Career crisis hits home: How to support your spouse after a traumatic job loss

Many American companies are downsizing or restructuring, and the fallout from this economic reality is spilling over to personal relationships, including spouses, partners and friends, say experts.

In a post shared on LinkedIn on Jan 20, one professional wrote, "This week was heartbreaking ... and today it still hurts."

The poster continued, "I have friends at both Amazon and Microsoft who were impacted by the layoffs that took place this week. And as I type this message, Google just announced they are cutting 12,000 jobs."

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The poster also wrote, "I struggled with what to say because my job was 'spared' ... I struggled with what can I say that will bring them comfort."

The person continued, "And what I found is that many of them just wanted to be heard, so I was that sounding board!"

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A job loss is a tough blow, and support and understanding are key, say mental health experts.

man leaving office with belongings
One person posted on LinkedIn after her colleagues were let go from their jobs, "What I found is that many of them just wanted to be heard, so I was that sounding board!"

"When a spouse loses a job, it's important to reaffirm their value to the relationship," Amy Morin, a Florida-based psychotherapist and author of the book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do" told Fox News Digital.

"Make it clear that you love them, you care about them and the job loss doesn't affect how you see them," Morin said.

She added, "Let them know you're confident that you'll [both] be OK and you'll figure something out — and that and you're in this together."

A good starting point is to develop a plan, said Morin.

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"You'll want to discuss how you're going to earn money, pay the bills and, if necessary, cut down on expenses," she advised.

Worried couple talking about their expenses and financial problems
Discussing first steps such as applying for unemployment or getting right back into the job market is helpful, experts note.

Talk about your immediate options, she also noted. Applying for unemployment or looking for a new job right away are good starts.

"Discuss the steps you can take to manage the expenses until more income comes in," Morin also said.

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People feel better when they're taking action. So small steps such as editing a résumé can really help a person feel that they're doing something positive, Morin also noted.

If you feel comfortable assisting your partner with their résumé, networking or finding that next job, then "absolutely" offer to help, said one mental health professional.

Do so "especially if you feel that you are able to benefit them with this," Leanna Stockard, a marriage and family therapist at LifeStance Health in Manchester, New Hampshire, told Fox News Digital.

However, before diving in, Stockard recommends "asking your partner if they want this type of support."

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Some people may not want this help from their partner, Stockard noted — and they may need time to grieve their job loss and absorb its impact.

couple at laptop
It's important to ask your partner if they want the kind of support you wish to give, according to Leanna Stockard, a New Hampshire-based marriage and family therapist.

"If you go in offering to help too soon (or for some, at all), your partner could view this as nagging, and/or get frustrated with you for this type of support — and for not listening to their needs," Stockard advised.

If your partner expresses a concern about how you're going to get by financially, don't insist that they shouldn't worry, said psychotherapist Morin.

"Instead, validate their feelings. Use ‘reflective listening’ to show that you're paying attention," she emphasized.

Morin advised that people "reflect back" to their partners what they've said, perhaps by saying something like, "It sounds like you're really worried about how we're going to pay the bills."

husband wife talk
Show that you're willing to listen by saying things like, "I understand your concerns. I am not as concerned as you are, but I totally understand your worries right now," advised one expert.

She added, "Allow the person to clarify or expand on their thoughts. Then, let them know it's understandable that they feel that way."

It is fine to be a sounding board for their despair or worry, Morin also said.

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She added that you show that you're willing to listen by saying phrases like, "I understand your concerns. I am not as concerned as you are, but I totally understand your worries right now."

While it is normal for ups and downs in mood and perspective after a job loss, there are red flags to watch for, said mental health professionals.

sad woman on couch
Be aware of shifts in mood and behaviors after a partner's job loss, said professionals. These include changes in sleeping and eating patterns.

"There are multiple signs of a mental shift," said Stockard, advising spouses or partners to pay attention to any shifts in a partner’s behavior and moods.

Some signs of depression include increased or prolonged irritability and/or angry outbursts, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and "feelings of worthlessness or feeling like a failure," Stockard noted.

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Other signs to look out for are suicidal thoughts, isolation, avoidance and/or a partner "not engaging in things they used to enjoy," she also said.

"It’s important to pay attention to increased nervousness, negative thinking, worry or anxious thinking," she continued.

"You may also want to look for an increase in alcohol use or drug use as a way to cope with job loss," she also advised.

Your spouse's anxiety, sadness and frustration may be expressed as irritability or anger. So if you feel as though they're taking their anger out on you, psychotherapist Morin said it's important to point out the behaviors you're seeing.

She suggested saying something like, "I know this is hard, but it's not OK to be rude to me."

couple fight at home
You might choose to end an angry or unproductive conversation, offering to reconvene when heads are cooler, said psychotherapist Amy Morin.

You might choose to end conversations that aren't productive, offering to reconvene when things are calmer, she also advised.

Stick to statements that will show you understand the realities of the situation, Morin advised.

Talk about the fact that you can handle the struggle instead of insisting that the struggle will go away.

Avoid minimizing your partner's feelings, Morin also said.

Saying things like, "Don't worry about it, it's not that bad," will only make your hurting partner feel worse.

The most important thing to avoid doing is making your partner or spouse feel badly about the job loss, said Stockard.

iStock split - holding. hands and layoff
Offer support and reassurance during the stress a spouse or partner feels after a job loss, said mental health experts.

"Do not criticize them, demean them as a person, blame them for any financial hardships, be vindictive about the added financial responsibility on you or tell your partner to ‘hurry up and find another job,’" she said.

It is important to remember that if the job loss or layoff is through no fault of your partner, such as mass layoffs or department cutbacks, the person will be dealing with a whole spectrum of feelings while navigating the experience, Stockard said.

"Their emotions are valid, and invalidating their experience will be an unhelpful strategy when you are attempting to support them," she added.

Amy Keller Laird, the New York-based founder of the website Mental, a platform about mental health issues, shared with Fox News Digital, "From speaking with many experts on this topic, the same way you should treat yourself or a friend when you've lost a job is the same way to treat a spouse or partner — with compassion."

consoling a partner
Focus first on the person's "humanity," said one mental health expert.

She added, "It can be incredibly tempting to freak out and get riled up about the loss of income, but it's important to first focus on their humanity."

The job loss "may be a crushing blow to their self-esteem and sense of worth, as studies show that people often equate their identity with their work," she said.

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Keller Laird also advised, "Save the tactical details for after the person has had a chance to come to terms with the emotional feelings of losing a job. Encourage them to take a rest week or, if they're able, a few weeks — but to also reach out to friends and former coworkers."

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She noted as well, "There's an interesting study that shows maintaining ties with former (friendly) colleagues after leaving a job is not only good for social support — but it can also help you integrate more seamlessly, and successfully, into a new gig later."