In this past week, the United States economy was at risk while Washington battled over how to increase the debt ceiling (thus making it possible for the U.S. to avoid defaulting on financial obligations). Although politicians may have succeeded in their immediate goal, the economy is still fragile. And, at least for the time being, the unemployment rate — one of the casualties of the faltering economy — will remain painfully high at over 9 percent.
But the problem runs deeper than any number or statistic can show. For those who are unemployed or underemployed, the related stresses and struggles affect every one of their relationships. So, those who are not directly in this position most likely know someone who is. The few who don’t would need to plug their ears and avert their eyes in order to escape exposure either through casual contact with those struggling or from distressing reports in the news.
At the most basic level, this problem affects the relationship each person has with himself or herself. When someone is unemployed, they often lack a sense of purpose or meaning. They are frequently distressed by their inability to cover bills — especially if they are responsible for the care of others (e.g. spouse, children). And, they are at risk for feeling inferior to others who do work.
Sometimes people just want to shut down and pull into the shell that they call their home. But limiting contact with others, especially family and friends, only adds to their misery. So, in spite of themselves, it’s important that they join social activities and get together with friends.
Pulling into their shell also often means pulling deeper into themselves even within their homes. They might zone out to TV, read more, sleep more, or do just about anything to limit interactions. Again, this only makes them feel more isolated and prevents them from possibly feeling even a little better by enjoying family time. Not only does this hurt them, but it also damages their relationships with their spouse and children.
Given that their marriage can suffer, both spouses would benefit from reaching for the support that comes with sharing thoughts and feelings. Listening compassionately to each other might not solve any concrete problems, but it will give both people a sense of being on the same team — being “in it” together. That said, there are also times when such conversations do lead to ways for them to fix problems or handle predictably stressful situations more effectively.
Unfortunately, children are casualties of unemployment along with their parents. Their biggest problems aren’t the lack of “stuff” from the loss of income, but rather that they are aware of their parents distress. This can leave them feeling like they are not on safe, solid ground; and it can cause them problems socially, academically, and psychologically. So, it is extremely important that their parents pay attention to them; listening to their concerns and offering support. Communicating positively in this way can help their children do better in the short and long term. Interestingly enough, those parents who maintain strong ties with the community — being active in it and relying on it for support — do better themselves and have children who do better.
People are in a better position to maintain a sense of equilibrium in their life by knowing how they are affected by their personal employment situation, the situation of those around them, and the general mood of the country. But knowledge is not enough. Once they know how they are affected, it is also important for them to take the time and put in the effort to manage these stresses the best ways that they can.
If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic, visit the Relationships and Coping Community.