By Michael Laskoff
Unexpected unemployment is hard not only on the suddenly jobless but also on his or her domestic partner, whether that's a wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend -- a partner of any sort. How do I know this? Because after every job loss, I have been a combination of stony stoicism and undignified blubbering, consumed with my problems to the exclusion of anything -- or anyone -- else. Only gradually do I get around to remembering that I'm not in the quagmire alone. I've dragged my wife along for the ride.
And while she has had all too much experience being a rock during my turbulent professional life, it's not a role she relishes. She has had to deal with the financial consequences of my joblessness as well as the strain of my seemingly nonstop moping. This confluence, as you can imagine, has occasionally put quite a strain on our otherwise happy home.
I've come to realize that that while finding a new job is an unemployed person's first priority, managing the impact of joblessness on the domestic situation is a close second. And no, I'm not about to go all touchy-feely on you, but I believe that paying some attention to your home life will make your journey among the unemployed more pleasant -- and shorter. So, here are some suggestions:
Don't be such a killjoy. In the immediate aftermath of job loss, you are going to be angry, depressed, and generally no fun to be around. And your partner, if he or she is worth his or her salt, will understand this, comfort you, and remind you -- over and over again -- that there's light and joy in the universe. Receiving such unrelenting support is your right -- temporarily.
If, however, you persist in darkening the mood of any room that you enter, people will soon respond by going to great lengths to avoid you. This behavior will first manifest itself among acquaintances and friends, but your better half will eventually grow tired of hearing about just how awful your day was. And when that happens, the fighting begins. This will not only increase your personal misery but also make it vastly more difficult to maintain the kind of positive outlook that makes job searching much easier.
Thus, it's important to find sources of happiness and satisfaction outside of the professional realm. This doesn't require you to channel Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil, but you will need to find and express pleasure from other areas, such as community activities, educational pursuits, or hobbies. Such things will provide you with positive topics to mix in with the job-search talk (much of which will probably be negative) and make you far more tolerable. In return, you'll receive far greater moral support at home.
Increase your domestic participation. Be honest. No matter how many hours you search for work during the week, doing so takes up less of your time than your previous job did. Your partner, by contrast, still has all the responsibilities that he or she used to have, plus the added burden of supporting your fragile psyche. And whether it's explicit or not, your partner is going to expect you to assume more domestic responsibilities -- which could include cooking, shopping, picking up the kids (if applicable), or scrubbing the toilet. This is entirely rational and sensible.
And yet, I can attest from personal experience that most job seekers vigorously resist the assumption of an expanded domestic load. This isn't because the unemployed are any lazier than anyone else. It's because they're unwilling to accept that their joblessness is anything but the most temporary of states.
The ugly truth is job searches almost always take longer than expected, and an unwillingness to help out more around the house will ultimately be perceived by your partner as sloth or selfishness. Rather than make excuses, help out. It's easier.
Get out. If you want to ensure that your personal life is just as wretched as its professional counterpart, spend every possible moment with your better half. In no time, you'll be at each other's throats. Fighting is a waste of time and emotional energy, so it's worth keeping squabbling to a minimum.
Therefore, it's critical that every day, without fail, you get yourself out of the house. A certain amount of egress will occur naturally as you go on networking meetings and interviews. But the rest of the time, you'll be required to generate reasons to get yourself up and out.
As I mentioned earlier, worthwhile extracurricular activities will help you stay busy and motivated, but such things may not be enough to get you out every day. Consider doing some of your job searching remotely. With a mobile phone and a wireless-enabled laptop, for example, you can work at countless free Wi-Fi hot spots or at their reasonably priced counterparts, such as Starbucks cafés and Borders bookstores.
A relatively happy, well-ordered domestic situation will not lead directly to a new job. But ignoring the home front will certainly make the task of finding something new harder. So make the extra domestic effort. You'll still be unemployed, but your life -- and search -- will be far easier.
Laskoff is the author of Landing on the Right Side of Your Ass -- A Survival Guide for the Recently Unemployed. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he has worked in the investment banking, consulting, and entertainment industries, as well as a number of e-commerce startups. Currently, he operates a Web site at www.askyourass.com
Edited by Patricia O'Connell