around right now? If you are working and come home to someone needy and attention-starved you are missing out on down-time and space to decompress. Exercise, as mentioned above can be a life- and sanity-saver. This can be a martial arts class, going to the gum or just walking around the neighbourhood for an hour after dinner. Can you also arrange for her to be out of the house at times to give you a break? A mini-vacation visiting other people cheaply?

An honest conversation, where you state you have needs, just as valid as hers, and you need her help in respecting those needs and then following through on a plan you come up with together would be best. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 12:45 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Shake up your routine. Go somewhere for a weekend. A change of scenery does wonders for a lot of people.

Also, I agree with the person who said to be honest, don't pretend to be strong. Spouses can see right through that shit. Cuddle and cry with her. Don't try to cheer each other up. If your freakouts take the form of yelling at each other, then one of you needs to get out of the house before it gets to that point.
posted by desjardins at 12:48 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Behavior: Among the worst of her freakouts are when she'll tearfully tell me she feels like she's letting me down, ruining my life, etc.

Positive Reinforcement: I let her know that the long search isn't her fault, that there's nothing wrong with her, and that it will work out....I tell her (truthfully!) that this emphatically isn't the case, that we'll get through this, and so on...

What I mean is, it sounds like you're rewarding the freakouts with comfort, which perversely encourages further freakouts.

I think amtho is on to something with the suggestion that you "need her." If she's worried about being a burden and her primary reassurance that she has value comes when she's freaking out then of course she's going to freak out more and more frequently. Look for other opportunities to express your appreciation. As far as possible, do it when she's calm and things are good. Reinforce that.
posted by jon1270 at 1:00 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree that it might be really helpful to find a way to talk -- gently, lovingly, supportively, but honestly -- about your feelings, too. She knows this is hard on you, but she doesn't know exactly how it's affecting you, so her mind goes to those worse-case scenarios, which triggers her fears of ruining your life, being a burden, etc.

I felt something similar when I was on disability and going through cancer treatment for nearly a year; I knew my partner was shouldering so much for me and that it was stressing him out. So when he kept saying "no, honey, I'M FINE" it only freaked me out more because I knew -- I could see -- that he was having a hard time, and it just made me feel worse that he wouldn't be honest with me (even though I knew it was because he was protecting me). So I had the "I'm so sorry I'm ruining your life" breakdown every few days because I didn't know what else to do.

Finally, when he could talk a little more about what was hard for him and what he needed (from me, and from others), it helped give some form and substance to my concerns for him, rather than allowing them to balloon up into these larger-than-life monsters. It also made me feel that we were still equal partners on the same team (even if we were shouldering unequal burdens under the circumstances), rather than just Cancer Girl and Caretaker. I think if you can find a way to help your wife feel that she's an equal part of your marriage's team, too, regardless of the unequal financial situation you're currently in, that it might go some way to de-escalating these painful episodes.

I wish you both well!
posted by scody at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

Does she need to work for financial reasons or for self fulfillment? If she doesn't have to work, can she take a break from looking for a job? Maybe she could volunteer and get involved in the community for a few months and then go back to looking for a job.

For a lot of people, it's difficult to accept the other spouse taking the sole financial responsibility. Re-assure her that you view your marriage as a single unit as opposed to one where both people have to contribute to the finances. She has worth in the relationship even if she isn't bringing money home.

I am prone to freak outs and I find when my partner can explain to me how my freak outs make him feel, I can control them better. For instance, if her freak outs make your heart race, tell her that. It really helped me when I heard I was basically dumping my anxiety onto the other person and that he was physically and emotionally feeling my freak outs. Tell her the freak outs don't make her a bad person and ask her if she can find another outlet for them. Tell her you're willing to discuss her concerns and anxiety, but the freak outs are making you feel sick.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:15 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

you don't say if you're in financial dire straights, but i'm just going to assume you are. because, you know, most people are two income households these days if they are part of a couple, and your wife has been unemployed for over a year.

i think it is so cute people are advising counseling. there are more important things like rent and food. and you know this and your wife knows this.

