When Layoffs Strain Marriages

Wives seem to resent their new roles as husbands lose jobs and direction.

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There's a fascinating and complex conversation about unemployment going on over at the WSJ's The Juggle blog today. Sue Shellenbarger writes about "one of the most frustrating backwaters of marriage." She asks: "What do you do when your spouse is stalled in a career crisis, and nothing you say or do seems to help?"

Shellenbarger has heard from more than one wife about the challenges of an unemployed husband who seems inactive or despondent in his job hunt. The frustration in the wives' words--and most especially, in the post comments--highlight one of the great challenges of this recession: holding the family together.

One interesting point Shellenbarger makes: "Too often, a spouse tries to double as a career coach when an employee’s job hits a dead end." How many people are experiencing this?

While it may be a spouse's natural reaction to turn into career coach and job counselor--the comments suggest that moving into that sort of role is likely to breed real resentment. (One point: Most of the comments also seem to be coming from wives.)

Some excerpts:

"He’s wonderful in so many ways, and I’m glad he’s not all about money and power, but it’s just frustrating beyond belief to come home every night and see no evidence of effort made that day. I refuse to nag and am way more patient than his friends’ wives but silently I am seething."

"My husband’s career has been on shaky ground due to numerous lay-offs and “bad fits”. I love him very much, but am starting to lose all respect as his job search just drags on and on. Our marriage vows included “in good times and bad”, and let me tell you, these are very bad times for us. I have been holding down the fort for way too long now."

Many husbands and fathers have lost jobs in this recession--often putting wives and mothers into new breadwinner roles they likely feel they didn't sign up for. (Of course, the husbands don't feel they signed up for their new roles either. ) Depression certainly seems like a possible concern here, as does perception. When a spouse's search for work doesn't appear to be like the one you might undertake in their position, it's pretty easy to jump to conclusions about their level of effort.

These are very tough situations. What are the solutions?


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