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A women’s guide to maintaining a relationship through unemployment…

December 3, 2009 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Marriage is hard. The current economic downturn has caused distress and turmoil in many marriages. Black men are losing jobs at a faster rate than black women, representing the largest gender gap across ethnic groups. The 17.1 percent unemployment rate for black men is not media hype but a reality that black women must recognize and address to support our men, our communities and our families.

A black woman’s ability to be supportive and encouraging during these challenging times lies in her ability to communicate. Writing a prescribed list of tasks for a black woman to support a black man is condescending. Any discussion about black men and jobs is a complex conversation for black women tainted by history, stereotypes and personal experiences. Honesty is required about who we are as black women and what we do in allowing misdirected voices guide our tongue. Our culture, our history and our perception in this world form the constant context for communication in our relationships.

Communication is complex

The importance of communication is common advice for couples but few people are specific about what it really means. Using words like “me” and “mine” are very different than using terms like “us” and “ours.” Communication is much more complicated than a woman’s “intention.” Communication is an iterative process that involves what your partner “hears” and how it is delivered. What you don’t say along with your body language and facial expressions can be the gateway to an unproductive debate that exacerbates the issue.

Communicate encouragement

Don’t make your spouse assume that you are supportive — be encouraging. Verbalize your support but listen for him to solicit your help. Practice listening and pay attention to how your man might be feeling. Discuss new opportunities that will excite him and build his personal development and job prospects. His success will benefit you both.

Communicate expectations

Openly discuss possible changes to the distribution of the family workload during the job transition. Holding onto feelings and being frustrated by expectations that only exist in your mind is not fair or helpful. A wife whose spouse has been unemployed twice in three years stated emphatically, “I’m not doing any good keeping my mouth shut.” She stated that she would be specific this time about how her husband could contribute to the household and engage in projects that will help him reach health and educational goals.

Communicate about the finances

Discuss and write down the expenditures that need to be adjusted. Don’t comment about financial changes lightly or make assumptions. Tackle the problem together based on the financial structure of your relationship and then work together to make changes.

Nicole Cook whose household has been challenged with the loss of her job as well as a fluctuation of her spouse’s employment in the auto industry vehemently expressed that women should “communicate specific needs, adjustments and expectations about everything.” She states that communication was the only way her family was able to overcome the challenging period and deal with the changes and uncertainty that continue after her husband’s job has stabilized and she secured a new position.

Communicate about your plans for the future

Think about the future together as a way to motivate and encourage each other. The loss of a job may have sidetracked plans to make big investments or build your family. Honestly discussing these dreams could help keep the two of you close and focused on a shared goal.

A large number of women are struggling with the job loss of their partners. Message boards, beauty salons and phone lines are pulsating with frustration and confusion about how to be supportive and manage the increased stress. Women who have been successful in supporting their spouses have support for themselves. Know when the words in your mind need to be discussed with someone else before you engage in an unnecessary debate. Make sure you have a friend who can “talk you off the ledge” and possibly help you strategize your communication.

Ultimately, black women should remember that their strength and intelligence has historically been the guide through tough times and progress for our families and our communities.

Written By Kimberly Hurns

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