This may have been a mild reces-sion, but try to tell that to the father of three who’s been cut back to part-time, or the working woman who’s been laid off for the first time in her life. All their best-laid plans look pretty shaky. And even though they’ve been told there’s “nothing personal” in this corporate belt-tightening, feelings of fear, anxiety, and failure may still haunt them.
When this happens to your clients, here are some ways you can help them cope, and maybe even find a silver lining in their forced simplicity.
My client’s husband was laid off a few months ago, and she’s been trying to support him by economizing until he finds a new job. However, her wealthy mother insists on giving her money so their two teenage daughters won’t be “deprived.” Although these gifts are galling to her husband, my client enjoys being able to afford a better lifestyle with her mother’s help. She has asked me whether she should tell her mom to cool it. Help! Spend some time listening to your client about her conflicted reactions to her husband’s layoff. Is she sad for him, angry with him, worried about the kids? Maybe she’s feeling financially deprived herself.
After you explore her feelings, ask her about her husband. Does he feel depressed? Angry? Humiliated? Many men (and, increasingly, women) feel their self-worth is directly tied to the money they make and the work they do. Even if he knows rationally that the layoff was not his fault, he may still be fighting irrational feelings of failure.
As the next step, urge your client to find a time when she and her husband are both relatively unstressed and can sit down together to ex-plore their feelings and options. They need to balance several opposing needs: the husband’s need to not feel shamed by or dependent on his mother-in-law’s financial gifts; the wife’s need to not feel that she and the children are being unduly deprived.
In a compassionate discussion, the couple may be able to reach a compromise that honors both parties’ needs and wants. In the final analysis, it may not hurt the girls to learn that they won’t always be able to have everything they want.
No matter how this decision plays out, encourage the couple to spend more quality time together while the husband is job-hunting. This can go a long way toward neutralizing stress-related irritability and conflict.
A retired client of mine has always enjoyed the good life, dining lavishly and taking his grandchildren on Caribbean cruises. Unfortunately, he insisted on keeping his portfolio heavily weighted in his former employer’s stock, which recently tanked. He’s too embarrassed to tell anyone, but some lifestyle changes are clearly necessary. How should I suggest he handle this? When people feel ashamed or embarrassed, it’s because reality is at odds with their idealized picture of themselves. They fear that others would lose respect for them if they knew. Ironically, the only thing that resolves shame is to risk sharing your failures or imperfections with others, and to see that they accept and embrace you (and may even have similar struggles themselves).
So once you have sympathized with your client’s feelings about his financial loss, encourage him to talk openly to family and friends about the new choices he will have to make. By hunting for less expensive alternatives to cruises with the grandchildren, for example, he could open up a valuable avenue of inquiry and discussion with his family. He might even discover that going camping or on nature walks would please the youngsters more. If they are disappointed, he will still serve as a role model in how to rise to the occasion–perhaps a valuable life lesson for his children as well as his grandkids.
For this client and others in his situation, the most problematic response to financial difficulty is to pretend that nothing has changed. By being open with others about his new situation, he could end up with emotional rewards that his lavish spending might never have inspired.
A client couple who worked together both have been laid off by their company. The wife, who seems to welcome the necessity for a simpler life, talks about becoming a photographer and living in a trailer. In contrast, her husband is quite shaken and longs to restore the lifestyle they have enjoyed up to now. At present, their relationship is very stressed. How can I get them in sync on their plans? When they come to see you together, listen patiently to each one’s feelings about this major change in their life. You may find that the wife feels excited and liberated, while the husband is traumatized and depressed. See if you can empathize with both partners.
Once you have done so, consider asking each spouse to meet with you separately to tell you his or her dreams about “the road not taken.” For instance, if the husband has ever dreamed of being less encumbered by the need for a lot of money, discuss this with him. Perhaps you can tell him about couples who chose voluntary simplicity and now are happier than ever. When you meet with his wife, help her explore dark corners where her idyllic fantasy may not be totally realistic, considering the level of comfort she has enjoyed until recently.
When you bring them together, the exploratory process you’ve been through will hopefully help them find common ground in the middle. The wife needs to see that her more traditional husband may not be happy with the simple life she envisions, unless it has elements of more traditional stability and comfort. And he needs to consider downsizing their lifestyle in ways that take their new financial situation into account. Not an easy task, but it is possible.