How do you help when your spouse is out of work?

Through the years we’ve had several friends face long bouts of unemployment. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating for the spouse (in all our friend’s cases the wives) to watch and not know exactly how to help.

Sometimes the unemployed spouse gets depressed while searching. Sometimes they aren’t that good at searching or interviewing, which can be even more frustrating for the spouse.

You can’t do the interview for them but do you help write the letters, resume and follow-up letters? Do you help them prep? Do you give moral support and inspiration or do you tell them to get off their behinds and find a job? What if they won’t follow your advice while searching?

Also does the family dynamic change if the “man” of the house is out of work? Is there a point where a wife gets so frustrated by the lack of work that she leaves? When is it just a terrible economy and when is it a terrible spouse?

What are some ideas to help without being a nag or negative?

23 comments Add your comment


December 14th, 2011
1:17 pm

Are you saying one is out of work or both are out of work?


December 14th, 2011
1:27 pm

How about don’t nag and don’t be negative. The vows say “…for better or worse” and I am sure that extended unemployment has been the “worse” part for many people during the past 4 years or so.

My wife has been out of work (voluntarily) for over a year and will be for a while longer after the birth of our child. It has been tough for everyone since our income has been cut in half. You just do what you have to do and muddle on through. Too many people think they have to be happy every minute of every day. That’s just life and hard times come and go. Man up or put on your big girl panties (whichever applies) and deal.


December 14th, 2011
1:29 pm

Thankfully we have never been here. I know many have and also know families personally in this situation. I cannot fathom the anguish felt by those who have looked far and wide for a job only to have the doors closed.

My husband has been with his company for over 22 years. It has had its ups and downs. he took a 25% pay cut 10 years ago before anyone else was having trouble. I kicked it up and grew my business. Our kids were 9 and 14. The economy has taken it’s toll on my business with educational monies being very limited but I am still plodding along. ( JOD did you get my e-mail?).

I did help my husband write his resume when he transitioned out of the military in Texas and then here to Atlanta. I write all the time and usually have a little more experience. He is technical and even if I wrote the most glowing resume and had to interview myself, they would literally kick me out the door as I know NOTHING about it. Once he gets in the door, he is in GREAT shape!

To me, it is good to pool resources. I have to sell myself every day of the week and have a bit more experience in that arena. I am on the phone with clients from all over the country and may have more experience knowing what different regions want. On the flip side, he has taken several very specific classes at his job and the things he has learned are helpful to me and he is glad to share.
Again, pool resources. I continue to be amazed at how many people do not know how to network or get things done…I see this on a monthly basis…even follow through is an important skill. Especially in the job market today.

I am asking another question…how flexible would folks be to move? We moved to Texas when we first married and now here. We have never lived close to family but have made life long friends everywhere we have lived. I often wonder where my children will end up. Some of my peers tell me that they do NOT want their kids to move far away or “they can move to ________ but not to____________”. I do not feel entitled to tell my children where they should live. I just hope it is not a 12 hour flight away! We will see!

My spouse has been...

December 14th, 2011
1:49 pm

…quite supportive since I was laid off 13 months ago – fortunately, for us anyway, she was already retired and drawing a pension, though it is about 22% of what her last salary was, so we are somewhat cash poor. However, we are lucky that we never got into the over-extended mode and hwere able to save substantially when we both had jobs, and we have been able to make ends meet on her pension and part time job and my unemployment checks (yes, I draw unemployment and do not work part time since I am full time looking for work – and I make more from unemployment than I would by working part time) without borrowing or dipping into our retirement funds just yet.

The really difficult part has been my job searches – when laid off I was quite well paid and in a job that is a dime a dozen for younger workers. Plus, in my last job I had a “title”; that makes my efforts to secure new employment that much more difficult since most hiring managers feel “threatened” by my past successes (why should they hire someone who has been successful in the past, who might be a threat to their security, particularly in the current business climate).

And, HR personnel, when they learn my past salary, are also reluctant to consider someone my age (even though they cannot say that) even though I am willing to take a 40% pay cut just to get back to work and let my abilities lead from their. Most are afraid that I will only be there a short period of time until something more fitting to my past “title” comes along – I even had one interviewer, when I told her that I was not looking to get back into a “titled” position, say, that she, too, “would say that” if she were looking for a job. It is a “catch 22″ in looking for full time work at my age and level…

But, life goes on, and so do I…


December 14th, 2011
2:11 pm

My husband is not good with written skills so I took it upon myself to write him a resume as well as send it out for all open positions. It took almost two years but he landed employment this past August. Had I sat around and waited on him to do it, he still wouldn’t have a job. Sometimes one of us has to push the other one to take a step.

