Marriage is work and, although engaged couples rarely envision themselves as a divorce statistic, roughly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. When you ask people what predicts divorce, many say cheating, laziness, or self-centeredness. Those qualities hurt a marriage and prevent healthy growth in the marriage, but they don’t predict divorce as significantly as a husband’s employment status does.
Starting in 1970, a sociology professor began compiling research data on the effects a man’s job security has on the divorce rate. After analyzing 46 years’ worth of data, the study revealed that the one consistent predictor of divorce was the husband’s employment status. This was compared to other predictors, such as marriage infidelity and not sharing household tasks evenly. Their hypothesis is that the husband’s job status matters so much because women are becoming more educated, more independent, and career-oriented. Women want a man who pulls his weight, shares the load, and feels good about himself.
Most wives who answer surveys about the effects of their husband losing his job are conflicted. What begins as a career issue ends up affecting the couple’s marriage on many levels. A marriage can endure hard times, but when resentment, guilt, self-pity, and hostility begin take over your feelings toward your partner, it leads to destruction.
Possible damaging outcomes of an unemployed husband:
Depression and negative self-talk take root. When men get fired or laid off, they become depressed and anxious and feelings of diminished self-worth set it. Wives may interpret this as the husband feeling sorry for himself or being lazy. Many men are raised by their fathers to be the breadwinner for the family.
The loss of income forces their partner to take on more work. Unless the husband is doing housework and helping with the kids, the wife feels overwhelmed, tired, and stressed. Stress turns into anger and resentment if left unresolved.
Intimacy stops. It’s difficult to be attracted to or feel desire for a partner you don’t respect.
Arguing increases. When money issues are tight, every talk is more focused on your lack of money, creating more tension and stress in the marriage. You no longer share your feelings or talk about enjoyable things.
Wives begin comparing their unemployed husband to others. Well-meaning girlfriends in their effort to support their friend may talk badly about their own husband, which can have a powerful influence on a wife who is feeling vulnerable and alone.
How to save your relationship:
The study made it clear that it wasn’t about the loss of income after a husband was fired or laid off, but the change in his attitude that led to divorce. Making changes to how you relate to each other and support each other emotionally can help your marriage survive.
Begin talking about it together. Find a quiet time and place to sit down together. Talk about your situation and make a plan. Try keeping your personal responsibilities the same. For example, if your husband managed the money, he should continue to. Eliminating his responsibilities at home leads to him feeling more guilty and unworthy.
Husbands should use the time at home to get more involved with their kids and help with daily chores. Feeling useful and getting to know your kids helps you build your confidence and stay engaged.
Remember that a job loss causes grief in both partners. Grief is expressed differently in different people. Men may try to be stoic, and women may want to talk about it and process how they’re feeling. Be open to listening to your partner and talking honestly about how you feel. Sharing vulnerability is important to the healing process.
Keep an eye out for signs that you need professional help. Many counseling services are free, so a lack of finances should never be an excuse. If you can’t get out of bed in the morning or your anxiety is so intense you can’t think, you need help. Don’t be embarrassed or unwilling to reach out for professional help.
As soon as possible, begin a job search. It’s difficult when you get fired or laid off, regardless of whether you liked the job. Jobs provide security – financially and socially – which is why men suffer feelings of incompetency without one. However, remember that even a loss can be an opportunity for something better. Use your time to take necessary classes or attend career fairs to network. Communicate each step with your spouse so she feels included and secure with your search.
Couples who talk about their feelings with each other and share the loss of unemployment are doing the real work of love. Marriage isn’t all blue skies and rainbows – it’s hard work. Trusting each other and supporting your partner when they’re down is what makes marriage work. Unemployment cannot break up your family, but becoming a victim of negative self-defeating thoughts and being irresponsible for your situation can.