Man Out Of Work? How To Cope When You’re The Breadwinner… and Why Women Need To Learn How

March 12, 2013  |  

For two years women have made up the majority of the country’s workforce. Women also hold most managerial positions. Chaka Khan’s girl power lyrics may be in need of an update. We are every woman (and man); it’s all in us. But where does all this empowerment leave our men? What happens to relationships when men are underperforming women in the prized role of breadwinner?

We’re not talking about deadbeat dads, or lazy mama’s boys who refuse to get a job (we don’t want them anyway). We’re talking about good men who are trying their best, but can’t catch a break in this economy. In 2012, men’s workforce participation rate – working age men who are either working or looking for work – fell to its lowest point on record (since 1948).

The Value of Work In Relationships

Relationship consultant and author Robert E. Hall writes for The Huffington Post:

Relationships are often the first major casualty for the unemployed or even the underemployed. We underestimate the value of work when we view it just in economic terms. Work is much more than the value customers receive or the pay workers collect for producing products and services…Work contributes to essential relationships that yield crucial psychic income. And as the structure of work changes, so do our relationships and our society.

While women’s place in society has progressed, many hold on to traditional views of men and relationships. Picking up the check is liberating at first, but the privilege wears off after a couple of months. Coming home from work to find your man sitting on the couch can elicit resentful feelings, regardless of how many jobs he applied for while you were out. We demand that men change how they view us, but women also need to change how they view men including the value his paycheck adds to his worth.

Beyonce Was Right…

Kathryn Edin, a sociologist who spent five years talking with low-income mothers in Philadelphia, believes the family dynamics of low-income neighborhoods ruled by matriarchies will spread to the whole country. Men, unable to provide steady income or meet women’s expectations, are at risk of becoming obsolete in the lives of women who make all the decisions for their family.

The future of business with its emphasis on relationships and transformative coaching managerial style seems geared toward women. In 2010, for every two men who got a college degree, three women did the same.

Men who are having trouble finding employment, or an income that matches their partner’s are a symptom of a quickly approaching future. It’s a relationship dynamic women will need to learn to deal with as well. Couples counselors, as well as couples who have successfully weathered unemployment, offer these tips:

Keep an open mind. Your partner securing a 9-to-5 position with a salary that matches your own may not be the answer to your relationship woes, or even feasible for your partner. Encourage (and celebrate) them finding temporary and alternative sources of employment, or looking for a position in another area.

Know where you stand financially and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Once your partner is out of work, there’s no use in wishing for that two-income relationship life or pressuring your significant other to keep up with that lifestyle. Deal with reality. Identify what expenses can be cut and make boosting your savings and paying off debt a priority.

Communicate, but don’t interrogate. Talking is the best way to deal with any issue in your relationship. Be cognizant of the right time and type of communication your partner prefers. Instead of forcing your mate to give a daily recount of every job they apply to, set aside regular meetings where your partner can share their progress and you can brainstorm ideas together.

Don’t forget to have fun and count your blessings. Put the focus on what is right in your relationship. Keep the romance alive with low and no-cost date nights. Boost your partner’s morale by reminding them what their strengths and accomplishments are. Research shows a spouse’s attitude towards job hunting strongly influences the mental state of the unemployed mate.

C. Cleveland covers professional development topics and entrepreneurial rebels who blaze their own career paths. She explores these stories and more on The Red Read, Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).

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