my partner was unemployed for 26 months and just got a job last summer. it was terrible for both of us. truly, absolutely, horribly terrible. it put a great strain on our relationship. not to mention our health and finances.

you just have to be HONEST with each other all the time. you have to tell your wife, "yeah, i'm stressed out, but i don't blame you. i am not mad at you. i know you are trying. my stress and frustration is not directed AT YOU but at the situation and the shit economy and etc."

you're probably cooped up together all the time, so if you can take a day or two break from each other, that could be helpful. one or the other of you go have a sleepover at a friend's house.

my partner's friends were amazing. they would front us lunch, and pay us for watching their cats and what not. and we are now doing the same where we can for friends in similar positions. i know it's hard to allow that kind of help--it was for us--but do it. it eases the burden a tiny bit, lets your friends feel like their helping, and you don't have to worry about eating that day.

and you know what? take a few days off from the job hunt. at this point, a few days just not looking at the sites and hitting refresh and stuff isn't going to matter. just step away from the computer and do something else. put your resumes and cover letters away and don't think about them.

most importantly, take care of each other. it's stressful and you are both consumed by your own worry. but it will get better. and when it does you don't want to have irreparably damaged your relationship.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe there's too much talking about feelings going on.

I mean, there might be some emotional value to downplaying each interview. Rather than, maybe, asking how the job hunt is going, or spending time debriefing after an interview, or dreaming about the future when things are easier, maybe you change the subject to a joint hobby you have or some potentially awesome thing you can both enjoy.

-- how did the interview go, honey?

I think it went okay ---

-- Great! Hey -- could you show me how to make your mothers meatball recipe?
posted by vitabellosi at 1:55 PM on March 14, 2012

Encourage her to volunteer somewhere on a regular basis. It is good for her résumé and good for her self-esteem. It can also be a way to add skills and experience. Many employers are reluctant to hire those without a job, and having a track record of steady conscientious work on a volunteer project will help -- obviously she can and should give a suitable person there as one of her references.

If she works in a field where there is a professional society which has a local branch, she should obviously be attending meetings and volunteering for tasks there, where she will meet relevant people. Get her to do that is in addition to a regular fixed hours every week volunteer "job".

I agree with other commenters who say you need to talk to her more about how you feel, and to find ways in which she can demonstrably be making a useful contribution to the partnership. Do encourage her to visit with friends and family or meet them for coffee etc to give her other people to vent to.

Would it help to make a plan "If there is no suitable job by June, then think about retraining"? It means that this job-hunting does not stretch away for ever. There are obviously a wide range of courses out there. At the very least, thinking about other possibilities may remind her what she does like about her present line of work, and maybe suggest ways to target that.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:18 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am in a similar situation to yours. I think everyone needs to get their feelings out on the table, and then leave it alone. She may be rehashing it daily because she knows you must have some feelings, but you're not saying. So say it, and move on.

I'm aware my husband feels like shit about this. He's aware that I am down to just a couple of nerves. We don't need to talk about that. We talk about deviations from those feelings, and we try not to exacerbate each others' situations, but we do not endlessly punish the other by stating the obvious. [There may be some talking that needs to happen when this is over, but it can wait; we have bigger problems right now.]

He's staying busy on projects that we hope will one day make up his full-time work. That's really important because it means he's not making misery his full-time job. We had a rough spot where I was coming home from work and he was bored and needy and lonely and I do not need that when I walk in the door from my job and 25-mile commute and making his dinner. He came up with some more things to do, and that situation got better.

I cannot overstate the importance of the unemployee staying super-busy at something or multiple somethings. It should be considered an obligation. All the things people have suggested: volunteer work, join a professional organization and help with admin work, start a blog about porcelain figurines from the 40s, and sing in a choir. Really, in this economy, sending out emails isn't enough; she's got to be in contact with people in some kind of context to find leads. It's hard - I know if our roles were reversed, I'd be a depressed couch potato, so I'm glad it's him and not me - but it's necessary. And it sounds like you are going to need to set that expectation, because she's not doing it on her own initiative.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:18 PM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

We're in a similar boat. In addition to all the other great advice given: hug each other a lot.
posted by wobh at 3:39 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hello chap. A couple of thoughts I'd like to share with you:

she and I get our hopes up that the siege might be ending, but it doesn't

First is that you and she are defining where you are as 'not okay' and a future state as 'okay'. Thus, until a certain future point in time arrives, you expect to be stressed and unhappy. Is it a wonder that you and she have constant bouts of anxiety?

