“Peter hides it well, but I know he is miserable, and the tension in our house is unbearable at times.”Pamela confesses to me over coffee.
Pamela’s husband recently lost his job. She is nervous about spending a single unnecessary dollar, and the only way she agreed to meet me is after I offered to treat her – a frank and necessary reality.
“I wish I could help him, but he balks at any suggestion I make, as if I’m the cause of this problem.” Pamela’s story is increasingly familiar in this economy.
Peter’s job loss, part of the 96,000 Californians to lose jobs in March 2009[i], has him bitter, angry and frustrated. His wife Pamela is worried about their finances, but doesn’t dare talk to Peter about it. She urges him to search the job market each day, but he gets upset with her “nagging.” She sometimes argues back, frustrated with what she sees as indifference.
“I am tempted to push him out the door each morning to look for another job. We need him to work! …but I’ve never seen him this upset, and I don’t want to make him angrier.”
Pamela sees how this affects the kids too. Normally talkative, Alex, seven and Rachel, four, are now quiet at the dinner table. Recently they asked for a nightlight to go to sleep and Rachel started to wet her bed again.
“I don’t know what to do.” Pamela feels caught between helping and hindering Peter, uncertain how to improve their finances or their family situation.
Her bewilderment is understandable. Until someone has been laid off themselves or had their hours cut back, advice or services to cope with a new financial reality are almost invisible.
Yet with the March 2009 California jobless rate at 11.2% (the most recent available[ii]), you may begin to recognize this situation in yourself, in a friend, or through an acquaintance.
So how does someone like Pamela cope with a reduced (or non-existent) income and a newly jobless husband, while maintaining some stability for herself, her children and her marriage?
1. Be a Good Listener
Let him rant and rave if he needs to. Keep the focus on his feelings and words, not on the stress you may be feeling.
Breathe deep! Always remember to take a breath before you respond. You will be less likely to react emotionally, and more likely to answer objectively. Provide the solid support that he needs.
Understand that his frustration is his own. When you react with blame, sarcasm or frustration of your own, you become part of the problem. (And you don’t need another problem.)
Don’t allow his frustration to turn into verbal attack. “I am here to listen, but not if I become your verbal punching bag. Let’s focus on your feelings, on a solution, or we can talk about it later.”
2. Offer Help but Then Step Back
Offer open-ended questions.
· “Is there anything I can do to help?”
· “How can I make each day easier for you?”
· “The Lanigans have invited us over for dinner this Saturday. What is your preference?”
Offer neutral comments, requiring no answer.
· “I read a local article about your industry. It is on the couch if you are interested.”
· “The kids and I are going to the park in an hour. You are welcome to join us.”
· “If you want an objective eye on your resume before you send it out, I’d be glad to help.”
· “The news mentioned a website today that offers free job coaching and resume writing. I’ve left it near the computer.”
Respect his answer, or lack of one.
Before stepping in with ideas and action, it is important to become neutral, no matter how difficult. Neutral allows your spouse to express feelings without fear of reprisal. Neutral is listening and being open.
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