The experience of a layoff is difficult for any marriage. My wife was laid off in January, and like many in my position I looked hard for ideas on what I should do to help. Internet searches yielded two kinds of articles: 1) posts from career counselor types who had some decent general advice, but which often lacked the grit and specificity of those who were dealing with the challenge personally, and 2) posts from people who were in the midst of helping a currently laid off spouse, but were using the medium to cope with their current grief, and were not yet sure what was working.
One of our happiest days as a couple was when my wife called me earlier this month to say she’d been offered the new job she wanted. Now that she’s landed, I am reflecting on what worked and what didn’t on my part in helping her get there. This is not to exaggerate my role. My wife was the one who tolerated being alone in our suburban home for almost nine months, experienced all sorts of rejection during her search, located the ad for the job she now has, wrote and sent in the application, and was successful in two rounds of interviews with a full slate of candidates. That being said, I learned in the process that there were things I could do as a partner that could help:
Accept that there will be a grieving period. If your spouse worked for a particular employer or in a given field for a number of years, there will be a need to grieve. Accept that this will happen and that fighting it is counterproductive. Different people will grieve in different ways, most of which will involve minimal or no job searching. Having seen the process—and how it can end happily—I believe that it is entirely reasonable for someone to go for a month with minimal attention to the job search, like making an initial visit to an outplacement service, and then gradually transitioning into the search in the second month, if you can afford it. (Outplacement services may allow the job seeker to pause their subscription so the grieving period will not count against the period of assistance the outplacement service is under contract for.)
Help your spouse identify matters that require immediate attention after the layoff. Important benefits your family needs may have been tied to your spouse’s employment, like health and life insurance. A vital way you can help in the beginning is by figuring out what needs to be done to replace them. There may be some silver lining here too. When I looked at life insurance options, I found a source that could provide term life insurance at a fraction of what my wife’s former company offered.
Identify the skills you have to help in the job search and apply them. Two people skillfully working together in a job search can be more effective than one. Whether your forte is networking, doing research, or something else, applying your skills to help your spouse is far more likely to advance the ball than just nagging. Since I am familiar with the Internet and write a lot, it was natural for me to help my wife set up her Linkedin.com account, and help revise and edit her job search correspondence.