Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Help unemployed husband find confidence, direction
Small talk?: My husband and I have fallen into a "small talk" rut. He's been unemployed for a year, and on some days he just sits at home watching TV and I'm the only person he interacts with. I feel like a general "How was your day?" question can be a springboard to other conversation — but not when he just says, "Fine." What can we do about this rut?
Carolyn: Obviously this is a bigger problem than small talk — unemployed spouse, getting depressed, losing confidence and sense of self — but sometimes small adjustments can help ease the stress of bigger problems.
In this case, I'd start with tailoring your questions to his mood and to the way he spends his day: "Anything interesting in the news?" or, "What happened to X?" if he follows a series, or "Anyone make any big moves?" if he's glued to SportsCenter.
As for the bigger problem, it sounds as if both of you (and your community) would benefit from his volunteering his time and skills somewhere. While the recession has created a pressing need for jobs, it has also created pressing needs in traditionally cash-strapped municipal and nonprofit organizations. Everyone's doing more with less money and fewer hands — schools, homeless shelters, animal shelters, food banks, elder services, I could go on for pages. So many of them need help. And they can help your husband find a sense of purpose, not to mention a resume item. Please suggest a few organizations with missions close to his heart.
A completely different tack, but also good for keeping him occupied and sharp, would be for him to learn a skill, musical instrument or foreign language — things so many of us bemoan not having the time to do.
You can't make him do these, of course, but you can float ideas that jibe with his interests and strengths.
Washington: I lost my job in 2008. The next day I signed up to volunteer at a local animal shelter. I went in twice a week, walked dogs and fluffed cats. It totally saved my life and sanity. I was out of work for seven months. When I finally got offered a job, it was hard to give up the pups. I still go in on weekends.
Carolyn: I don't even like cats, and now I want a job fluffing their fur. Thanks.
Personal note: It's my dad who reminded me of the power of doing something. He received an award from Connecticut's ALS Association in February, and in his acceptance speech, he told of being lost in his grief when my mom died.
He was grateful for everything that group had done for the two of them during Mom's illness, so he checked to see if they needed anything. He wound up helping them move offices, putting up shelves, delivering equipment to patients all over Connecticut — and he's still at it, now as a board member, among other things.
And so now, almost eight years later, he has a steady supply of new people to meet, a sense of purpose, a shape to his days and a community that's grateful he exists. In all, not a bad epilogue to a story that ended sadly.