Monday, July 20, 2009
I just finished a horror novel where the main character had been unemployed for a year. His wife Had quit her job as a school guidance counselor to take care of their daughter who exhibited some strange behaviors (dreams, nightmares, night terrors, obsessive-compulsive tendencies and eerie predictions). Nate Kenyon, the author, wrote about the strain on the couple's marriage as if he knows first-hand or has experienced it through his friends, and it reminded me of the 18 months of unemployment I went through from 2003-2005. Being unemployed is difficult enough for someone who is single like me, but when there is a family involved the strain is compounded.
A month or two or even three is difficult, but not for someone who has enough money saved to keep things together, as long as there is the possibility of a job on the near horizon. How many families actually have three months' salary saved? A year's salary would be better. Even with a year's salary safely in the bank and being slowly eaten away as the weeks and months drag on, budget cuts are inevitable. How do you justify a vacation or even a camping trip, repairs to the car, replacement of essential household appliances, clothing and luxuries like camp for the kids and extra curricular activities for children still in school, let alone outlays to the movies, restaurants and shopping trips when no job is in sight?
The constant strain of scaling back a comfortable lifestyle to accommodate dwindling savings affects everyone, but not equally. For a man who defines himself by his job, the inevitable rounds of resumes, interviews, questions and turn-downs are disheartening and emasculating. For his wife, especially if she doesn't work, the act of juggling coupons and budgeting and answering questions about why vacations and movies and eating out are canceled and allowances must be cut back can be difficult, even with dad explaining the financial facts of life. However, if the wife has a part time job that provided little more than pin money and has no plans to re-enter the work force, things can get ugly fast. How ugly depends on whether the spouse is supportive or someone who sees the breadwinner's loss of income as a problem to be worked through together or a personal affront. Marriages where the the nonworking spouse blames the recently unemployed spouse don't last very long. All the cracks and fissures in the relationship begin to show and get bigger the longer the blame game is played.
When an accustomed lifestyle disappears suddenly or is slowly eroded over time, tempers and emotions flare, adding more pressure to an already pressured situation. It is hard to be supportive, especially when one partner feels the other partner is to blame for the situation. It never occurs to the supported spouse that getting a job is an option. Why should they when the situation is not their fault? The longer this inequity of feelings and circumstances continues, the likelier the marriage will founder on the rocks and fail.
With the nation's unemployment rate climbing quickly into double digits, the outlook isn't good. Some couples will choose to stay together and the spouse who has been under employed or unemployed will get a job. If this is a woman, the chances are good that she will find work fairly quickly. If this is a man over 40, he may be unemployed for a while. Whatever the circumstances, the outlook is dependent on whether or not the couple is willing to pull together and stop playing the blame game or takes the money and runs. Either way, the under employed or unemployed spouse will have to find a job unless a rich prospect comes into view or the assets, when split, are substantial enough, with the inclusion of child support, to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed.
The couple in Nate Kenyon's book weather the storms and the rocks for a year before the situation change, and not for the better -- it is a horror book after all -- in the short term. Staying together required sacrifices both people were willing to make. Unfortunately, in the real world, most people, especially selfish people who delight in finding everyone around them at fault, aren't fans of sacrifice. Their spouse's unemployment is a personal affront that has ruined their life and they expect it to be fixed right now without making the effort to cut back on their expectations or quit their pin money job and get a job that pays a living wage. Like too many rats in a confined space, cannibalism quickly ensues.
It was hard enough to get through the last six months of my unemployment, living on the $80 a month, and often less. The life I had built slowly crumbled and everything I had worked for slipped away. I nearly gave up and gave in on several occasions, but I didn't have anyone else -- other than my landlord -- depending on me. Living in a rural community in the back of beyond, didn't afford many opportunities, but I kept looking and eventually landed a job, a job I still do 4-1/2 years later. My life is better now, but I had then, and still have, only myself to support. I can live on very little, as I can attest. I shudder to think that it would have been like with a family, but one thing I do know is that by myself or with a spouse and child(ren), we would have made it because we were willing to work together and make whatever sacrifices we must.
In the end, unemployment, recessions, depressions and inflation come and go. As long as there is hope and a belief in yourself and your partner, no matter how bad it gets and how much must be sacrificed, life will go happily, if somewhat diminished, onward.
To quote and paraphrase Thomas Paine, "These are the times that try men's [and women's] souls." The summer husband and sunshine wife will, in these difficult times, shrink from these trials; but s/he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of their partner. "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as [EMOTIONAL SUPPORT] should not be highly rated." Tireless support and willing sacrifice are the riches upon which an enduring relationship are founded. If you do not find it now, it was never there; you have built your house on shifting sands and the tide has finally come in. When it is found, nurture and cherish it, for it is the solid foundation upon which a bright and happy future is built.