Surviving a spouse’s layoff

One of the biggest challenges a
marriage can face is when a spouse is laid off from his or her job. Framed by a
backdrop of financial insecurity, the situation can summon a host of emotions:
humiliation, despair, suspicion and bruised egos.

But layoffs can happen, and these
days it’s increasingly likely that they will happen. What becomes difficult to
predict, then, is how long the limbo will last and how well a marriage can
weather the storm. Experts agreed on one thing: keep the entire family involved
in learning to live a little bit differently for a while.

For Claire,* a mother of two, her
husband’s layoff from his job at an investment bank was initially “fun.” But
the ensuing 18 months brought about a host of challenges: A panicked move
across the country, a nine-month stint living with her parents, a second
pregnancy and the discovery that their eldest child had speech problems.
Keeping upbeat became very difficult.

“I was in the role of trying to be
supportive and he was sinking deeper and deeper into despair,” Claire recalled.
“He was so desperate to provide for us that he was building up the frustration
and he wasn’t appreciating us.”

If faced with a similar situation
again, the first thing Claire said she would do is encourage her husband to
join a basketball team or take a trip – anything to puncture the monotonous
chore of looking for a job or spending yet another 24 hours with the family.

“He was suffocating,” she said.

While the support of a spouse is
essential in bridging the emotional gap of a layoff, it can sometimes be
tedious for those who are tasked with being endlessly cheery. In fact, that’s
one reason why Susan Urquhart-Brown, who was bending her husband’s ear with
complaints about difficult bosses and thoughts of changing professions, became
a career counsellor.

Both need support

While the role of supporter usually
falls on the shoulders of the spouse who has not been laid off, it really just
depends on who’s the more positive in the relationship.

Just a month after their first son
was born, Anna’s* husband was laid off. During the next 14 months, they moved
twice chasing opportunities. Anna endured a difficult second pregnancy and
continued to work from home as a medical writer whenever possible – often until
4 am – all while suffering nausea and leaning on her husband for support.

“I actually needed him,” she said.
“He’s very strong. I’m not as strong. I get angry.”

What impressed her most about her
husband is that he kept busy, using the time to make upgrades to the home they
had previously purchased as an investment.

Keep finances realistic

Anna and her husband stressed the
importance of reviewing the family’s finances immediately and making brutal
cuts, “because you don’t know how long you have to wait.”

Financial counsellor Susan Bross

“Act now. Don’t wait until the
money runs out,” Ms Bross said. “These days, honestly, if you’re working you’ll
be laid off at some time.”

She also recommended having a
family meeting to explain the situation matter-of-factly and investing in a
financial counsellor to help stretch savings.

Financial counsellors charge
approximately $100 to $200 an hour to help families live within their means.

Above all, Bross noted that it’s
important to realise that the struggles – financial and otherwise – experienced
during a layoff can still result in positive long-term habits and attitudes.

“Getting laid off is just what
happens these days,” she said. “The more you treat it as something that happens
in an unloaded way and speak about it in that manner, your kids will see it
that way, too.”

Prepare for the Future

At 64, Allen Sunde has some tips to
offer the younger generation fearful of layoffs, especially since he endured
two of them during his 30 years in the airline industry.

Take advantage of these breathing
periods, he urged, especially if they might be longer than expected – by
brushing up on your education. Not only can it give you a sense of proactive
control over the situation, but it can make you more marketable to an employer.

And while it can sometimes sound
like a broken record, he stressed the importance of saving money, even if it’s
just a little at a time.

During his second layoff in his
40s, the financial impact was less stressful, primarily because they were
better prepared with a solid savings foundation.

Mr. Sunde also cautioned that the
older you get, the more you’ll have to compete with younger people for the same
job, which can make the period after a layoff even longer. A strong savings
foundation during these times is essential.

“When times are good, that’s the
time to save,” he said. “So many people live for the moment.”

Hindsight may be 20-20, but most of
the families interviewed reflected on their layoff experiences as something
that honed the strength of their marriage and family.

”It was tough at that time, but you
just work through it and life goes on,” said Claire. “It definitely
strengthened us. I feel now that I can weather anything.”

* Names changed for privacy purposes