How can I support my jobless partner?

My partner was made redundant three months ago. He has recently become very withdrawn and depressed, despite working hard to get another job. How can I help keep his spirits up during his job search?

Losing your job is so much more than losing an income. It’s even more than losing a daily routine, the buzz of dealing with work colleagues and the feeling of achievement from doing a good job. Managers and professionals often define themselves in terms of what they do for work, so when they lose their job, it can feel like losing their sense of self and their value in society. This may well be what’s happening to your partner.

The good news is that you’re the person best-placed to notice what is happening and to give or arrange help. Here are some hints:

Listen, support, but don’t fix

It is human nature to want to fix what’s wrong. Try to avoid this instinct unless your partner is actively asking for help, and trust that he is doing what needs to be done in terms of job hunting. Too readily dispensing advice can have the effect of belittling a person. Let the fact that you are not jumping in with suggestions prove that you have faith in his ability to get his next job.

Instead, become a sounding board for ideas, a sick bucket for hurt feelings and an interested ear to give updates to. The worst feeling for a job hunter is that they are working hard but nobody is really interested. You can head off a confidence slide simply by celebrating the good news and empathising with the bad. By becoming your partner’s trusted confidante, you will keep channels of communication open. Pushing too hard with unsolicited advice may cause him to shut down.

Keep positive

Try very hard not to criticise, even if the criticism is not related to job hunting. Being jobless increases a person’s sensitivity and it can magnify the impact of any criticism so even small points can get blown out of all proportion. You need your partner to know you respect him as much without a job as you did when he was working.

Use your own network of friends and family to discuss through your own minor issues and worries so you keep them out of the house, and keep the mood at home as positive as possible. Reassure your partner that you are coping, and you’ll square with him if there’s anything really bothering you. Then keep that promise, because keeping secrets kills trust.

Respect his job hunting efforts

Give your partner head-space for job hunting and thinking. It’s enormously difficult to write applications and make business calls when someone has the vacuum cleaner or the radio on. Agree on job hunting time (mornings are best) and non-job hunting time.

It is not possible to job hunt every hour of the day. Not only are there not enough jobs to apply for or relevant connections to make to fill the time, but working in this way very quickly leads to diminishing returns.

Instead, encourage your partner to turn off his inner judge. All too often I see clients who have been telling themselves for weeks that they have no ‘right’ to participate in fun activities and good times if they’re not bringing in a wage. They feel that they should be job hunting 24/7, and not doing so is somehow shirking their responsibility.

Tell your partner it’s OK to stop when he’s done a reasonable amount every day. If he’s job hunting for more than 6 hours a day, point out that he is almost certainly being tougher on himself than he would be on a friend or family member in the same situation.

Have some fun

Hand-in-hand with knowing when to stop goes knowing how to make the most of relaxation time. Perhaps the biggest benefit of having some time away from work is the opportunity to put time into personal and family relationships and friendships.

Become your partner’s partner in crime in having a good time despite your situation. Take each other on a date, rediscover a hobby or visit friends. It is especially important at this time for you to stay connected both to each other and your social circle, and to let your friends and family support you, just as you would (as you know) support them.

Don’t leave it too long to get help

If your partner is not eating regularly, sleeping well or looking after his physical appearance, he may be sliding into depression. Read more about this in our section on psychological effects (below) and don’t leave it too long before consulting your GP.

July 10th, 2010 | Category: between jobs, job hunting, support, unemployment, work-life-balance | No Comments »

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