May 15, 2024
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My Husband Is Emotionally Distant Since He Lost His Job

Dear Dr. Chani,

Coronavirus has hit my family hard. Not medically, but financially. My husband was laid off from his job two months ago, and it has been torture. I am not even talking about the financial loss. (We have been living off of our dwindling savings and that has been so difficult.) What drives me crazy is how my husband has reacted. Our relationship has undergone tremendous stress.

My husband is distant and hard to converse with. He is always on edge. Almost anything my kids or I do can set him off. He will get upset, blame me (or them), and wonder how I do not plainly see what I did wrong.

He often leaves the house for hours at a time. Sometimes I have no idea where he is. He spends a lot of time, especially late at night, with one of his closest friends.

I want to reach out to him and be there for him. I also want our marriage to survive this hurdle. I acknowledge that I am under stress, too. That makes it even harder. I am concerned that this crisis is making us more distant from each other, and I wish we could deal better with this stress.

Sincerely,

Ayala

Dear Ayala,

Job loss is extraordinarily difficult. As you notice, you and your family are undergoing a significant level of stress because your husband lost his job. Part of this stress comes from the financial impact of unemployment. It is extremely difficult to deal with how to cover your bills and the uncertainty about when you will get a new job. Yet, as you describe, the greatest stress can come from the impact that job loss has on a person’s relationships. It affects the person’s relationship with himself and his relationships with the people who are closest to him.

Job loss creates a deep void in a person’s life. It is a real loss for your husband, similar to what he would feel if he had lost a person dear to him. It sounds like your husband is struggling with managing his emotions in the face of this devastating loss. He manifests this feeling of loss by acting unusually irritable and emotionally withdrawn from you and your children.

You have undergone a loss, too. Not only did you lose the income your husband’s job generated, but to some extent, you lost a part of your husband as well.

Similarly, when your husband lost his job, he may also have felt that he lost a part of himself. A person’s job is usually more than just the way he gets a salary. It is often connected to his identity. People often acknowledge this by saying, “I am a banker at such-and-such firm,” or “I am an accountant.” When your husband was laid off, he may have felt like a part of him went missing. The resulting trauma can deeply affect how he thinks, feels, and functions from day to day.

One of the ways that you can emotionally support your husband through this difficult time is to help him separate his identity from his job. That begins with you. Start by working on your ability to accept your husband for who he is, and to separate who he is from his job. Ask yourself, “Who is my husband aside from his job? What are his qualities, talents and strengths that I appreciate as his wife?” Internalize that your husband is the same person, even though he is currently unemployed. Then find ways to share your appreciation with him. Compliment him for qualities you love that are unrelated to his work. He needs to be reminded about how much you value him, no matter what happens to his job.

Another factor that may be causing your husband to withdraw from you and spend a lot of time away from home is that he feels guilty for causing you stress. He may feel that he needs to protect you from the pain, worry and shame that he is experiencing. He may not want to add to your burden by unloading his negative feelings on you.

Can you help your husband with his feelings of loss, shame, and guilt? That depends on you. Be honest with yourself about what you feel you can bear and how much you are able to support your husband through this challenge. If you feel you can hold his emotions and share his burden with him, let him know you are available to listen to him. Gently invite him to talk. Ask him about how he is feeling, how he is coping, and how you can help. If, on the other hand, you feel that you are unable to listen to him and hold his emotions, you can still continuously let him know you care about him. Furthermore, encourage him to speak to the people who can serve as his support system. This includes his family members, friends and a therapist.

In addition, you may need your own support system. Whether or not you are able to be your husband’s primary emotional support, you may find it helpful to have your own people to speak to about your feelings during this period of instability and loss.

Another powerful way to draw your husband closer to you during this crisis is to face this challenge as a team. Do not approach the crisis as “You lost your job,” or “How are you going to find a new job?” Instead, be sensitive to your choice of language when you discuss the situation. Use words that convey that you are going through this together. For example, “This is so hard for US.” “How can WE find ways to get through this?” Strive to convey to your husband that you are “in this together” and you will “get through this together.” He might reject that language in the beginning. Do not be discouraged. Keep at it and you will find it can make a strong impact.

Finally, brainstorm activities that you and your husband can enjoy together, which can take his mind off of his worries. These do not have to be expensive or planned events. Incorporate daily shared activities that you can enjoy together to alleviate the stress that you and your husband are experiencing. Invite him to go with you for a walk, shopping, exercise or to enjoy entertainment together. Help him to get out of thinking about his job all the time and demonstrate to him that there is more to life than a job.

As you adopt a team approach to getting through this challenge, you will discover new sources of strength and hope for your future. I have a feeling you will get through this and your marriage will emerge stronger than ever.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


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].

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