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Coping when hubby is unemployed

Lately we find that we’re spending a considerable amount of time dealing with disintegrating marriages as a result of women who can no longer cope with their husbands forced to be at home due to income loss.

There aren’t many words to describe what happens in the life of a responsible husband with all the abilities, experience, education and attitude to suddenly lose his ability to provide. He typically feels that his very manhood and identity are stripped away, and can do very little about it.

The increased need for support and compassion was explained to us by one unemployed husband, who said, “One of the things you feel when you’re unemployed is you’re hypersensitive to disrespect much more because you’re feeling like you’re not appreciated and unwanted. You’re not respected because clearly, nobody wants you in the job market.”

Many men can’t fully express their feelings. The unemployed husband then often suffers in silence. The effects however, of his inability to provide are often evidenced by low self-confidence, low self-esteem, guilt, frustration, overwhelmed, frightened, self-doubt and depression. He often feels he’s a social outcast, and would easily isolate himself and withdraw from his friends, and especially his wife’s extended family. He may then typically resort to infidelity, hypersensitivity, short temper, substance abuse, anger and violence as a way of trying to reassert his threatened masculinity. Things can get even worse if he feels he doesn’t get the support he desperately needs from his wife, or if she shows signs of disdain for him.

We also can’t put to words the emotional cost the wife has to pay to cope with such a man, especially when she has to shoulder all the household responsibilities, including the children, and still be the “wife” to him.

One woman actually told us that the level of impatience she had developed against her husband was so high that she found him sexually unattractive, and just could no longer bear the sight of a helpless-looking man as her husband. She said she despised the thought of a man that couldn’t even afford to buy his own cell phone airtime, or one that she has to give a mere R12 every now and then to go buy bread because she knows he doesn’t have it.

“I don’t even know what to say to him when I come home from my own job, and he’s obviously had another rough day of dead-end leads. The house is a mess and he’s lying on the couch in his underwear,” she explained. “I know he’s having a rough period, but can’t he make himself useful around the house?”

It has actually become a norm in our country to find grown and able men hanging around the house, not by choice, while the wife is out there trying to win some bread. With the country’s high unemployment rate as well as our justifiable policies of redress, like Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment, it’s become a major challenge for a man to be economically active when he has lost his means of income for whatever reason. Whether it’s
looking for a job or small business contract, men automatically have to get behind women on the queue. Other than death and divorce, there’s no other stress-inducing event in the life of a man that’s as shocking to his system as abruptly removing his ability to provide. And an unemployed husband situation, challenges the substance of the wife more than it does the husband in our view.

No strategy can beat you forming a strong alliance in a show of unity during this trying season in your marriage. You have to sit down as a team and strategize not only the job hunt, but ways you can minimize conflicts that come with this season. Approaching conflict as a team with an attitude of unity is the best way to deflate any tension. Lovingly let each other know without ceasing that you are on the same team.

You also need to keep the bigger picture in mind. What did you mean when you vowed, “for better or worse”? As a wife, are you able to respect your husband beyond his inability to provide? Why are you two married? Do you appreciate the unemployment situation as temporary in the backdrop of the permanence of your marriage?

Furthermore, be each other’s students. Give each other space to try communicating one another’s true feelings, frustrations, fears and threats without thinking your spouse is attacking you. Allow your spouse the right to express themselves in a manner that will help them heal or cope better with the situation.

In addition, having adjusted your lifestyle, always leave room for recreational activities, no matter how inexpensive. Insist on at least one night a week when you can schedule time alone or with your friends. Also plan times where you agree to put aside job worries and focus only on having fun, and please, do keep your sex life alive.

Lastly, give him his place. Encourage him to be the man he’s always been before the income loss. If the kids for instance, know to approach him for stuff they need, let them still get the money from him. Remember, the income to the family belongs to both of you, not just you. This requires a massive deal of maturity and solid grounding in faith for both of you.

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