For Better or for Worse — How to Help Your Partner Through the Job Hunt

By Debra Donston-Miller, The Ladders
When one half of a couple is out of work, it requires extra effort from both to keep the household on the move.

The “for better or worse” vow has been put to the test during the past few years as millions of couples’ relationships have been affected by long periods of joblessness.

While the burden of unemployment is certainly stressful for the person who has lost a job, it also represents huge new responsibilities for a spouse who still has a job. One of the biggest is bringing home a paycheck while supporting your partner in the search for a new job. This role requires patience, a positive attitude and flexibility — as well as generosity with your network.

Monica Wright and her husband, Tim, have experienced this firsthand. Tim lost his job as a morning radio host in August 2010. Monica, a search marketing executive, lost her job two months later but was fortunate to land another full-time position shortly thereafter.

Tim has not been so lucky, and the couple’s lives have changed substantially as a result. While searching for a job, Tim stays home and takes care of the couple’s two children, ages 4 and 10. Monica works her full-time job and freelances to help make up for Tim’s lost salary. She estimates that she works an average of 60 hours a week.

Monica said the situation has not been easy, but she realizes that both she and Tim are doing what needs to be done to keep the family and each other afloat. “It’s been tough. … We sort of fell into assumed roles,” she said. “I’ve got to work, so I can’t necessarily spend time doing things such as calling the tax guy or following up on personal things or taking the kids to the dentist. It’s a little stressful on my end, where I don’t spend as much down time, and I’m afraid of burnout. But it is what it is right now.”

Acknowledgment and acceptance, as well as compromise and collaboration, are key to keeping a relationship healthy, said Dr. John Duffy, a clinical psychologist, certified life coach and author of “The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Tweens and Teens”. “Couples need to work together through the challenge, and often crisis, of job change, to ensure they are allied with one another,” Duffy said. “They also need to tend to their relationship by spending some time talking about something other than the job search, and enjoying one another.”

The longer a person is away from the routine of the workforce (and the more rejections one receives), the more difficult it can be to maintain motivation. This is where the employed spouse also comes in, say experts — providing advice, perspective and, when needed, cheerleading.

Keep Your Spouse Connected

“Encourage the spouse as much as possible to stay out there, keep networking and remain connected with the professional community,” said Deb Brown, a business coach and licensed psychologist. “People who are depressed are often tempted to withdraw, which is one of the worst things a job seeker can do.”

That connection to a professional community should apply not only to the job seeker’s network but to the employed spouse’s network, as well, said career experts who spoke with TheLadders. Even if you are not in the same industry as your partner, you never know which one of your contacts knows someone who knows someone who is. The trick, experts add, is to be able to clearly articulate your partner’s skills and experience in a professional manner — something that can be difficult to do, to be sure, when there is so much emotional baggage attached to the situation.

“Serve as an advocate for your spouse by actively networking among friends and family,” said Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide”. “But don’t do so out of fear or desperation. Be clear on what your spouse does professionally and how to best explain it. Your messaging will make a difference if it’s clear, concise, and not fear-based.”

Monica Wright opened up her professional network to her husband and said it resulted in a few follow-ups. She admits, though, that the opportunities seem to be scarce given the nature of her husband’s work.

Indeed, in the radio industry, a new job often means a new market — a move the Wrights are not sure they want to make at this time. Tim has been exploring new professional options for the “next phase” of his professional life, a process Monica is supporting.

“It’s been about giving him space and being supportive in terms of providing ideas and access to a network,” she said. “I don’t get resentful. I like what I do for work. It’s not like I’m digging trenches. He just needs to figure out what he wants to do for the next phase, and I just give him the tools. … We’re just trying to make it all work out.”

Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for TheLadders.