The first is really a mental shift that both of you have to make, and it's everything is okay right now as it is. It will take time; through adopting that attitude, you can begin to address what's causing the outbursts -- primarily dread of tomorrow, not a distant tomorrow, but literally of tomorrow. It's a form of anxiety that eats away at anyone.

So you need to find some security in your situation as it is today. There is ample opportunity to do this. First, after the length of the unemployment, you should be quite good at the day-to-day operation of it. Granted, you have to put the dreams of the future on the shelf for a bit, but it sounds like your immediate circumstances are not as dire as the anxiety would indicate.

Next, you have made it this far -- so far -- together. And whilst it's not been easy, please congratulate yourselves for that. The true test of a relationship is when you each can together lead a life you need to lead, and not a life you want to lead. Not everyone can do it, a lot of people break up (married or not), so please give yourselves a happy cuddle to celebrate this fact.

Finally on this point, you both need to celebrate your achievements at being good people, who are good to each other. It's so easy to qualify one's value to self, others, society, whatever, in a career's context. It's how many of us have been raised since year 0. However, your wife have substantial value beyond her career. She has nuances and capabilities that contribute to the world regardless of the salary attached. She contributes to your life in those ways as well.

To give you a real-world example, I have a couple friend. He is a freelance contractor and she has a nice job. He goes through bouts of unemployment, ranging from a few weeks to a year. When he works, life is good and the wine flows. When he does not, he exercises constantly, volunteers, and buys cheaper wine, drinking it sparingly. They have set up their expenses so that they can cover all of their current bills on her salary. This does not include student loan payments and holidays, but they can eat well, see a few movies, go to the pub once or twice a week, etc. They have done really well at adapting their lifestyle to the situation.

When he's out of work, he contributes extensively to their shared life. He cooks nearly every day. He makes things during the day and then teaches her how to make them. They have friends over to dinner regularly -- and truth be told, it's greatly preferable to another night in a restaurant. And he volunteers constantly. He provides himself a value beyond the paycheck a job affords. Now granted, he would prefer to have income at all times, but he does not, thus he has accepted that. He really became much nicer once he accepted this reality.

I can always talk her down, but the effort of doing so, combined with my own baseline worry, then prompts me to go off and quietly freak out for a while.

Perhaps you are doing too well at managing her emotional needs. You're not sharing in the community freak-out, rather you are giving her permission to continually freak-out, and you are suffering for it. I say freak-out together. Set a time. This is going to be freak-out about work and money time. Take a walk, talk the shit out of it. Voice the concerns, have it out.

Then life goes on. It has to. Right now, you are giving her way too much space to soak in her anxieties, and they are now becoming your own. I see the point, that you want to comfort her and be her rock. But that can go to far, and it is possible to use her anxiety as a mechanism of intimacy between you and her. She freaks out. You comfort. You go and hide. You get back together. She freaks out.

It's a pattern. And whilst not all patterns are good, patterns are comfortable. Perhaps you need to take a bit more pimp-hand to the situation. Maybe she feels that you are Mr. Can Do who never feels the fear as she does, thus it makes her feel terrible, like she is dragging you down. It's really a form of emotionally withdrawing on your part, rather than simply saying, "yes, I know. I feel that crazy stress to. Yes, it is also killing me. You want to go have an ice cream?"

You don't need to reject her stress, but you don't need to indulge it either. You need to share in her grieving process, for grieving is a social process. And many of us men have trouble with sharing intense emotions on a regular basis. Get good at it and I bet you and your lady will see a lot change.

