“Helping Marriage Survive Unemployment: Seven Principles,” Ensign, Apr. 2004, 62
Several years ago my husband was called into his manager’s office and given notice of termination, effective that moment. Jim (name has been changed) had been employed by a large computer firm. “One of the most secure jobs in the nation,” we had thought when he hired on as a manufacturing engineer 26 years earlier. But two years before his layoff, we had begun to hear rumors of “downsizing.” We survived the first two series of layoffs, but then our time ran out. My husband, at age 55, was unemployed.
The shock of unemployment to Jim, as breadwinner of our family, had many dimensions. First there was the sheer adjustment of not having to get up and go to work after more than 30 years of employment. Then there were the physical ramifications, as stress, embarrassment, and worry took their toll. Eating and sleeping patterns became disrupted. Jim also found it hard to interact with ward members and other acquaintances. Social relations often became uncomfortable. “I felt I had lost part of my identity,” Jim said. “When you are in a group of people, conversation almost always starts by someone asking what you do for a living.”
In the months that followed, Jim did the most obvious things: prepare résumés, register with the Church and state employment agencies, respond to newspaper ads, and check the temporary agencies. We prayed a lot.
We counseled together and took inventory of our resources. With his termination, Jim had been given some retirement and severance pay. We had savings and investments and food storage. How grateful I am we had followed the counsel of the Brethren to save for emergencies. Things could have been worse. Still, the added stress and frustration of being out of work affected both of us. In addition, I had taken a sabbatical leave from my school teaching job that year, so we did not have that income to rely on.
Time passed. Engineering jobs with my husband’s experience were scarce, so we began to explore new options. What were Jim’s other interests and abilities? For years he had been interested in finance. He decided to take a tax class. Tax season was approaching and the temporary income, however small, could give him something to work at while he assessed other possibilities.
I never loved Jim more than on the day he received his first paycheck as a tax preparer. It was barely above minimum wage. He showed me the check and began to chuckle. A sense of humor can help in many tense situations.
Putting our trust in Heavenly Father, we continued to pray and explore options. At about that time I learned of a colleague at the elementary school where I had worked who was going to take maternity leave the second half of the school year. I contacted the school about possibly returning from my sabbatical to fill the position. I sighed with relief when my request was approved.
Meanwhile Jim interviewed for available accounting positions. Time after time he was passed over for positions he seemed well qualified to hold. I began to worry about the demoralizing effect of this on his usual optimism. It was the subject of many fervent prayers on my part. Then one day I had lunch with an acquaintance. She knew of our situation and said, “Your husband may not be interested in this, but my church is looking for an accountant.”
Jim had served as both ward and stake financial clerks, so we recognized this as an immediate answer to our prayers. Jim applied and was hired for this part-time job. The pay was meager, but the experience and interaction with the wonderful people of that large denominational church was a welcome blessing to Jim’s sense of self-worth.
Since Jim was working only part time, he was able to take some accounting and engineering classes to increase his experience and update his expertise. Two and a half years later, his résumé attracted the attention of an engineering firm that manufactured medical equipment. He was hired, and a little more than a year later he was promoted to project manager.
Our story was certainly not the worst-case scenario and it had a happy ending, but this does not minimize the stress that losing a job placed on our lives and on our marriage. Looking back on our experience, we have identified seven important lessons learned while dealing with the strains of unemployment:
Exercise faith. Though it took two and a half years for our crisis to be resolved, the Lord guided us to opportunities that made us grow. During that time we were also mindful of the blessings tithing brings. We continued to pay our tenth on earnings, no matter how small. We counted on the promise of Malachi that our vine would not cast its fruit before its time (see Mal. 3:10–11).
Prepare in advance for possible unemployment. Because we had followed prophetic counsel, our savings, investments, and food storage prevented a feeling of panic—something that can be extremely harmful to a marriage. Our reserves enabled Jim to pay tuition to further his education.
Use all resources. Be willing to explore many options. Some of the other men who lost their jobs when Jim did were unable to adjust their thinking to include options other than the kind of job they had been accustomed to. Months of frustration resulted. Jim’s willingness to try new things kept him busy and his focus away from despair.
Take time to nourish your marriage relationship. The spouse of an unemployed person must be sensitive to the trauma that losing a job can be. Resist criticism and the impulse to “fix” things. Unemployment is a problem both partners must work out together through praying and counseling and encouraging.
Develop new skills. Jim kept adding to his pool of skills by taking classes. A class he took in computer-assisted design was a key in landing him a new engineering job in the end.
Take time to do fun things. Jim felt that even though our budget was limited we needed to take time to do some fun things: a walk in the park, a picnic, going out for ice cream. They don’t have to be big things; just enjoying time spent together is beneficial. This did a lot to help distract us from our preoccupation with the lack of gainful employment.
Keep your sense of humor. Jim’s willingness to see the humor of a difficult situation—as when he was able to chuckle over his small paycheck—helped us both keep our perspective.
Unemployment is a traumatic experience for any family. We would not have chosen it “for our growth” or “to make us humble,” but both of these things were products of the experience. Our marriage is stronger for having relied on the Lord as we worked together through the problems and stresses of unemployment.
“Periods of unexpected unemployment can happen to anyone. We should not allow ourselves, when we are out of work, to sit back and wait for ‘our type of job’ if other honorable interim employment becomes available.”
Elder Marvin J. Ashton, “Guide to Family Finance,” Liahona, Apr. 2000, 47.