How To Handle Relationship Strain From Your Partner Being Unemployed

No matter what's going on in the economy, layoffs are always a possibility. Granted, they're more common when, oh, the world is in the middle of a global pandemic (as we saw in 2020). But even when things seem fine, someone can find themselves suddenly without a job. Sometimes companies downsize, some turn to automation instead of people, and sometimes it can come down to bad management on the part of the owners. Nothing in life is permanent, especially the stuff we really wish was.


While losing a job is an awful predicament to find yourself in, having a partner who's recently lost theirs is just as awful. You'll have to manage how you're going to deal with your partner's ego being busted, and all the other emotions that come with it.

"We live in a society and culture where much of our identity and sense of worth is defined by the work we do," therapist Melody Li tells CNBC. "When it comes to losing a job, it's so much more than losing the income. It also means losing a routine, a sense of regularity, relationships we've formed and feeling, 'If I'm not doing this job and providing for my family, what is my purpose?'"

Although this conversation with your partner is something that's likely to come up more than a few times, stress will also be an overall part of it. It's something that you and your partner will have to work through together until they find employment again.


Don't freak out

It will definitely be a shock if your partner comes home and tells you that they're unemployed. But the worst thing you can do is freak out, overact, or — worst of all — play the blame game. Of course, it's undoubtedly terrifying to suddenly have one less paycheck coming in or (if your partner was the breadwinner, no paycheck coming in). But having a meltdown isn't going to help the situation. If anything, it will only add to your partner's emotional and mental state at that moment.


Research published in the National Library of Medicine has found that unemployment can cause lasting physiological health effects that surpass just general stress and anxiety — both of which already take a physical toll. Naturally, the longer your partner remains unemployed, the worse these symptoms can become. If you need to freak out for your own mental health release, do it on your own time — not in front of your partner.

Listen to your partner

While we often associate grief with death, that's not the only time people experience this emotion. When someone loses their job, they're very likely to grieve that loss too. Even if your partner didn't particularly care for their job — or outright hated it — it's still a loss because of the time and energy that had been invested. As humans, we must grieve our losses in order to move forward.


"Grief is the price we pay for loving someone, or investing our feelings heavily in a job or a business," psychiatrist Dr. Paul McLaren tells Priory Group. "It's part of the deal. If you gain from being close, or heavily invested in something or someone, then you grieve when that is taken away."

As your partner goes through the process of grieving, they may need you to listen to them cry, vent, or express their disappointment and anger. Everyone grieves in different ways, so it's important to really listen to your partner and what they have to say about the loss, as well as how it's affecting them.

Help them find other things they love

Sometimes being laid off or losing a job can be a blessing in disguise. As much as it may be scary in the moment from a financial standpoint, this might actually be the opportunity for your partner to figure out what they really want to do with their life.


"Help them see the silver lining," career coach Danielle Gonzalez tells Bustle. "This does not necessarily mean bring up the struggles and negative aspects of their previous job, but point out the positives of them no longer being in that position ... Take this supposedly bad situation and use it as an opportunity to try something new."

Similar to breaking up with someone, this is your partner's chance to practice oystering and really get to the bottom of who they are and what they really want. It's not as though we come around this way twice. Helping them find that silver lining and letting it inspire them is essential. 

Remind them of their strengths

Because your partner is struggling emotionally and mentally, you want to make sure you take the time to remind them of their strengths. Remind them of everything that they not only brought to their past job(s), but will bring to any future job that comes their way. Your partner's self-esteem needs that boost. They need to know that they have intrinsic worth, and that their worth isn't affected by whether or not they're employed. 


Focusing on everything they bring to the table, on both a professional and personal level, will help them stay looking toward the future. It will help them avoid slipping into depression and giving up — something that can happen when people are unemployed longer than they expected to be. So remind them how they're a great partner, a loving parent, an amazing tennis player, a fantastic chef, a supportive friend and sibling, and all the other wonderful things about them. If you have to, remind them of at least one good thing every day so they can keep their head up and move forward. 

Positively distract them

When people have been in the workforce for a long time or have had the same job since, well, before Google was invented, some can forget who they were. They may need help connecting to what they loved before they devoted so much time to work. Now that work has been eliminated from the equation, it's time to remind them of the world that exists outside that office.


"Distraction helps," board-certified psychiatrist, couples counselor, and sex educator at NYU Langone Health Sue Varma tells Vice. "Plan a date, some activity, or a place that reminds them that there is more to life than their job or reminds them who they were outside."

Eventually, your partner will be employed again. Instead of only seeing the negative in their job loss, work together to see the upsides to it. Although, yes, we need jobs for our financial security and obligations in life — and not having that consistent income can be daunting — we all are much more than our jobs. Our lives should reflect that whenever the opportunity arises.