Spouse lost job? You need to be sensitive, flexible

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Spouse lost job? You need to be sensitive, flexible

Expectations for the Newly Unemployed: This is, sadly, an increasingly common scenario: newly unemployed spouse, looking for a job but with considerable time on his hands. What expectations of additional chores and projects are fair? I respect that he is looking, but that still leaves at least six extra hours a day that he could be spending on needed maintenance, etc. Please help me balance his stress with my "What are you doing all day?!" disbelief.

Carolyn: I think you have to factor in some appreciation for reality, some sensitivity, some flexibility, and some clarity.

On the sensitivity front, please consider what it means for some people to find themselves suddenly out of work. Shock, fear, shame, doubts about identity — these aren't emotions you shrug off, these are the kind you grieve through. So, sensitivity demands — again, for some people — that you leave room for traumatized behavior.

Then there's the reality angle: For laid-off workers in their, say 40s, this could be the first time in over two decades that they haven't had to report somewhere/to someone. Throw in school and it can top four decades. That's a lot of showing up over a lot of years, and so to understand how someone responds to that new reality, you have to put yourself in that place. Wouldn't your impulse be to lie around at first? Just because you can?

On top of that, self-motivation is a skill, which some people need time to acquire. Just ask people who have made the transition to working at home or working for themselves, and struggled for months to find the right formula for being productive.

That's where flexibility and clarity come in. I don't think you can look at those six hours and say, yay, all of those are now available for house stuff. But you can say, "I realize you need time just to process all this, but this might be a chance to get X, Y and/or Z done, too. What do you think?"

All of which is to say, what you see as logical disbelief might have him thinking about you: "Wow, you just don't get it."

So try to get it. A transition this difficult for both of you demands you articulate yourselves as clearly, and listen as carefully, as each of you possibly can.

Spreading around dirt is much worse than act committed

Va.: You might be saving me from being a busybody. I just learned that a friend discovered my little sister making out with her boyfriend on this friend's bed — yuck! The friend e-mailed another mutual friend to complain about it, and I found out only because someone forwarded me that e-mail. Nobody said anything to my sister (or the boyfriend). Should I? I'm not from the 1800s, but I don't like feeling ashamed of my sister.

Carolyn: I'd be more ashamed to be friends with the person who sent the gossipy and entirely gratuitous e-mail — not to mention the person who then forwarded it. The friend who discovered the make-out session should have said her piece to your sister, and then never said anything about it to anyone else. Passing dirt around shows a lack of decency I find much more "yuck!" than the kind your sister displayed.

Spouse lost job? You need to be sensitive, flexible 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 4:02pm]

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