I was in a meeting the other day discussing budget cuts. I work at a university, and as things have begun to settle in the shadow of COVID 19, the loss of revenue to the university continues to climb. As it does, discussions of actions that will be take continue to get more and more ominous — and the simple fact is, it’s just a matter of time before layoffs and furloughs are announced. It does seem like this conversation is late in the game, but ultimately education seems to move a lot slower than the corporate world, and all of it has felt like this very slow-burning fuse; I spend most days waiting for the dreaded email to inform me that I need to start seeking another job.
I have to assume that what I’m feeling right now is pretty consistent with what most people are living through. And sure, I may very well not lose my job … but even if I might be one of the lucky ones, the uncertainty still keeps me up at night.
What really weighed on me for the first few months, though, was feeling like I couldn’t talk with my wife about all of this. Yeah, I should be able to. I knew she would understand, but as the primary breadwinner, I was stressed about suddenly not being able to take care of my family. It was a practical thing, but also a pride thing as well. And I also didn’t want to add more stress to her life, because wow… with everything going on, stress is at an all-time high.
Naturally, however, I couldn’t keep it from her. She could tell that I wasn’t doing well, so after asking me a few times, and me responding with “I’m just tired” or “I’m fine,” I finally spilled the beans and told her about my fears.
And … she didn’t freak out.
She didn’t tell me that I was a loser or that she was going to run away and leave me because I could no longer care for the family. She didn’t get all stressed out like I assumed she would, either. Okay, maybe a little, but she seems to handle stress a lot better than I do. (That’s a different story altogether.)
Instead, what she did was listen and affirm, and then the two of us discussed openly what we would do if I lost my job. We talked about the numbers and what changes we would need to make to our budget. We talked about our savings and how long we could make it. Yes, it was a grim conversation, there is no doubt about that. It was also a conversation I don’t think any couple wants to have. Ultimately, though, once we were done looking at it logically — once we were done discussing what we would do if it happened — it felt like we had a game plan to keep our family safe and supported, and that was incurably comforting.
The reality is, right now things are stressful. Unemployment is through the roof, and there really is no answer as to when, or if, things will get better. This is a strange time of uncertainty in both finances and health, but if you are married or with a partner, there really is no reason to take on that uncertainty alone. And I should’ve known better than to try.
I should’ve known that if I have fears and uncertainties, we should address it as a team — but there is something about not wanting to share those uncomfortable feelings with the person you love the most. If you don’t though, it can feel so isolating.
Talking with my wife, game-planning the uncertainty, and trying to make sure that she understands my stress really helped me feel like we could handle whatever comes at us, together. In so many ways, it was good for both of us: I felt supported and she no longer felt in the dark.
So if you are worried, if you are uncertain, if you are trying to make sense of it all but you don’t want to burden your spouse with all those feelings, stop carrying all the baggage. Talk to your spouse about it. Be open and honest, and let them know how you are feeling. They will do the same, and then together the two of you can figure out how to make sense of it all. That’s what married people do.
These are scary times. No doubt about it. But it’s important to take full advantage of having someone to talk to. Having a partner to help you navigate a bad situation is one of the best parts of marriage. Don’t give that up.
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