Dear Dr. Chani,
I would love to hear your advice on how I can improve my marriage and my life. The biggest issue I struggle with is that I lost my job and I have not found work for over a year. I feel like I am not living up to my potential and I am letting down my family. Most of the issue is really in my own head since my wife and I do not discuss it.
Until I lost my job, I had been the primary supporter of my family. My wife stayed at home and took care of our children and the house. She was happy to be focused on our family and I was grateful to know that she had everything under control.
Yet, after I was laid off, my initial attempts to find work were unsuccessful. I began to feel less confident and I became very depressed. I could not motivate myself to write another email or send in another application to get lost in the sea of cyberspace.
To her credit, my wife stepped up to the plate and found a job. She gets paid well and we are able to stay afloat financially. I am very proud of her for adapting so quickly to make sure we have what we need.
Yet, I feel bad that my wife has to work so hard. After she comes home from work, she basically does all of the things that she used to do when she stayed at home. I try to help with shopping and watching the children, but I am not as good at everything that she is used to doing.
I am also embarrassed to be staying at home all day. When someone asks me what I do, I am mortified to say I am “in between jobs.” Sometimes I even resent the success that she has at her job, and I wish that things were back to the way they have always been, with me working all day and my wife staying at home.
Part of me would love to speak to my wife about how I feel but I am afraid it will only add to her burden and make her respect me even less. I feel so incapable and so unmasculine. How can I get myself out of this rut?
Thanks for your help,
I am sorry to hear about your difficult experience of losing your job and the impact it has had on you and your family. Before we discuss how to resolve your issues, let’s highlight the different aspects of the challenge you are facing.
Firstly, losing your job involves much more than a loss of income or a change in routine. It can feel very insulting to be let go. It can be hard for us to hear a simple “no” during the course of a day. It is much, much harder to be emphatically told that you need to leave your job. You may experience it as an affront to you as a person or to your work in the organization. That emotional blow is significant in and of itself.
Secondly, you feel like you are not living up to your potential. It sounds like you know that you have certain capabilities and talents. Right now, they are not being used. It can feel frustrating and lonely when your talents are not being recognized.
Thirdly, you feel like you are letting down your family. You had expected to always be the one to provide for them financially. Now that you are unable to do so, you may feel like you failed. You might even be concerned that they wonder why you are not able to provide for them and if you are incompetent.
Fourthly, you feel that your wife’s respect for you has been diminished. You imagine that she sees you as unmanly because you have not succeeded in finding a job. It is hard for you to talk to her about it, so you wonder about this in silence and solitude.
It can be helpful to take a step back from your situation and reflect on how your negative moods might be both a result of and a catalyst for your circumstances. You feel like less of a person and in a negative mood because you have not succeeded in finding a job. Consequently, you feel less motivated to find a job. Then, you feel in a worse mood because you have not succeeded in finding a job. This cycle continues and spirals.
How can you break this cycle? One part of the solution is for you to turn to your wife for her understanding and support. You mention that you are concerned about your wife’s reaction, that she may lose respect for you. Yet, ironically, by not confiding in your wife and sharing your emotional burden with her, your self-image has been deteriorating—so in the long run you are more likely to lose her respect and even more.
Could it be that you worry about her losing respect because you are not used to discussing your problems and struggles with her? If so, maybe the crisis of losing your job, and your ensuing dependency and negative feelings, can serve as a wake-up call for you to strengthen your ability to be vulnerable and to discuss these feelings with your wife.
Relationships are a great gift in life. They can be a source of joy and strength all the time and especially when things are not going well. One aspect of a close relationship is sharing both facts and feelings. Facts are the objective things that go on in life. Feelings refer to the thoughts, emotions and ideas about those facts. If a couple limits most of their conversations to discussing facts, their relationship will be lacking. Relationships are nourished by sharing emotions and thoughts, not just facts.
If you are not used to sharing feelings with each other, it can be helpful to start slowly. You can have a conversation with your wife where you tell her something that happened to you recently, and how you feel about it. Notice your wife’s reaction as you share your feeling. Is she able to listen and appreciate that you are sharing a feeling? If so, how does that feel to you? If not, it can be worthwhile to point out to your wife that you are making an effort to share a feeling with her. Ask her what she thinks about it. See how those conversations go together. They can be some of the greatest investments you give yourself in your relationship.
Eventually, you might want to share with your wife some of your current feelings as you search for a job. As you do, try to be honest; talk about how you feel, and the challenges you face. Let your wife know that you are not expecting her to solve your problems or fix your feelings.
The other issue to tackle is how the loss of a job has affected your identity. You see yourself differently and are concerned that your wife and family do too. You are making an interesting point. People around us often take cues from us about how to look at us. If we view ourselves as lacking identity and as unsuccessful, chances are that the people around us will look at us that way, too. They learn from us.
How can you look at yourself and smile even with the setback you had, and are having? It can be helpful to start differentiating who you are from what you do for a living. Who you are is a composite of many parts of yourself, including your personality, talents, attitudes, values and relationships. What you do for a living is how you make money for your family. Your job can help you feel productive and accomplished, but you can achieve these goals outside of your job as well. We often let what we do for a living become synonymous with who we are. There is a good reason for that. It is an easy answer and one that other people might use. It is easy because it allows us to sum ourselves up—to ourselves—without needing to think too hard. It can be used by others because they often need an easy way to quantify a person or see how he might be of use to them. Despite this common way of thinking about ourselves, it stifles us.
It can be helpful to spend time thinking about who you really are. What is your personality? What are your strengths? Who do you value relationships with? What do you enjoy in life? What can you contribute? The more you appreciate the symphony of all aspects of your life, the less a specific job impacts your identity. When you expand your identity beyond your job, you can approach your job search more confidently, which might make it easier for you to obtain one.
Wishing you much success,
Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional-connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her new online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected].