'My husband is unemployed’

Being unemployed is a difficult experience for the person concerned, but what’s it like to be married to someone who is out of work? Joanne Appleton talks to two women who have supported their husbands during long periods of unemployment.

Abbie Robson’s fiancé lost his job just two weeks before their  wedding . . .,

“John saw supporting me as his new wife as part of his role and identity, so as far as he was concerned he was already failing me as a husband. I didn’t see it like that – I wanted to be with him regardless of anything and being able to communicate was more important than having the money come in. As a counsellor, talking is my job, but I didn’t realise how hard it was for him to talk about it.”

After a month without a job, John took a six-month contract. When that finished, the couple thought it would be easy for him to get something else.

“This just didn’t happen,” says Abbie. “It got to the point where I think he found it quite humiliating. He has a Physics degree from Imperial College, and he was queuing up at the job centre for anything that was going – and still not getting anything. It gets quite frustrating being told you're over qualified for things. You just don't know where to turn.

“One company raised his hopes after interview, even to the extent of being asked to consider what company car he'd like, then turned him down for no apparent reason. And every unsuccessful interview just beats you down further.”

Abbie herself faced a dilemma. At the time she was writing a book, Secret Scars, about her experience of recovery from self harm, and setting up a charity to support others in a similar situation. Given they were struggling financially, should she carry on with what she felt God had called her to do, or leave it and look for a job along with John?

“It was a real struggle,” she recalls. “Following a specific calling seems easy in theory, but in practice it was a constant battle, and I questioned whether God knew what he was doing most days.

“We decided to move from London to Rugby, and this was totally overseen by God. We made a profit on our house, which really helped, but being in a new place and not knowing anyone had its downside. We both got quite depressed about the situation, which left us quite lethargic.

“The new house needed quite a lot of decorating, but we just couldn’t get ourselves to do anything. It got to the point where we didn’t really do anything but sit around and watch TV – it felt so hopeless. I was writing every day, but felt bad about doing something so unhelpful to the situation, while at the same time feeling guilty by being so excited about it.”

After eight months of unemployment, John found a job with a company in Cambridge.

“It was such a relief when they offered him the job, I just burst into tears,” remembers Abbie. “We slept 14 hours that night, which shows how stressed we’d been!

“Looking back I think my faith has got stronger through the experience. I spent so much time wondering what God was doing, and why he didn’t come though when we needed him, but in reality he did give us what we needed – we had savings, friends and each other.  At no point did I question my relationship with John or wonder if marrying him was a huge mistake, even though we’d been married less than a year and I found him quite depressing and frustrating to be around!

“I think we realised that if we could get through those eight months, we could get through anything. It taught us how to care for each other, and talk to each other and encourage each other. We also appreciate what we have much more now than if we'd never been through it – everything is a blessing rather than just something we have. We have an added strength now because of what we went through.

Kate Davies works as a solicitor, and was returning to work from maternity leave when her husband Andy was made redundant . . .

Andy had left a permanent job in order to complete a Masters degree, but subsequently found it difficult to find a job matching his skills. After working in an unskilled job (alongside someone with a PhD!), he became manager in another company. That job however, lasted less than a month.

“I assumed Andy would get another job easily,” remembers Kate, “but in the end it took 51 weeks! He registered with several agencies who promised work in this country, but kept offering us overseas contracts. We really didn’t want to go down this route, as we had a toddler and a new baby.  He applied for several jobs but often didn’t even get an acknowledgement. It was disheartening to see how long it took and how much his confidence was undermined.”

Kate didn’t want to give up the children’s place at nursery, in case Andy got a job quickly and they couldn’t arrange other suitable childcare, although she worried about being able to pay the nursery fees. In addition, the couple had just moved house and taken on a bigger mortgage.

“We’ve always tried to save and never got into debt, which was just as well,” says Kate. “I have always felt financially responsible for the household and that feeling just intensified – nursery fees and a bigger mortgage were a big worry. Andy did do a bit more around the house, but I was responsible for the children in the same way as if he was out at work.

“Andy’s job situation was an added pressure on top of everything else life throws at you. When it first happened I was optimistic, then I was frustrated, then it just became the way things were. While I didn’t lose my faith, there were times when I wondered what God was up to! My mother was a huge support, and prayed regularly that he would get a job.

“In the end, Andy took a contract for six months, working in the North of Scotland, which meant he was only at home on Saturdays and Sundays. He then experienced several short more periods of unemployment before finally getting a permanent job.”

(Kate’s name has been changed)

How to support your husband

Bridie Collins is the Head of Relationship and Marriage Education at Marriage Care, a national charity dedicated to supporting marriage and family life.

Losing a job is about more than losing employment. Your husband may experience feelings of loss of status, money or career.

They may believe themselves to be useless or worthless, with low confidence and lack of motivation to find something else. Sometimes these emotions are too painful to cope with, and are projected onto you, so that everything becomes your fault.’

You may also experience feelings of loss – for example if your status has changed because your husband no longer holds the same position in the community. Work is an important part of people’s identity, so how you perceive your husband may change. Added to this there are the financial worries and the fear that things might never get better.

You may be thrown together much more. If you have children, your husband might get involved in issues such as discipline that were formerly your remit only. This can lead to you feeling resentful about losing power within the family.

The most important thing to do is talk to each other about how you are feeling. If you have developed good communication patterns over the years, this can help.  Try to be positive and maintain a sense of humour, and use the opportunity to strengthen your relationship. You could find a new shared interest – something you didn’t have time to do beforehand.

While it might be tempting to point out jobs in the paper to your husband, you’ve got to judge the situation.  It’s normal for there to be a period of mourning, where they lose motivation, but this isn’t necessarily permanent. Allow them to mourn and come to terms with their loss before building for the future. Take your cues from them – talk if they want to, but don’t push.

* For more information, contact Marriage Care, 1 Blythe Mews, Blythe Road, London W14 0NW  Tel:020 7371 1341  or visit www.marriagecare.org.uk