How to Support Your Partner through Job Loss
When working with individual clients experiencing job loss (layoff, early retirement, termination, going on a leave of absence, losing an ability, etc.) I often hear, "I wish my partner could hear this" as we review the emotional rollercoaster of facing emotional, physical, and belief barriers that arise during a career transition.
We're all waiting in line now to get into the next coaster cart to ride! Hop in, buckle up, and put your hands up if you dare - here we go!
Increasing Awareness During a Period of Uncertainty
As we climb the first and biggest hill, we may begin to notice we feel as though time is in slow motion, the scenery is something we may not have spent time appreciating before this moment, we may engage in "small talk" with our partner just to keep us distracted from the emotions we could feel when we reach the top and are about to descend.
Hearing that you are no longer needed (or able) to perform the job that has been yours can be a shock to the system. During this moment we may not be able to take in new information that is being presented, we may feel like time is standing still as we look around at our colleagues and pack our things, we could be "going through the motions" as a way to numb or protect ourselves.
WHO am I if I'm not "job title" at "company name"?
We associate much of what we do with who we are, this may not be "just job loss" but a (temporary) loss of identity in which your partner may experience emotions of grief. Grieving a job loss could have a similar appearance to grieving a person, pet or ability: loss of interest, changes in sleep or appetite, low energy, crying, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and/or feelings of guilt or shame, are some of the common symptoms.
We all grieve differently and may go through a variety of emotional stages to include denial, anger, bargaining ("If only I had done ______, this wouldn't have happened"), depression, and acceptance (not always in this order) over a period of time. Grief does not have an estimated timeline, each persons experience is unique.
If the situation was distressing around the job loss, your partner could have strong physical or emotional reactions following the traumatic event to include: intrusive thoughts, nightmares, visual images of the event, avoidance of activities that could trigger memories of the event, social isolation or withdrawal, tremendous fatigue, insomnia, and/or panic attacks. Connecting with a clinical mental health professional and/or a primary care physician may be necessary.
IDEAS TO OFFER SUPPORT:
- I'm here and available if/when you'd like to talk about things.
- We'll figure this out. [Great read: Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo]
- Would you like to go for a walk? Or another activity to get your partner moving their body to shift their current state of mind and mood.
Experiencing an Awakening to Reality
We've peaked the first hill and on our way down - AHHHHHH!!!! A rush of emotions and a deep awakening of our senses, feeling fully present and alive. Your partner may reach a point where they want to talk more about their job loss experience.
Lend an ear to listen...just listen.
So often we put pressure on ourselves to help "solve" problems and come up with "solutions", so we can help our partners reduce feelings of pain and sadness. To help process the pain of the experience, your partner may need to speak out loud in a safe place without judgment.
Turn toward your partner with your undivided attention, maintain eye contact, try to picture what your partner is saying and how you might feel in their shoes, refrain from interrupting, ask clarifying questions to learn more, and paraphrase back what you heard. If the event was traumatic, your partner may need to tell the story more than once, try to exercise patience and kindness.
IDEAS TO OFFER SUPPORT:
- Stay on your partner's side. "What they did to you was horrible!" instead of "Well, they did give you warning signs that you ignored".
- Remind your partner of their strengths as they may be questioning their worth in the workplace.
- Is there anything I can do to help?
Ups, Downs, Twists, and Loops of the Job Search Process
We need to keep the momentum going to get through the next hills and curves! Although it might be nice to ask your partner to pick up extra household chores, run errands, or finally get to the house project list because they might appear to have more time, it can negatively impact job search progress. Think of their job search as a full-time job, perhaps weekday hours of 8:00a - 5:00p work with an hour lunch break. They may need to get out of the house to minimize distractions at a local coffee shop, library, or even rent a short-term office space.
Time may need to be devoted to research and/or career exploration. Perhaps this transition could allow your partner to go after their dream job? They need to learn about the market, what skills are needed, and how to get connected. Encourage your partner to learn more! What if they could work in a job or a company they've always dreamt of - could you imagine how that sense of fulfillment and happiness could trickle across other areas of life?
You may be a fantastic, amazing, or beautiful writer but resume writing might be best left to a career counselor, career coach or resume writer. Resumes are constantly changing and these professionals are up-to-date with the latest trends to best assist your partner.
Yes, we can apply to jobs online but the rate of success is only about 10% are hired through applying online only. Instead of asking, "how many jobs did you apply to today?" you could ask, "did you connect with anyone interesting today?".
Over 70% of people gain job leads through WHO they know.
The job search process could take 3-6+ months from initial conversations to an employment offer, depending on the industry and level of position, to find the right FIT. It could take weeks to get a phone interview, a few more weeks to get an in-person interview, then more time for additional in-person interviews and/or presentations before a final job offer is extended.
IDEAS TO OFFER SUPPORT:
- Encourage connection to a credentialed career counselor, coach or mentor.
- Help your partner see progress when they feel down. Instead of saying "It's been 4 weeks and you've only had 2 interviews" try, "Every job you apply to and conversation you have is one step closer to getting to your next career. I'm proud of you and how resilient you are. The next company will be lucky to have a person like you!".
- Is there anyone I can connect you with?
Celebrate the Journey
It's been a whirlwind of a ride, you regain your breath, give high fives and hugs, and leave the roller coaster cart with excitement for what's next. WE made it through, together!
This ride has had ups and downs, uncertainty, and doubts but you saw it through until the end, deepening your connection with your partner and celebrating their newfound sense of identity.
When your partner shares their success with you - together, make the sound of ultimate happiness! 1...2...3... GO!
Having experienced job loss myself, as tough as it was, it was necessary to shift into new opportunities and different directions. Yes, I still have moments of self-doubt, flashbacks, and remember the exact date of being terminated, although time does help to heal. Today, I can say with confidence that I'm grateful for the experience, I learned a lot about myself and have more to give others going through something similar. I wouldn't be where I am today without it!