Wife should work to rebuild husband’s self-esteem after job loss


Q. My husband has been out of work for six months, and he admits that he is depressed. He’s 58, so I know it’s not easy to find a job, but I don’t think he’s looking. He gets angry when I offer suggestions, but I’m tired of coming home from work and having another argument. What can I do?

A. Since the recession, wives of 4.2 million men are experiencing a situation similar to yours. Much research has been conducted on the emotional state of men who have lost their employment, but few studies have been conducted about the stress it places on their wives. What we do know is that wives are often overwhelmingly distressed by a husband’s job loss because they now have the sole responsibility for the family’s financial well-being.

Because it usually takes longer for someone who is middle-aged to find work, family and personal turmoil may result. Your husband’s depression is a common reaction, but it can lead to family arguments or even domestic violence. While most women express depression by eating or sleeping more and not socializing as much, men often experience depression as anger and annoyance.

As overwhelmed as you may feel, your husband needs your help in rebuilding his self- esteem. If he is like many men, he will never say, “I feel so useless.” Try assuring him that he is worthwhile and that you love him. Sometimes a hug or just a “thank you for helping out,” is all he needs. If he knows you are behind him and that you understand the transition is difficult, you may see a major improvement in your relationship and his ability to resume the job hunt.

If he has not done so, he should meet with a career counselor. Encourage him to network with friends and acquaintances. Should he continue to stall in his job search, a few sessions with a psychotherapist may be worth the time and money for his career and your marriage.

Q. I turned 50 this year, and I’ve felt depressed since then. What suggestions do you have to cure the mid-life blues for a formerly active and happy woman?

A. As many people reach mid-life they feel an urgency to produce something that will have a lasting impact. In psychology, this is referred to as the crisis of “generativity.” If people in middle age do not contribute to the community or to new ventures for themselves, they often begin to feel a sense of inertia.

One of the most effective ways to prevent mid-life stagnation is to help others. You may consider doing volunteer work, coaching a sport, helping the elderly in your church or community, or concentrating on being a more involved parent if your children are still young.

Many people who have artistic interests put those aside while they are raising families. If you have those interests, now is the time to get back in touch with them. Take up painting or drawing, acting in a community theatre production, writing, or any talents you have placed on hold.

One thing you should not do is to spend all of your time caring for your grandchildren. Researchers found that grandmothers who spend excessive time keeping and worrying about their grandchildren were at an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Take time with your grandchildren, but do not make them the center of your life.

If you try these techniques and do not feel better, you should see your physician. You could be experiencing hormonal changes; you may need to be placed on an anti- depressant medication; or you may need to meet with a mental health professional to help you through the crisis.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to drnryburn@gmail.com. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.