So to summarise:

1) Be thankful for what you have right now and stop thinking the future will solve your problems.
2) Celebrate your togetherness -- even better if she can lead this and feel productive.
3) Base your value on the amount of love and joy in your lives, not your job status.
4) Stop giving her infinite space to melt down.
5) Do this by melting down with her.
6) Ice cream helps.
posted by nickrussell at 5:07 PM on March 14, 2012 [17 favorites]

I agree with vitabellosi, focus more on the rest of your life together. If the main topic is usually her unemployment then that is really stressful. Talk more about how much you like her hair. Spend more time pursuing activities that you both enjoy.

Downsize so that you can survive on one income. Then, once she gets a job, you can start saving for retiring.
posted by myselfasme at 6:05 PM on March 14, 2012

Supporting someone through a difficult time can be really tough, and emotionally draining, on the person doing the supporting, and my interpretation of your question is that this is what you're struggling with. You're not asking how to support your wife better (although there are some great suggestions above about how to do this), you're asking about how to deal with the strain that the situation is putting you under.

You need a support network too. Your wife is probably not in the best place to be your entire support network - in fact she's probably not going to be able to provide much support to you right now, given that she's already feeling guilty about the situation. I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't talk to her about how you're feeling, I'm just saying that you need other people as well. A support network should never be just one person!

A couple of people have mentioned therapists - that's not a bad idea, but I'd suggest looking closer to home. Do you have family members or friends (those who are "your" friends, as opposed to "her" friends or "joint" friends) that you could talk to about how you're feeling? Talking to others about how you're feeling isn't a betrayal of her, it's necessary in order for you to be able to continue supporting your wife. Seek out that support, and make time to do so.

And think about activities that enable you to "recharge" your emotional batteries - whether it's going for a run / having a big night out with your mates / having an afternoon alone - and make sure you build that into your schedule too.

Getting support for yourself, and taking time for yourself is not being selfish - it's something you need to do in order to make it easier for you to provide your wife with the support she needs right now.

Good luck.
posted by finding.perdita at 6:17 PM on March 14, 2012

I had a long bout of unemployment a few years ago. The thing that helped me the most was getting a volunteer position. I also stopped grinding away at job applications, which may sound counterintuitive...

It was a huge help to my sanity to have something to care about other than my job search, to pin my self-worth on so that I didn't feel like my failure to find work was the only thing defining me. I started working on a volunteer coding project and eventually moved up far enough in that, that I was making decisions, was in charge of certain parts of the project, etc.. This was phenomenal for my confidence. It also gave me stuff to talk about with people other than my epic failure at finding a job, which was something that really wore me down over the course of my search.

This, combined with lightening up on the job applications really helped me get out of my desperate funk. After a few months, I nailed down a job, which I think was in part due to my newfound confidence and lack of quiet desperation.
posted by Arethusa at 8:51 PM on March 14, 2012

Not sure if you are still reading this thread, but...

I don't understand this.

During times of unemployment, I've both volunteered and worked for cash I did not report. Both situations got me out there mingling and got me contacts that eventually led to career-relevant employment.


I currently have a friend who is a forensic anthropologist, who put herself through school via massage therapy. She is taking her GRE next week and entering grad school, shortly. I met her fairly recently when she was doing her accreditation hours for free for infant massage, despite the fact that she's not actively pursuing that, and is instead slated to run some seminars this summer in her anthropology field in Malta, because they liked her work the first time she was there, last year.

I met this very accomplished young woman because she was selling organic body oils and cremes for cash as she studied for her GRE.

Personally, I formerly worked in TV at the Producer level and I DEF did crap Production Assistant jobs when I first moved to LA. I've also catered for free, or at cost, after graduating from culinary school, just to get my name out there. It worked both times.

Plus, I volunteered in the kitchen at God's Love We Deliver (NYC - HIV patient + others needing of home-delivery of appropriate meals) and Project Angel Food (similar mandate, in LA.)


I understand how unemployment compensation works, but I see NO REASON why folks can't get out there, somehow, and start "shaking the trees."

Positive forward energy always benefits. Encourage that.
posted by jbenben at 11:53 PM on March 14, 2012


In short, if she is busy, good stuff will happen.

That is my point.

