Six Things Not to Say to a Recently-Laid Off Spouse

Published July 22, 2011

| FOXBusiness

Theres no question that losing your job is stressful, but if it happens to your spouse, the whole family feels the pressure. Knowing what to sayand what not to saycan be difficult, especially when emotions are running high.

Its very common for someone to think their spouse doesnt get it, or that their spouse doesnt support them, says Jean Baur, author of Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience.

Although its hard to know exactly what to say, Baur suggests respecting your spouses style of communication and know that theres a fine line between being supportive and getting too involved.

If youre married to an introvert, theyre going to want to process things quietly. If youre married to someone who likes talking things out, you need to lend an ear, says Bauer.

But the most important rule for keeping your home happy during a job setback is keeping the lines of communication open.

We checked in with experts to identify six things not to say when a spouse loses his or her job and how to keep a more positive dialogue going.

1.) Dont say: You don't make the financial decisions now.

Just because youre the only one making the money in the marriage right now doesnt mean that all the financial decisions are yours, says Farrah Parker, Managing Director of FD Parker and Associates, a career preparation firm.

In the interest of the relationship, your spouse should never feel like their voice has been excluded because theyre going through this rough patch, says Parker. You would appreciate the same courtesy if you were in their place.

According to Parker, couples experiencing difficult financial times are more likely to contemplate divorce.

Why add fuel to the fire and make the person feel like they are worthless? Make the person feel like their feedback is just as important as it always have been, she says.

In order to make your spouse feel included in the financial stability of the home, sit down with him or her and go over the family budget, even if its bleak, suggests Parker. Mutually deciding to eliminate an expense as small as cable or high-speed Internet can bring a couple closer together during tough times.

What to Say:  I know its tough, but were still in this together. What do you think about X, Y and Z? 

2.) Dont say: How did you not see this coming?

All youre doing is making them relive the pain of their lost job; its like blaming them, says Parker. She adds a question like this doesnt add value to your familys plan for how youre going to get out of this situation and move onto the next opportunity.

Overall, spouses of the recently unemployed should steer clear of questions that focus on the past. Asking someone if there were any indications they were about to be let go puts them in place where they are re-living what happened. Worst of all, it can make your spouse feel like it was his or her fault, Parker says.

Theyre going to go over things in their mind until they feel like they were wearing blinders to their situation, says Parker. This question will make them feel that they were completely out of tune with a big part of their life.

What to Say: This has been a good learning experience for when you move onto the next great opportunity. 

3.) Dont Say: How are we going to make it?

Your spouse is already under so much pressure, the last thing they need to hear is that youre worried about how the family is going to survive, says Jill Kristal, clinical psychologist and President of Transitional Learning Curve. They are already blaming themselves for what happened, and they dont need to feel like theyre being blamed for stress at home, too.

Make a list of things your family can do to cut back on expenses, or write up some type of game plan that details your own thoughts on how the family can make ends meet. Even though it may be tough to stay positive, something as simple as a list for ways to take action can make your spouse feel much better, says Kristal.

When you make out a list, make sure you allow your spouse to go through the mourning process before reviewing it.

There will be a natural period of time where they are extremely emotion and in tears, and allow them time to deal with their emotions, says Kristal. But when theyve had some time, you can be ready with a list of things that can assist them.

What to Say: I looked at our savings account and wrote down some things for us to look at, including a list of contacts who might be able to help. 

4.) Dont say: This is what you should have done & 

Dont use the opportunity to tell a person what they should have done. They arent in a place to hear it when they just lost their job, and the risk is that they could get angry and withdraw, or take our their frustration on you, says Kristal.

In some cases, comments like this can actually cause couples to fight about unrelated subjects because the spouse being confronted wants to deflect the negative energy away from his or her problems. Avoiding any statement that could be construed as know-it-all or presumptuous is the best course of action, Kristal advises.

Dont say anything that puts your spouse on the defensive. You want to be supportive and listen, and know that there will always be self-blame, says Kristal. Saying something that makes them blame themselves more can be shocking and create even more negative energy than is already there.

What to Say: Im so sorry this happened. What can I do for you? 

5.) Dont say: I cant believe it. 

When you first hear the news it is OK to say I cant believe it, but dont keep saying it, says Baur.

You dont want to add fuel to the fire. If you keep saying you cant believe it, your spouse is going to start thinking of reasons why it happened, and thats just going to make the person feel worse, says Baur.

Saying things that let your partner know youre in complete shock only extends the time its going to take them to get over the initial shock.

If you keep repeating this after day one or day two, thats just going to pull the person back into the mindset of Oh my god, they let me go, why did they let me go?

What to Say: Theres no need to panic. Its going to be okay.  

6.) Dont Say: Do you have a job yet? 

This is probably the top question that every job seeker hates to hear, says Baur. Its even worse hearing it from your spouse because theres pressure to provide for the family.

If you are curious about how your spouses search is going, ask them to sit down with you at the end of the week and discuss how they are feeling. Its a good idea to help them talk through their progress and make them feel like you know theyre working.

If your husband or wife is looking for a job, youre probably going to be the very first person they tell. Asking them if they have a job yet is just a slap in the fact when you know theyre looking, says Baur.

What to Say: Youre making progress and your resume looks great. Is there anything you want to go over? 

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