Work & Career: He’s fired!

How to cope when your partner has taken the high dive.fired.jpgWhen her husband came home that day to tell her that the axe had fallen, again, and again he was out of work, Barbara Anderson did her best to be supportive.

But inside, Anderson (a pseudonym to protect her husband’s job chances) was enraged.

Her husband is in marketing and business development, a notoriously volatile career path – when companies hit the red, or even decline slightly, the marketing team is often under fire much like the coach of a losing team. And so the Andersons have protected themselves against the eventuality as best they can – they have money in the bank, a manageable mortgage, and Anderson herself has a good and stable job.

Still, the times of job hunting are difficult for both of them, in very different ways.

“I know where this comes from – I grew up in a generation that believes that the man of the house and the father is the one who supports the family, and I grew up to think that a man who couldn’t hold down a job was sort of shifty. We always thought of those in our hometown who were in and out of jobs were somehow flawed,” says Anderson who, like her husband, is in her mid-50’s. “And, I can’t help this, but I sort of think hey, you’re the man, you should be able to look after our family. You should be stable.”

And so she layers guilt on top of suppressed anger and still tries her best to have a smile on her face every day.

The recent recession and world-wide economic meltdown has created a lot of job loss casualties – in September, the unemployment rate in Canada edged up to nearly nine per cent. Though the decline in employment is slowing considerably, the employment rate has fallen by 387,000 or 2.3 per cent since its peak in October 2008.

But as hard as it is for the fired, it is a difficult, emotional and often painful time for the partner whose role now is to be supportive and optimistic. Both partners in a relationship will experience similar feelings of shock, fear, anxiety – but alas, only one can really show it.

And, there are a lot of subconscious issues that get stirred in such life-changing events, including feelings of worth versus worthlessness and security versus fear.

When her executive husband was let go this spring, Alessandra Saccal was almost as shocked as he was.

“I felt betrayed by the company and I was in complete shock. My husband worked so hard, stayed late to get the job done, worked when he came home at night and on weekends and always put his job first,” she says. “He was very loyal and I felt they showed him no loyalty.”

And so, as her husband heads to interviews or meetings with his network of business contacts she does her best to swallow that anger and to send him off with a kiss and encouragement.

“It is very hard to stay positive and supportive but I think I am doing a good job — I remind him of all his accomplishments, personally and professionally everyday,” says Saccal.

The loss of a job is a blow not only to the individual experiencing it, but to his or her partner and the family as a whole. But sometimes the one most affected isn’t the fired person. “In particular the individual’s partner/wife/husband has a difficult road and journey ahead,” says Meryl Rosenthal of Hirepower, a recruiting company that also helps on the job seeking side, assisting jobseekers put their best face forward.

“Similar in many ways to the affected individual, the partner/wife/husband will feel a range of emotions at various points: anger at the company, anger and/or resentment of their spouse/partner, depression, excitement at other possibilities, fear and anxiety, acceptance and support. The big difference is that although the affected individual has liberty to express themselves, the spouse/partner needs to be the support person, may feel less able to be forthright with their emotions.”

Rosenthal says how the spouse/partner reacts and the journey taken both independently and together depends on many factors including the stability of the relationship prior to this event, the length of time without work, the financial stability of the family. But a key element for a partner is to have his or her own support system in place.

“You need to be equipped to be supportive of your spouse, and this is hugely relevant to eventually finding another job. Mental frame of mind is so important in going through the recruitment and interviewing process,” says Rosenthal.

Her advice to partners of the recently fired:

Recognize that you too are going to go through a series of emotions similar to what happens in bereavement. Don’t get down on yourself for feeling angry, scared, frustrated and betrayed.

Don’t get down on your spouse either – this is a time for patience and concern, it is NOT the time to rehash old arguments and issues.

Create your own support network. You need someone, even a professional if need be, who can help you through this time and be an uninhibited sounding board for your own emotional journey. Says Saccal: “I keep my own spirits up by leaning on friends and family. I make sure he has a lot of support around. We have a lot of dinner parties and it is so good to see so many people in his life and mine supporting us.”

Accentuate the positive. Strive to make the next job even better than the last. Think of it as an adventure and opportunity. For Saccal, her husband’s time off has meant more time with their family. “After years of late nights and weekends in his office he had time to spend with our son and has built a much stronger relationship with him. Their time together has been very valuable for both of them.”

Remember a job isn’t everything. Do as Saccal does, and remind yourself and your partner that he or she is a good and decent person, not just a good and decent employee. And, getting fired is often more a reflection on the company than anything else – your partner has had lots of career successes regardless of this event.

Know that this family hardship is temporary. Despite the disappointments, and there will be many, if this journey is managed in a positive manner it can indeed lead to an even more satisfying and closer relationship.

“The fact is, this is something that happens and you need to cope with it. It is not the worst thing that can happen to a person and you need to remember that. It does not mean you are a failure, or that you are not good at what you do. In time things always get better if you want it to,” says Saccal. “I think we learned a lesson from this experience. There was a gap between my husband’s loyalty to the job and the company’s loyalty to him. I encourage him now, when he’s interviewing, to interview them as much as they are interviewing you. Ask the right questions, make sure you are a good fit, make sure you will be appreciated and recognized and address it before you accept a position.”

— Tracy Nesdoly