Can Your Love Survive A Layoff?

If a pink slip arrives instead of a paycheck, take heart: You can keep love on the payroll even when one of you is on the unemployment line.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

t wasn’t supposed to happen to me. All my man-with-no-job and man-with-money-troubles days were behind me. Reckless spending (his) had ended my marriage, and chronic, self-induced unemployment (another his) was the undoing of a post-divorce romance. And then I met the guy who fit everything on my list. (Yes, I made a list.)

Not only was he employed, but he’d also been at the same large, respectable company for 12 years. And not only did he go to college, but he also went to
It’s okay to admit to unacceptable feelings…
grad school at a really great university. Anyone could see that this guy would have a job, a 401(k) and a small copay for his dental appointments from here to retirement. And now he was my boyfriend! My man-of-sketchy-employment days were over. Over!

And then it happened. “Laid off,” he said. Laid off! My first thoughts — rather, my first, second and third thoughts — were selfish. I admit now that while I was cooing comforting platitudes like “Everything will work out for the best,” I was thinking, Why is this happening to me? To me. It’s not pretty, but that’s how I saw it. Blame it on my own shaky financial status as a single mom cobbling together a living on freelance writing and contract work, but whatever the reason, I wasn’t a very good sport, let alone a good girlfriend, and I knew it.

Over the next few months, sudden unemployment, once the problem of an unlucky few, became epidemic. The news told the story of scores of well-employed and well-educated people who were surprised to find themselves among the growing ranks of the unemployed. If your date should suddenly join these ranks, here are some tips on how to survive — and maybe even thrive (as we eventually did) — as a couple:

1. If you're in a relatively new relationship, it may be time to commit or call it quits. Are you committed to this person enough to go through this rough patch together? Answering this question honestly could save both of you a lot of grief. If the answer is yes, remind yourself in the coming weeks (months, even, in this economy) that you did make this commitment, even if times are hard. Also, ask yourself whether he or she would stand by you if the unemployment shoe was on the other foot.

2. “Expect your partner to experience the emotions of a significant loss,” says Betty Gutting, a life coach and divorce-recovery counselor. “But don’t neglect your own needs. If he has less attention to give you because of his loss and transition, make sure you practice extreme self-care. Put self-nurturing activities at the top of your list, and you will have more energy to be emotionally available for your partner.”

3. “Don’t be caught off guard by your own feelings of loss, including
“Have compassion for yourself as you move through the transition.”
anger and sadness,”
says Gutting. “While you may not feel it as acutely as your partner does, his unemployment is a loss for you, too. All losses bring grieving, so have compassion for yourself as you move through the transition.”

4. Find a place to vent your fears about the future outside of the relationship. Don’t expect your newly unemployed partner to have the presence of mind to coach you through your fears right now. And yakking about all the worst-case scenarios could erode the confidence he or she needs to go out there and find that next great job. Find a friend, family member, life coach or therapist who will lend you an ear for an hour and give you the support you need in order to stay positive.

5. But don’t try to pretend that you’re totally at peace with it all (unless you are, and then you can stop reading this now and go reread the works of the Dalai Lama), as pretending could create a distance between you. It’s okay to admit to unacceptable feelings, I’ve learned, as long as you take responsibility for them. When my boyfriend lost his job, I struggled to keep my recurring Why is this happening to me? thoughts a secret. Finally, I told him that’s how I was feeling, but I also told him that I was ashamed of those feelings. He actually felt relieved to hear this confession; he had sensed something was wrong and feared it might be something worse.

6. Offer support, but let the other person have the satisfaction of solving his or her own problems. I admit that part of me wanted to completely take over my boyfriend’s job search, and I admit that I did send him more than a few job postings I found online, but I’ve found it’s a lot healthier for both of us if I focus on my problems and let him focus on his. If you think you can offer valuable, overlooked ideas, you could ask, “Do you want to brainstorm about this, or would you rather just work on this on your own?” If the answer is no, maybe you could use the extra time to update your own résumé.

7. Learn to enjoy simpler pleasures. If you and your date are used to going out for dinner and a movie every Friday night, there may be an adjustment period as you look for simpler, less expensive ways to spend time together. Call me an old lady, but over the last few months I’ve come to really love our Friday-night Scrabble competitions and Sunday strolls around the lake.

Whatever happens, know that you're not alone. And you may well learn exactly what we did: that spending less money and more time together — and getting through a tough situation as a team — can bring the two of you even closer!

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over (Three Rivers Press), is now available in paperback. Visit her at
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