Never fails. You'll feel fine,
posted by jbenben at 11:57 PM on March 14, 2012

I've been your wife. Being dependent on someone is scary. The best thing my husband did was to make me still feel like a useful and contributing part of our team/household. He basically handed over the budgeting and bill paying to me, which yes he hated doing anyway but it made me feel like while I couldn't control what was coming in I could control the outgoings. It made me get up off my ass and work coupons like someone possessed so we could eat well on less money, I grew veggies, learned to DIY around the house all to save us money because while he was bringing home the bacon it was my job to make sure that bacon went as far as I could damn well get it to go and it did a lot to improve my self esteem.

If your wife feels out of control and helpless and entirely dependent on you it is going to encourage the freak outs because she is going to need reassuring. Emphasis that you are a team, you and her against the world, that you are working together and find constructive ways for her to help, even if you are managing to bring in enough money to support you both having a buffer can greatly reduce the stress on both of you and if things are tight every cent helps. Get her using her skills to cut costs and find savings and live as frugally as you can will help reduce the stress on both of you and give her something constructive she can focus on that isn't just worrying about finding a job.

It sounds like she is working hard at finding a job, an interview every 6 weeks is pretty amazing, in the area I am I know hardworking people who have only managed one every 6 months.
posted by wwax at 6:17 AM on March 15, 2012

Can you have a conversation with her about this when she's calm? I am not in the same exact situation, but I do have a partner who is prone to freakouts. He has a chronic illness and is on medication which makes fatigue deeper and which magnifies emotion. So, if he has a bad day AND is tired, he can spiral into these moods which take some talking out of. Finally, we had a conversation one day when he was calm where I told him that some of the things he says in these moods really upset me (for instance, he'll start talking about how I can do better than him, how I will leave him, how he's going to crack under the pressure etc.) What I find difficult is that I can't always tell whether when he says these things, it is just influence from the bad mood, or whether he truly and sincerely believes them.

What came out, when we talked about this during a *calm* time, was that when he is the middle of these moods, HE doesn't know it either. Invariably, he'll calm down, get some rest and be like 'wow, I sure didn't mean THAT at all!' but by then *I* am upset and we have an unintended consequence. So what we finally decided was that there are some things that are just off limits for him to say, mood notwithstanding. If he truly is worried (for instance) that he is going to have a breakdown, he needs to pick a time when he is calm and rested to reasonably and rationally talk to me about it. But if he has that thought and he's tired and hasn't eaten and isn't feeling great, he needs to keep it in his head and not say it out loud. It does take some self control on his part to not voice something when he is scared about it. But I think that having the reassurance from me that if he is calm and rested later on and still truly wants to talk about it, we can, has helped him.
posted by JoannaC at 7:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

You and your wife are heroes. This is the hard part. When the chips are down. Where yet another! employer didn't call back! When no end was in sight!

This is the part that separates the mice and the men. And I don't just mean in terms of dealing with the financial uncertainty and risk, but knowing that together, you have the capacity to take on this intensely painful, horrible emotional experience, and stay a team. And moreover, it helps if the ways you deal with BIG freakouts are compatible. Yes, this is part of the havoc of being unemployed or partnered up with someone unemployed. Dealing with the rollercoaster.

People are going to have different answers about how to deal with that.

I agree with previous posters that there is nothing to do but be honest. The protagonists in movies have the benefit of having their lines written for them, so they always know the right thing to say how to comfort their loved ones. Real life heroes are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to negotiating the fine line between being honest and being too honest. But your wife has laid the subject of the conversation right out there. That in addition to the pressure caused by her unemployment, she is maxing out your sympathy, understanding, and love by being so miserable. And your unspoken form of anxiety, spelled out in the question-- when will it end? How can I take this? How can I be ok with this on my own?

Recognize the bravery of this. And recognize your opposite form of bravery-- NOT sharing your anxieties, being perfect, and always being strong, may be feeding her fears, just as hers is feeding yours. This is not a judgment at all, by the way, because when two people are freaking out, one must be strong. But maybe next time, you can give your wife a turn being the strong one. Be honest with her, tell her the truth (that it's not easy for you, either) and maybe you will both surprise yourselves.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:42 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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