How to Help your Partner Cope with Redundancy: Part 1

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There aren't many things at which I can claim to be an expert. Unfortunately for me, helping a partner through redundancy is something of which I've acquired a hefty understanding recently.

Below is a short list of how to help your other half, and yourself, through a trying time.

In the last three years my husband's been through it twice. I experienced redundancy myself (when six months' pregnant) some years ago. So I have a personal understanding of just how it can feel. No matter how well the employer in question behaves, redundancy takes a real bite out of a person's self-esteem, and that can put home relationships under severe strain.

One of my friends described losing his job as 'an amputation' which graphically describes how some people react to job loss. No wonder losing your job is right up there on the stress-ometer with bereavement and divorce.

First time round is horrible. You're adrift, shocked, lacking information and probably worried sick about such mundane things as mortgage payments and gas bills. Being told you're out of a job is usually the only thing most people recall from their initial redundancy meeting - you're too stunned to remember much else.

(This must be why employers usually schedule a follow-up meeting, and assign you an HR 'minder' to talk you through the whole horrid exercise when you've calmed down and finally read the writing on the wall).

But knowing the ropes doesn't make the experience any easier. You might be clued up about your employment rights, but it's the feelings of failure generated by redundancy which can really do the damage.

Losing a job is rarely pleasant, and the situation is often very badly handled by managers, who can try to ease their own guilt by shifting the blame for the redundancy onto the victim, with ill-timed references to 'performance' and 'skills' in a bid to justify your selection. It makes a rough time much rougher when you have to withstand further attacks like this.

Managers who don't manage letting you go

Even worse is when your manager doesn't bother to show up for your final meeting. It's happened twice to my husband now, on both occasions at global investment banks where these guys are paid a fortune to manage - but obviously feel no qualms at ratting on the more unpleasant duties that being a manager entails.

This latest one didn't show up 'because he likes to work from home on Fridays'. How nice for him. And what a Grade A creep he must be to stay cosily at home while one of his employees loses his livelihood. On both occasions, such behavior added major insult to existing injury. Having your other half come home enraged and bitter at being treated so disgracefully doesn't help you smooth the situation down one bit.

By the way, it's normal for partners to be angry too. Of course you'll feel anger, and disillusionment, and fear. Off-load onto good friends - it's what they're there for. You may find keeping a diary enormously helpful too. Put it all down on paper rather than burdening your partner with it. You'll read it in the future with a wry smile. Another useful tip is to treat those worries and negative thoughts as so much emotional 'spam'. Delete them as fast as you can, and try to concentrate on the positive things in your life - it really does help.

What can you do to help?

So as a partner, what can you do to make the situation better? I can't claim to have it down pat - our experiences of redundancy have had more than their share of ups and downs, tearful arguments and loving reconciliations. You both have to expect to be on edge, and to overreact sometimes. It's normal. What you're going through isn't. Here are some of my personal hints to try to help you through the rough patch as smoothly as possible - I hope they help:

Listening: It's so important I'll say it again: Listening. There are hordes out there willing to give advice, but there's nothing like a sympathetic shoulder so your partner can pour it all out, swear, kick the cat, bang doors - you name it. Don't encourage your partner to badmouth his former employers, though, try to get him or her to talk about how he or she is feeling - act more like a sponge to soak up the distress. It can be a helpful catharsis for them just to talk through it with someone who cares.

Understanding: Not getting into a strop when beloved starts acting a bit weirdly, (perhaps manically up-beat one minute, depths of depression the next). Anticipate several weeks, if not months, of different behavior, disturbed sleep patterns and general restlessness. Some get angry, some get sad, some get listless. Getting upset about it is not going to help resolve anything. Appreciate what a life-changing thing job loss is, and try not to be hurt or angry if behavior is occasionally out of the ordinary. It will right itself, given time.

Gentle suggestion: Not full-blown advice - this is a person whose opinion was so valued they were booted out of a job. They're probably suffering huge loss of self-confidence. Don't make the mistake of telling them what to do. Guide and suggest, and listen and encourage each and every idea, but tread extremely carefully on giving too much direction.

Confidence-boosting: Remember to tell them what you admire about them - often. Eventually you'll get the point across. Comment when they're looking good, doing well at something (anything!). Emphasise that you still love them for them, not for their earning capacity/status. Be pleased if friends and colleagues ask your partner out for a coffee or chat, it's all part of rebuilding that faith in themselves that every person needs to fire on all cylinders and get that next job.

Practical help: Leaving your job generates a lot of paperwork. Offer to help keep it sorted and tidy, so that your partner doesn't have to leaf through documents he or she might find distressing. Help with the processes - finding a lawyer, collating information, returning employer property. Take the load off where you can.

Support: Job loss is normally followed by job search, which has its own minefield to navigate. Boost, boost, boost confidence. Tell them, text, call or email whenever there's a meeting, even if it's just at the outplacement agency. You can't say positive things often enough to a jobseeker. Be enthusiastic about any progress made, however small. Celebrate each and every step in the right direction.

Sticking it out and moving forward together

The strain of redundancy can drive couples apart if they aren't prepared for the ups and downs associated with it. Being open and honest with each other about how you're feeling at each stage can help prevent a bad atmosphere and hurt feelings. I've heard anecdotes about people who haven't told their loved ones about their job loss - they leave for 'work' in the usual way, and go off to a library or outplacement agency, returning home at the end of the day as if nothing has changed. To me, that's a recipe for disaster (not going to an outplacement agency - I'm strongly in favor of that - but not sharing your predicament with your family at a time of great stress).

My suggestions for getting you through it are personal and worked for us, but if you keep the lines of communication open between you, you can work out the best way for you to move forward yourselves. In the best-case scenario, a situation like redundancy can pull you together, and give you a better perspective on your life together in future. If you are determined about treating the situation as an opportunity, rather than a setback, you'll move on to better things much more quickly.

Good luck.

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