K's Mom

December 14th, 2011
2:26 pm

@my spouse has been….you have summed up my husband’s experience in the last 3 years to a tee. Great “title” and salary so he was thought to be overqualified for most of the jobs he interviewed for in his long term industry. After 2 years of consulting and piecing stuff together, he went into the insurance industry in sales and loves it. He is not back to his original salary, but the job satisfaction has made it worth it.

His layoff happened just before our marriage and I probably made some mis-steps as far as support. My biggest piece of advice for women is that many men tie financial support to their self worth and their importance in the family. I do not think I understood that at first and being that I had a good job, I probably just paid the bills and did not stroke his ego quite enough. It may sound old fashioned, but I do think some husbands need to feel important in a financial way.


December 14th, 2011
2:56 pm

@K’s mom – which of field of insurance did he go into? I’ve been an agent for 11 years and never seen the ins business down this bad so if he’s doing well in this economy, kudos to him because most agents are not. Fortunately, I have full time employment and my ins business is just a supplement.


December 14th, 2011
2:56 pm

We’ve never experienced this either. Each of us have been at our jobs for a number of years and both of us continue to receive both an annual raise and bonus. We are so very thankful to not be in the position that so many people are facing. We have friends of ours who are in this position and we have unfortunately, in one case, been witness to an outburst aimed at the unemployed wife by the employed husband. As bad as this was to witness I cannot imagine how it felt to be the recipient.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 14th, 2011
3:34 pm

K’s mom — I think totally tied to their self esteem and really a blow when they are not “providing”.. and then the depression sets in. Really tough to walk the line of caring and motivating.

I bet....

December 14th, 2011
4:00 pm

How about helping them while also searching for a job for yourself??? Maybe one of you can find a job. Is your spouse the only one capable of working? I know of several families who had to switch roles or SAHM who had to go to work. You will survive working outside of the home…and so will your family.


December 14th, 2011
4:50 pm

My husband was in the construction industry and only worked sporadically for about 18 months. It was very hard on his ego to not be bringing in a decent paycheck. One thing that I tried to do was to give him a bit of space, encourage him to look at opportunities in other fields and give him a solid talking to when he needed it. He could get very down and that effected the whole family. I can let him mope for a bit, but it isn’t a long term solution. Finally, he found a great job in a new industry that is actually growing. He has been working for over a year and loves his new job.


December 14th, 2011
5:24 pm

Would doing some of the job search for your husband or wife be seen as helping or a slap in the face? And at what point do you stop “helping” and let the other handle it his or her own way?

The friend I was talking about in the “foreclosure” conversation took it really badly when she was laid off. Actually the bad feelings are resurfacing and she is feeling sorry for herself again, even though, at this time she is at least receiving substitute teacher pay. I can empathize because I think teaching middle school would be a personal hell for me, but I digress. When she was first laid off, I spent a lot of time on my company’s website looking for jobs that she may be qualified for and was steady forwarding them to her…until I learned she wasn’t applying for any of them. So I stopped looking. I was putting in more effort than she so I said forget it.


December 14th, 2011
7:04 pm

My former husband was not without work for longer than a few weeks while married to me, although he put a minimum of effort into working, and did not put in a full day much of the time. He has had periods of unemployment since then, but NMP. His second wife rarely works. She is an alcoholic, so he has had to buck up and keep the family going.

I have been employed continuously since a week after I graduated from college, with the exception of a few weeks, twice. I worked through 3 pregnancies and within days after childbirth, and “drew” on umemployment for 3 weeks so far in my life. I’ve been lucky; I feel for those who have had to look for months and years. Members of my family have been affected thusly. If my spouse was unemployed for long, I believe I would insist that he spend time getting additional training, part time, or that he spend some time volunteering. I would probably quickly get annoyed if a spouse was sitting around. My former husband, while “employed”, did the minimum and was no help at the house. He was “tired,” so I did all the childcare, housework, most of the yard and garden work, and outside the home 9 hours a day. Never again will I support a “child” who is older than me!


December 15th, 2011
4:09 am

my comments were removed.


December 15th, 2011
5:05 am

That is a great question. I really like it. It is never a terrible spouse. It could be terrible judgement on the other half when they decided to get married. Some people have inadequate social connectedness to allow them to work with othere. “Statistics” show that in 95% of cases where a persons work is terminated it is becuse of an i n ability to get along. Believe it or not, I am like that.


December 16th, 2011
10:52 am

I have watched SAHMs in my neighborhood and in my own family talk about how long their spouse has been out of a job and how hard it is for the family. When I ask what kind of jobs the wife is applying for, I receive an expression of shock. And all of these women have children well past elementary school age.

As someone who has worked continuously, I cannot understand Mothers who don’t feel any responsibility for supporting their own children.


