Marriage and Family Therapist Kelly Hoffman had advice for navigating your relationship when earning power shifts.
a. If you or your partner has been laid off, not only do you have the stress of finding employment, but the changes in roles can really lead to relational friction. Here are some of the top tips for reducing friction and negotiating new “rules” for labor distribution at home and in the work force.
1. KEEP POSITIVE. This is the number one rule. If you are not working together everything will be so much harder, and a positive attitude is the only way to keep friction from getting too hot. Does this mean you don’t let your partner know when things are bothering you or when you need some help? NO, of course not! It just means you remember that you are best friends and sticking together will benefit both of you. Make sure you point out the how hard your mate is trying, not how badly it is or isn’t working (ie, “wow, you sent out 30 resumes, that must have taken a lot of time and effort” vs. “30 resume’s and no interviews, couldn’t you use your time more effectively?”
2. COMMUNICATE & Negotiate. Have formal meeting to outline the new labor laws. I am not a meeting fan, but you’ve got to do it. If someone is laid off they need to be accountable to their partner for their time spent actively looking for employment as well as additional household duties they will be responsible for (in the case of employed partner working again or more). Additionally, if one partner is asked to re-enter the work force or take on more hours or (ugh) more overtime, you both need to discuss how this shift will be compensated for. By you BOTH!! The only rule here is that you both have to feel good about it. If your partner will not meet with you (they are too ashamed/stressed/angry/ whatever) give it the old hand holding loving eye contact, we can do it pep talk. Even the best relationships will be strained to the breaking point if there is no communication. Especially in the beginning you will need regular points of contact BEFORE you start getting angry about the other person’s behavior. The point of these meetings is to diffuse pent up hostility. You are both going to be going through a rough time, either you prepare for it or get beaten up by it. Additionally, you are TOTALLY re-defining roles and rules you figured out between you over the course of weeks, months, even years, and you have to do it quickly. There isn’t time for leisurely settling in and off hand comments to prompt behavior changes. You both need to be focused and committed to learning how to be successful in your new roles.
3. NO FINGER POINTING. It is so easy as money gets tight, relationship gets strained, both people are tired, it just gets easy to see everything your partner is or isn’t doing right. Resist the temptation to finger point. Instead, bring up issues in meeting times. Ask lots of questions. Don’t assume you know the full picture, but do hold your partner accountable if they are slumping. It may be that all they needed was to know that YOU believe in them, that you still think they are worth something, even though they may feel that somehow they’ve failed you right now.
4. DO GRATITUDE, OFTEN. You both need to keep very focused on all the positive things in your life and your relationship. Saying thank you is good, but special meaningful moments, notes of encouragement, comments to others about your spouse’s hard work and sacrifice will go a long way to ensuring that you come through your economic downturn on an emotional upswing.