Unemployed And Married

Outline of business woman and man
It doesn't matter how strong the partnership, when the family breadwinner is laid off a relationship maybe taken to its limits.

Reid laurens was laid off 3 months ago after working on the same job for almost 23 years. His wife Mary Ann thought he was kidding when he came home and told her he had been laid off. They both visit The Early Show to talk about their experience and get some advice from Kathy Carnahan - a psychotherapist who helps couples deal with the stress of an unemployed partner.

If you find yourself in a similar situation the following questions and answers may be of help:

Q: What kind of issues come up in a marriage when the breadwinner loses a job?

Carnahan: "One of the issues is how the spouse supports the person who is looking for a new position. Sometimes the unemployed spouse needs support, yet the spouse who is managing is stressed also.

A layoff is different from being fired. A firing is for job performance. It is different in the eyes of those who you are networking.

The stages of job loss are:

  • Shock
  • Bargaining- is there any way to get the position back
  • Anger
  • The move through the anger stage is key in preparing them for the job search.

Q: When a spouse is laid off, what's the best way to break the news to his/her partner?

Carnahan: Most people want to call their spouses before they go home. Be calm and tell them what happened.

Q: If there are kids, when's the best time to tell them?

Carnahan: You should tell your spouse first, and then the two of you sit down and tell the kids.

Q: What about the reaction of the spouse hearing the news. How important is that to the person who has been laid off?

Carnahan: Very important. You want to be a team and the spouse needs to be very reassuring and calm. I tell me clients they might want to schedule a meeting once or twice a week to discuss the job-hunt progress. Don't ask every hour how it's going. The unemployed spouse should seek a support group outside of the home.

Q: How common is it for couples to pull apart emotionally and physically during this time?

Carnahan: Very common unless they are intentional on not pulling apart. The spouse goes through the same stages but often time don't know they are going through it.

Q: Men still tend to be the main breadwinner in the family, is it harder on man when he is laid off than a woman?

Carnahan: From what I've seen it is harder on the man. Men do not have as strong a support group as women. The people who get their jobs quicker are the ones in which the spouse is helping in the search.

Q: The longer a person is out of work, the more stressful it becomes. What plan should a couple have in place to financially get through the lay off?

Carnahan: You should plan at the very beginning when the layoff first happens. Figure out how long you can last on your severance. Do not sell your house, don't make any major changes that adds more stress for you.

Q: What about a plan to emotionally get through the layoff?

Carnahan: The best advice to give is have supportive people around you. You need to keep perspective during the process. Keep some of the fun in your relationship. Try and keep a routine. The job seeker should maintain daily structure. You should go on the computer part of the day and network outside the other part of the day.

About Kathy B. Carnahan:

Carnahan has specialized in psychotherapy for 12 years, focusing on couples counseling, where she helps spouses cope with the stress of an unemployed partner. At Careerlab since 1995, she consults in the areas of career management, executive coaching, performance improvement, and out placement. She is the facilitator for Careerlab's monthly Execunet networking meetings for $100k executives and professionals. In addition, she teaches emotional intelligence (eq) programs in the work place--that is, social and people skills programs--to high-performers who want to ramp up their interpersonal success. The audience tends to be technical employees such as engineers, accountants, technicians, and it experts, but everyone benefits from higher eq.

Carnahan received an M.A. in counseling from the University of Northern Colorado, and is accredited as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) by the state of Colorado. You may email her at carnahan@careerlab.com.