Losing your job is tough, especially if it happens suddenly. Whether it’s your dream job or an interim one, you’ll probably experience many emotions if you’re suddenly let go — anger, frustration, worry, second-guessing yourself and your job skills, and so on. But what if it’s your partner who has lost their job — how can you support them?
This topic has been a storyline on NBC’s This Is Us. When Beth Pearson suddenly loses a job she’s had for several years, she tries to hold herself together, but in recent episodes, the stress got the better of her. She ends up telling Randall that she’s been acting like she’s OK, but she’s not.
“When your partner loses their job, it can be a scary and emotional time for both of you,” Danielle Gonzalez, career coach with Ama La Vida, tells Bustle. “Although it can bring instability, tension, and doubt into your lives, it is important that you stay positive and show support to help your partner process this loss.” She says that doing this can help them rebuild their confidence and make progress toward their next position, as well as strengthen each of you individually and together, too.
Like Gonzalez says, being supportive is key. Below, experts weigh in on how to support your partner if they lose their job, because it can happen to anybody, anytime.
Listening is important in any relationship, but it’s a particularly important skill when it comes to supporting your partner if they lose their job. “Actively listen while they vent,” Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. “This gives your significant other a chance to talk about all the things that are going on in their head in a safe and secure place.”
She also says not to try to fix what’s going on or offer solutions at this point, but to just listen and be as supportive as you can be to them.
Lauren Dummit, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-founder and clinical director at Triune Therapy Group, agrees. “Allow your partner to tell you what happened without interrupting,” she tells Bustle. “Sometimes, the best gift we can give someone is just to be fully present with them while they are sharing something emotional. Eye contact or simple gestures of connection, like holding the other’s hand, can demonstrate that we are fully present.”
She says that while sitting with intense emotions can be uncomfortable, you often may not know how to respond, but just listening without judgment and with your full attention is often enough.
“Sometimes, someone just needs to vent without the other person trying to fix it or tell them what to do,” she says. “You might ask your partner if they would prefer for you to just listen of if they would like you to help them problem-solve.”
When your partner loses their job, they’re probably going through a range of emotions, from sadness to disappointment. Or perhaps they’re even relieved. But, in any case, they’re likely experiencing a lot at once.
“It’s important to let them feel their feelings,” McBain says. “They may be feeling sad or scared or mad, and all of those emotions are theirs to feel.” She says they also may even be feeling shocked and detached from their emotions right after the job loss, and that’s fine, too. “Just be as supportive as you can to them in this hard time, and validate that however they are feeling is perfectly fine,” McBain says.
Dummit, too, says to validate your partner’s experience, thoughts, and feelings. “This communicates understanding and acceptance — even if you do not necessarily agree with them,” she says. “But it lets them feel that they have a ‘right’ to feel the way they are feeling in response to what happened, and that their response is normal.”
Sometimes, your partner may want alone time versus talking about their job loss, so giving them space is essential. “Give your partner time and space to grieve,” Gonzalez says. “Losing a job can feel like any other significant loss in life, so be empathetic in the ways you support them.”
Dummit, too, thinks giving your partner space is important, in order for them to have their own emotional experience without your influence in trying to change it. “Allow for a period of grief,” she says. “Of course, it is not helpful for them to dwell in self-pity for too long, but a period of sadness is appropriate.”
She adds that if you are constantly trying to cheer them up, they may feel like they need to “fake” that they are OK in order to please you, which can result in them feeling more alone and disconnected from you — and this may eventually lead to resentment.
As Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another door opens…” It may be difficult for your partner to see this immediately, but at least they’ll now have time to explore other interests and passions they have.
“In addition to giving them space to heal from the loss, give them space and permission to dream big and be creative,” Gonzalez says. “Take this supposedly bad situation and use it as an opportunity to try something new.” She says this could be just the perfect time for them to explore other passions they have.
There’s a difference between encouraging your partner to find a new job versus telling them what they should be doing in a bossy manner.
“Losing a job can feel like rejection, so during a time where your significant other is sorting out their emotions and processing the situation, it is important that you are a source of encouragement and not stepping into the position of ‘boss,’” Gonzalez says. “Help them move forward without being on their case or telling them what they should be doing to get a new job.”
