Murphy’s Love: The Emotional Chaos of Unemployment
My husband was laid off from his job last year and spent eight months looking for some- thing in his old profession (consulting). He finally took a job in sales over the summer, but is now making 30 percent less with this new job and is spending a lot more time at work. We knew all of this before he decided to take the job, and we both said we would live with these challenges, because he really needed to do something.
I’m not writing for advice about how to deal with this life change. It’s a major change, and we’re dealing with it. What I need is advice about how to approach this with our friends and family. My husband has not even allowed me to tell my parents he found a new job. He hasn’t told his own family yet, and we aren’t talking about it with friends or people at our child’s school, all of whom knew he was laid off, have been kind and have asked how things have been going. He tells me that this job is just a “place- holder,” and he doesn’t want people to think that he has changed careers. Someone gave him the advice that it might prevent people from think- ing of him when it comes to jobs in his preferred field. Whether or not I think that’s valid advice (sorry, I really don’t), it’s making it very difficult when people ask me what’s going on. He doesn’t seem to understand that I get that question a lot more often than he does, and that just changing the subject doesn’t work every time. –Nothing to Say
Dear Nothing to Say,
First, I am very sorry that your family is dealing with this incredibly difficult situation. You are specifically asking for help with managing the outside view of this experience, and that part really sounds like a public relations night- mare. You are the involuntary spokesperson for this organization (aka your family), and as in most corporate crises, your partner (Husband) is too frazzled to really understand the role you’re playing. So I’d advise you to get out of that job. First, though, a little perspective on what Husband might actually be going through. To me, this sounds like a grief stage – denial. I know we have covered this topic in this space before, but Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous five stages of grief (denial, anger, bar- gaining, depression and acceptance) often don’t occur in a manner that is at all linear or time- limited. It is likely that your husband went back to mourning his previous job upon making the decision to take his new position. No matter how upfront and honest you both were about the results of taking a job that requires more time to pay less money, that decision still has its emo- tional shockwaves. Asking you, demanding you to play the PR role with your friends and family is likely part of his denial process.
The good news is that his denial is a process. The bad news is that his denial is his process, so we can’t just talk him out of it or convince him of some new way of looking at it. What we can do is give you some language for excusing yourself from mouthpiece duty.
When those well-meaning folks ask you about his job search, you do not have to lie. Simply follow his script. Say he’s found a place- holder, but that he’s still interested in finding something in XYZ consulting. Then shift the conversation by asking if the person has any leads. You never know, that person just may be waiting for you to ask.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed profes- sional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.stacymurphyLPC.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @StacyMurphyLPC. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.