It starts out so easy. You meet, you date, you fall in love. You stay in love and so you decide to move in together (with or without marriage).
Maybe for awhile it’s a bumpy ride but you work out the kinks and it becomes relatively smooth sailing. You copulate regularly, you divide chores, you co-pay bills. Life moves forward and all is bliss until the day your man comes home with a pink slip, a box of personal effects, and a hangdog look on his face. You are now in a relationship with an unemployed man and the bottom’s about to fall out of your life.
If you’re lucky, it’s just a temporary blip. Maybe your man has a lot of prospects. Maybe he goes into business for himself and is instantly and wildly successful. Maybe he has a special skill set of which there’s a shortage and he is snapped up quicker than you can say employment insurance. If that’s the case, count your blessings— you’ve survived unscathed.
If you’re unlucky, your man’s foray into unemployment will be lengthy and it will wreak havoc on your relationship. If your man, as so many men do, defines himself by his ability to provide for his woman, each day that goes by in which he is not able to do so erodes his ego further. With each bill you pay alone, each job he applies for and doesn’t get, he feels a little bit smaller and a little less powerful. And the smaller he begins to feel the more unruly he will become.
There is no more precarious a position for a woman to be in than to have circumstances make her the breadwinner of her household. You’re caught between the rock of trying to keep your family afloat by yourself and the hard place of doing so without further damaging your man’s already-bruised ego. You decide you’re going have to start tightening your collective belt and ask him to help you find ways to cut back, but he’s not interested. But when you downgrade from sexy to basic cable, you’re accused of trying to run him. You cancel your cleaning lady because you figure he’s home and can help out with the chores? You’re emasculating him. You leave him be and do everything yourself? You’re trying to make him look bad.
At some point during your man’s unemployment he’s going to get dejected. He’ll be discouraged by resumes sent out and not responded to, insulted by offers of junior positions whose duties are tasks he once had his assistant do. You feel for him, you really do, so you try to soothe him with soft words and impassioned speeches about how this is only temporary, he will find his way, everything happens for a reason. But all your gentle encouragement is met with is brusque responses and aggravation.
After one too many attempts to encourage someone who clearly doesn’t want to be encouraged, you come to the end of your rope. So the next time you come home and find him sitting on the couch with his hand in his pants Al Bundy-style talking about it was too cold to look for work today, you lose your patience. You raise your voice. You remind him of bills that are going unpaid and credit scores dropping faster than a whore’s panties. You lay into him, hoping that this reality check will galvanize him into action. But your impassioned pleas that he try something different or reevaluate his strategy are only met with his anger at you for not believing in him, his disappointment at your lack of faith, his frustration with your suggestion that he compromise his standards.
At this point, you’re out of ideas. You’ve tried everything you can to be supportive and encouraging and to make him feel like he’s still the head of the house even though you both know that (s)he who holds the purse strings holds the reins. So you give up. You stop talking. You find excuses to be out of the house more. When you come home you eye the unwashed dishes, the mounds of dirty laundry, sigh as you start the dinner that he should have had waiting on the table for you. But you don’t say anything because these days the slightest thing can ignite the powder keg of his frustration and you don’t have the energy to argue anymore. So you sigh loudly and flop onto your side of the bed as he sighs loudly and flops onto his, the weight of his unemployment wedged firmly between you.
Unlike my usual posts, I have no declarations to make on this subject. This won’t be one of my badly-numbered guides to successfully surviving your man’s unemployment. A friend of mine recently asked me for tips on how to deal with her unemployed husband. “What should I do, Cam?” she asked me. “Girl I don’t know,” I told her. “Just put your head down and get through it I guess.”