December 17th, 2011
12:07 am

@k’s mom – I agree about the self-worth. We have had financial ups and downs over the years and also had close friends go through job loss. My husband and I talked it through trying to figure out what the emotional toll was for a husband when he loses his job. The closest female analogy we could come up with was a miscarriage. It is obviously not quite as bad as that (since there is not life lost with a job loss) but, to a man, the emotional toll can be similar because their self-image is very much tied up in their job. I think because men tend to be more closed-mouth about their emotions and also more able to compartmentalize, many wives think the ‘just suck it up and get another job’ approach will work with their husbands. It isn’t that easy. They need to be allowed time to grieve and also they need to know that you still respect them no matter what.

Mr. Freeze

December 18th, 2011
10:46 am

Here’s my short list.

1. Offer unconditional support.
2. Watch the budget like a hawk.
3. Exercise.Get out of that house. Take a half hour(or more) walk with your spouse everyday.
4. Overlook minor issues.
5. Keep “catty” friends and relatives away.
6. Constructive, but firm feedback.
7. Insure your spouse has proper interview attire ready anytime.
8. Keep your frustrations private. No need to share with friends.

@ Lynn

December 18th, 2011
11:54 am

When my husband lost his job, I immediately went into panic mode and I suggested that (I) go out and look for a job, after a decade of being a SAHM. My husband was beyond infuriated at my suggestion and told me that I was not, I repeat NOT, going to go back to work. Most men that I know are like my husband, but there are exceptions. Also, most the men/husbands I know were employed by the same company for 10 to 20 years before being RIF’d. You have no idea how fragile a man can be until he loses his job, his identity.

IMO those familes that you speak of will either get stronger or dissolve. Everything in the middle seems to be disappearing. Only the extremes seem to survive. It is extemely disturbing what is happening to our culture, our lifestyle, our well being – as individuals, familes and as a nation.

Shannon, M.Div.

December 18th, 2011
12:12 pm

Oh, yeah, I remember that time.

We were married in 2000. In the fall of 2001, we decided I would quit my job to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s. After 9/11, my husband lost his job before the end of the year (computer programming in the insurance industry). So there we were moving from two incomes to zero incomes and still in the first two years of our marriage.

Ugh, I would *not* want to return to that time. We ended up moving back in with my family, thinking that it was still better for me to stay in school. It took him about two years to find a job. He was laid off from that one (last hired = first let go, right?) but found another within two months. He was laid off from *that* one, but he had three months of notice plus three months of severance. We were nervous, but he found a job and has been there over a year (telecommuting! Heaven!). After a fully-funded master’s degree, I’m currently working on my doctorate (with a paid stipend). We’re doing fine now.

Those unemployed times are stressful, and part of it is that you can’t do all the normal stress-relieving things (i.e. go out to a nice dinner, a movie, or even an evening at Fernbank). I edited his resume; I would search my networks and the Internet for job leads and forward them to him, and he followed up. But ultimately, his getting a job is *him* getting a job, so he had to do the major legwork.

Humor helped us a lot. The knowledge that family was always at our backs–that helped, too. But we had committed to each other and knew that this was part of life.

A person SMART enough to know......

December 18th, 2011
12:16 pm

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Excuse me?

December 18th, 2011
2:12 pm

I confused, last I checked, wives are not children and can’t be told what to or what not to do…..:-/ I wish my husband would try to tell me I can’t go to WORK!!!!


December 18th, 2011
4:08 pm

For “Excuse me?” re: “Lynn” and “@Lynn’s” remarks…My husband also would likely tell me not to return to work should he find himself unemployed. As many others has referenced, his providing for our family is very much a part of his identity and self-worth. While a husband telling his wife not to return to work may not necessarily fit into your definition of husband and wife roles, many couples commit to single income households for child-rearing purposes – as well as other purposes – and that is their choice. Additionally, please consider that the children – even if they are older than elementary age, as Lynn mentioned – can still struggle with such a drastic change in their family dynamic, should the SAHM return to work. Admittedly, the “role reversal” may work in many families, but not all of them. I know a family where the SAHM went back to work while the husband continued to look for work. Eventually, he found work, though drastically under-employed. He still struggles with depression and inadequacy because everything about their family dynamic changed and he takes that a personal failure.

Now, back to the original topic: I completely agree that staying supportive is key in any unemployed spouse scenario. Be cautious about the warning signs of depression, as it can sneak in and change the situation from one of temporary unemployment to long-term unemployment, as the person may lose their marketability or even their will to work. It is a slippery slope! I know of a family where the husband has just given up looking for work and the wife’s various jobs are not enough to keep them afloat. What is the balance of encouragement without criticism?