Even if your partner lost their job due to budget cuts — it was nothing personal — it’s still probably not an easy thing to accept.
“It can still be a huge blow to their confidence,” Gonzalez says. “Help rebuild their confidence by reminding them of their strengths and why they are so valuable to an employer.” She says you can also encourage them to make a list of things they are good at.
Even though your partner probably doesn’t like that they were laid off, perhaps they were not truly happy at their job anyway. Or maybe they were content, but actually wanted to explore other careers — and having been let go now gives them the opportunity to do so.
“Help them see the silver lining,” Gonzalez says. “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.” She adds that maybe this could be a season of rest that they desperately needed, or perhaps they’re finally able to go on a trip or visit family they haven’t been able to see recently. “No matter how difficult a situation, there is always a silver lining,” Gonzalez says.
If your partner lost their job, it’s helpful to be empathetic, not just sympathetic. “Unlike sympathy, which simply means feeling pity for someone who is undergoing some type of hardship, empathy promotes compassion,” Dummit says. “Pity can result in the other feeling less-than or small — and can even feel shaming.”
She says that some qualities of empathy and compassion are patience, wisdom, and kindness, and these can promote perseverance.
There’s nothing worse than having an unsupportive partner, especially in times like this — job loss. “Let them know that you’re in this together,” McBain says. “Help them to not feel so alone, and remind them that you’re part of the same team.”
She says you can also tell them you’ll work together to figure things out financially.
“When your partner is ready to get into action, offer to help them brainstorm and create a plan,” Dummit says. “Whether the plan involves creating a new budget, exploring ways to cut down on expenditures, or searching for a new job, feeling as if you are on board can help relieve some of the burden of responsibility on your partner.” She says that this also involves expressing any realistic concerns regarding the impacts of the job loss with tact instead of blaming or shaming your partner.
Gonzalez agrees. “After they’ve had some time to process this loss and have begun their job search, help them define goals and be an accountability partner for them,” she says. “This is a delicate balance — you don’t want them to feel it’s nagging or accusatory, so if it seems to be shifting in that direction, engage a career coach or another professional who can help with this.”
Everyone processes things differently, so McBain suggests that you simply ask your partner how you can best support them and what they need from you. She says to consider: Would they like some time alone to process everything? Would they like to go for a walk and talk? Would they like you to pick up their favorite meal from the restaurant down the street? “Ask them what they need and then follow through and be supportive of them,” McBain says.
Gonzalez says to ask yourself how you’d want to be supported in a similar situation. “When you’re at a loss with how to be an encouragement to them, put yourself in their shoes,” she says.
To this point, Dummit says that doing acts of kindness for your partner is important, especially at this time. “When we are feeling down, simple acts of kindness can be really touching and remind us that we are still loved,” she says. “Going out of your way to do something nice for your partner can be a sweet expression of love and affirm your support.”
Similarly, Dummit says that reminding your partner of all the things you love about them — by pointing out their strengths — can allow them to realize they are not their job. “It is even harder to find a new job when we are not feeling confident about ourselves, and this will help them keep a positive attitude,” she says.
Even if your partner is job-hunting 24/7, they need a break sometimes, and so do you. “Go do something fun together,” Gonzalez says. “Take the reins and plan a date night — sometimes, they’ll just need to get their mind off of their situation, even for just a few hours.” She adds that it will not only be a memory that you make together, but it will show them that you truly care about them more than you care about their job title. “It will also show them the amount of value you place on them,” Gonzalez says.
Dummit agrees that doing an activity — such as taking a class, working on a project or volunteering, or taking a trip together — can help boost your partner’s spirits. “This can not only provide a distraction from the negative feelings associated with job loss, but by taking advantage of the extra time, this can help one make meaning of their experience and maybe even evoke gratitude,” she says. “Plus, it can also provide an opportunity to strengthen your relationship.”
As you can see, there are several ways you can help support your partner when they lose their job, just as you’d want to be supported if you lose yours.