When your partner has lost his job

Q: SIX months ago my partner was retrenched. He got all his monies but was wasteful and didn’t pay some of his debt or give me any money. Now he is broke and expects money from me, yet I have to support the kids and pay all the bills, and I work as a cashier at a supermarket. I understand that it’s hard to find a job in this economy but I am not coping, and this is putting a strain on our relationship. I love this man, but how do I cope and not stress when he has lost his job. Can a relationship survive this storm because they say money is the leading cause of breakups in relationships? - UNHAPPY PARTNER

A: THERE aren’t many words to describe what happens in a man's life, with all the abilities, experiences, education and attitude, when he suddenly loses his ability to provide. He typically feels that his very manhood and identity are stripped away, and he can do very little about it.

SOCIAL OUTCAST

The increased need for support and compassion was once explained to us by one unemployed husband, who said, “One of the things you feel when you’ve lost your job is hypersensitivity to disrespect more because you’re feeling like you’re not appreciated and unwanted.” Many men can’t fully express their feelings. During this time, men often suffer 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, acting out and depression. He often feels he’s a social outcast and would easily isolate himself and withdraw from his friends and especially his 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 you, or if you show signs of disdain for him.

LEVEL OF IMPATIENCE

We also can’t put to words the emotional cost you have to pay to cope with such a man, especially when you have to shoulder all the household responsibilities 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 helplesslooking man as her husband. She said she despised the thought of a man that couldn’t even afford to buy his own airtime or one she has to give a mere R12 every now and then to go buy bread because she knows he doesn’t have it.

UNEMPLOYED STATUS

It has actually become a norm in our country to find grown and able men hanging around the house, not by choice, while their women are 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 after 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 in the employment 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.

SHOW OF UNITY

No strategy can beat you forming a strong unity during this trying season. You have to sit down as a team and strategise, not only the job hunt strategy, but ways you can minimise the conflicts. Approaching conflict as a team with an attitude of unity is the best way to deflate any tension, lovingly let each other know that you are on the same team. You also need to keep the bigger picture in mind. Why are you together? Are you able to respect him beyond his inability to provide? Allow each other the right to freedom of expression in a manner that will help him heal and for you to cope better with the situation. In addition, insist on at least one night a week where you 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 do keep your physical attraction 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. This requires maturity and solid grounding in faith for both of you. But your relationship can survive if you both want it to.