After a 10-minute conversation with my boss, my family lost one-third of our household income. I smiled as I stood and walked out of the conference room, but by the time I got to my car I was shaking and in tears. Even when you see a job layoff coming, you can’t fully prepare yourself for the moment it hits.
It was even harder to relay the news to my husband. Through sobs, I expressed every fear gripping me: How would we pay our bills? How long would it take to find another job? Did we have enough in savings? What if I didn’t find a job soon? What if …?
Just two years prior, I had come home mid-day to see my husband’s truck in the driveway. That was our first experience with job layoffs. I was seven months pregnant with our second child and started crying the moment I saw the look on his face.
Losing a job is hard because it’s rarely just your career taking a blow. Your plans, finances, and dreams are all suddenly under fire. Even your faith in God and sense of worth can feel in question.
But what about when your spouse faces a layoff? How do you support them when you’re facing your own worries about your family’s future?
How to help when your spouse faces a layoff
It’s hard to know exactly what to do when your spouse loses their job. You want to be supportive, but you also have your own set of worries and concerns swirling in your head. You worry if your own income will be enough. Or if you’ll need to find a part-time job to help make ends meet. I’ve been on both sides of job loss—neither is easy.
More than anything right now, don’t stress either of you with trying to come up with the perfect thing to say. Your unwavering presence says plenty. It conveys “We’re in this together,” and helps lift the burden of loneliness your spouse is likely feeling.
My husband and I learned how to support each other through trial and error (probably more error) when we walked through our own experience. But every spouse and every situation is different. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can offer support when your spouse faces a layoff.
1. Let them grieve their job loss.
I enjoyed my job and the work I did. Well-meaning comments of “it’s just a job” didn’t help. It felt like I left behind a piece of me when I walked out the company’s door for the last time. I needed some time to let myself feel the weight of that before I could move on.
Unless your spouse completely loathed their job and coworkers and you have healthy savings to fall back on, chances are your spouse will need to grieve the loss of their job. Be supportive of that.
Expect a few mood swings and have a little more patience with your spouse right now. Yes, they will likely need to start searching for a job soon, and you probably need to work out a temporary budget. But can those conversations wait? Your spouse is hurting. Give them a moment to take a breath before diving into rearranging vacation plans, filing for unemployment, or cutting the cable.
And respect their need for privacy right now. When they are ready to change their job status on Facebook they will. They might not be ready for everyone to know.
2. Offer encouragement, not instruction.
When my husband lost his job, I took it upon myself to be his job-search assistant. I had alerts set up on most career sites to be the first to know when something in his line of work became available. And then I sent those results in emails and texts. Daily. Y’all, there is a strong link between divorce and job layoffs. And I discovered firsthand why. (It’s a wonder he didn’t block me.)
My husband was already feeling down over losing his job. My attempts to “help” weren’t helpful at all. Instead, it made him think I didn’t have faith in him to do this on his own. Which only made him doubt himself more. He didn’t need my instruction on what I thought he should be doing. He needed my encouragement.
So if your wife brushed up that resume, tell her what a great first step you think that is. If your husband’s been lounging around in pajamas for a couple of days and comes out of the bedroom dressed before noon? Remind him how hot you think he looks in that shirt. Little compliments go a long way at a time like this.
3. Ask how you can help.
From my job-search disaster with my husband, I learned a valuable lesson: Ask him how I can help.
And when I offer that help, don’t push it if he declines. It’s about helping him with his needs, not satisfying my own need to feel useful.
Ask your spouse if there is anything specific you can help with. After being used to working in a kid-free environment, it helped my husband for me to take the kids outside if he needed to sit at the desk to fill out applications or make phone calls. I was used to working from home, so that thought wouldn’t have occurred to me if I hadn’t asked.
4. Help them discover their aptitude.
After our first child was born, I left my 8-5 job. I was hesitant when I told my husband I wanted to go back to school. But he was nothing but supportive and encouraging, even when it meant we didn’t see each other as much due to night classes. With his support, I felt free to seek a completely different career path.
A layoff can be a blessing underneath the layers of pain and loss. A time to refocus your career, your mission, and take that direction you’ve felt God pulling you toward for some time. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul reminds us even when life seems dark, God is never far. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (verses 8-9).
Which brings me to my final point.
5. When your spouse faces a layoff, pray.
When I struggled with what to say to my husband after he lost his job, I prayed. When I feared for our family and finances, I prayed. God gave me enough peace with our situation to not freak out when my anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.
And pray both for and with your spouse. It can feel awkward at times, but the stress of a job loss can be devastating to a marriage. Ask God to draw you closer when life threatens to pull you apart.
After I told my husband about losing my job that day, he didn’t come at me with his own fears for our finances, a list of places I should start applying to, or even the address of the unemployment office. Instead, he offered me his empathy. He’d been there and knew how it felt.
And that was exactly what I needed in that moment.
When your spouse faces a layoff, hold off on the “when God closes a door” speech, or any other cliché, this-is-what-you-should-do-next responses. Instead, just offer yourself, a shoulder to cry on if need be, and some comfort. Decisions can be made another day. Help them through the now.
Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Lisa Lakey is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.