If you Google resources about marriage and unemployment, you will find a lot of great stuff – for the spouse who is unemployed. Unfortunately, there aren’t so many resources for the employed spouse.
I came by my status as “the one with a job” pretty organically. My husband began looking for a job during his last year of law school. When he didn’t find one right away, we moved to Chicago so he could take the Bar here and keep looking.
He passed the Bar and was admitted as an attorney. “Certainly” we thought. “Finding a job will be that much easier.”
Spoiler alert! It hasn’t been easy. At all. We’re ten months post-law school now and still looking. There have been highs and lows and the stress-level around here is palpable. Thankfully, we haven’t resorted to picking on each other or having knock down drag out fights in the alley. Moreover, we are extremely lucky to have a supportive family network.
In case you were wondering, here are a few things that I’ve learned about being the employed one:
- Nobody cares how you feel.
It’s really harsh when you put it like that, but in my experience, it’s been the truth. Nobody cares how I feel. However, they do care about how “sad” or “frustrated” or “exhausted” Bret must feel. I know they mean well, but sometimes I want to stamp my feet and say “But what about me?! Why doesn’t anyone care how I feel?” Fortunately for all involved, I’ve grown out of temper tantrums.
Instead of having public meltdowns, we’ve instituted a household policy where I get to be as upset as I want sometimes and Bret has to just roll with it. He doesn’t get to counter with how upset he is. After I finish with my crying jag, I perk up and go back to being the supportive wife and friend.
- Your spouse’s unemployment is not a reason to slack off around the house.
It would be so easy for me to completely turn over all housework to my husband. In fact, on busy work weeks, I have. However, I’ve always done the laundry and cleaned the bathrooms and made the meal plan. It’s not fair for me to stop doing those things. Just because he’s unemployed doesn’t mean that he’s my housekeeper.
- At the same time, your spouse’s unemployment does not entitle them to completely check out on the housework.
Conversely, I refuse to let Bret’s unemployment turn our relationship into one where he mopes all day while I run around to keep up with the necessary household chores. He still cleans the bunny cage, vacuums and handles all the car maintenance. (Have I mentioned that I’m bad at cars?) Even better, he knows that sometimes, I’m going to ask him to pitch in a little bit more because he has the time.
- Constant communication is important.
There was a time, back when Bret was in law school and I was working in a shoe store, that he looked at me and said “Hey, the rent is due tomorrow and I’m basically out of loan money, you can write the check right?” I wrote the check, but it took some doing (and a small loan from a friend). It was a panicked 24 hours.
It wasn’t that we didn’t have the money, it was that he was completely unaware of when my paydays were. That was entirely my fault because I didn’t communicate that information to him. These days, we make sure to check in on financial issues often so we don’t miss payments, have unnecessary fights or – y’know – get evicted.
- Picking someone or something to be mad at is incredibly cathartic.
…as long as it isn’t your spouse.
Over the course of the past ten months, I’ve been mad at everyone from my mother-in-law to my husband’s high school debate coach to the career services center at the law school. Of course, I never tell any of these people this, but choosing a random new target for my mental rage helps me let out my frustration without pinning it all on my husband.
Dealing with an unemployed spouse is an all-around pretty terrible experience. However, I have found a few positive elements to focus on. For example, we’ve been able to spend more time with our grandparents at the holidays and during the summer because we can travel whenever we want. We can visit museums in the middle of the afternoon and we’ve gotten to spend a lot of “quality time” together since Bret is home all day.
You never know, I might actually miss him when he goes back to work.