Fewer things can shake your feeling of control quite like losing a job. And that rings especially true when your partner is on the receiving end of bad news. It’s a tricky topic of conversation, and you’re not alone in feeling that way. Research from Fidelity Investments found that 40 percent of couples experience difficulty in talking to their partners about money. But money tied to a job loss adds a whole other layer of discomfort.
How you proceed after the fact is very much tied to your arrangement, like whether you share bank accounts or live together. But certain guidelines remain applicable across the board. Here’s what to do.
It can be a stressful situation, and your partner is well aware of that. Do your best to remain collected so as not to exacerbate the situation. “You want to tread carefully and make sure they feel supported,” said Arielle O’Shea, personal finance expert at Nerdwallet. “Grieve the loss of the job together. They’ll be harder on themselves than you could ever be, so don’t pile it on.
Avoid monitoring your partner’s spending habits since that can promote shame and secrecy. Instead, have an honest discussion about how you’d like to budget going forward, according to O’Shea.
“Lay out the facts in terms of what emergency funds you have, what kind of earnings you have coming in and what your expenses are,” she said. “I would look at them and decide together what you can cut out so it’s not just your partner making sacrifices but doing it together and figuring out ways you can adjust spending.”
Fill in the gaps
Suddenly taking on the brunt of bills, groceries and rent can be a shock to your checking account. But no need to dip into your everyday spending funds to keep you both afloat — a layoff is the exact type of unforeseen circumstance your emergency fund is designed for.
“Most people view their emergency fund as off limits. While you don’t want to keep up your same level of spending, the emergency fund is supposed to fill in the gaps,” she said.
With the loss of a job also comes the loss of benefits. O’Shea said it’s important to make other arrangements for insurance. Look into the types of public healthcare plans they’re eligible for, and if possible, transfer them onto your company’s healthcare plan.
Don’t keep score
In a partnership, you’ll breed resentment if you keep track of everything you’ve paid for in the wake of their sudden unemployment with the expectation they’ll pay you back. While you don’t want to enter a tit-for-tat situation, it can help to revisit how you handled your finances before the layoff, and make some adjustments if need be.
“If you each had your own spending money and a joint pot, you can each still take a the same portion out. The partner [who just got laid off] should not feel like the ‘poor’ person in the relationship. You both want to be cutting back together,” said O’Shea.
Help them get back on their feet
There’s a fine line between being helpful and infantilizing — especially when your partner is feeling particularly vulnerable. Before you assign yourself the role of their personal headhunter, ask what sort of help — if any — they’re looking for: do they need you to take a look at their resume? Do they want you to work your networking skills and ask around for openings? Do they want you to help practice a mock interview?
“One way to approach it is to set a formal meeting on a weekly basis so they can talk about their progress, what they’re going to do, without feeling like you’re breathing down their neck,” O’Shea said.