My wife and I had a solid plan for 2020. We had just relocated the previous summer to a whole new region when she took a great job as a nurse at a hospital. I was working remotely part time while staying home with our two young daughters and was enrolled in an online program, with the hopes to be graduated and working full time by the time our third child would be born in July 2020. 

Then COVID-19 rocked our plans, just like it did to the well-laid plans of so many others.

Unsure of the added risks of the coronavirus with pregnancy, my wife had to go on early medical leave months before we planned. As she was the breadwinner for our family, I was not able to support our bills, mortgage and other expenses on my part-time income. I already had a bachelor’s degree and an extensive resume, but most companies were forced to lay off employees, conduct hiring freezes or reduce salaries. Realizing we would need more income than the CERB amount would cover, we were forced to make drastic changes in our budget and in our income streams.

So I did something I hadn’t expected: I applied for an entry-level job at a retail store, got an offer, put my schooling on hold and started earning the minimum wage along with many others in the same circumstances as me, all of us trying to figure out what was happening and how to proceed.

By God’s provisions, our needs were met and exceeded – so much so that we were able to build up a bigger emergency fund and even give back generously. It brought us closer together as partners, and we welcomed a healthy baby into our family. But it made us realize that this kind of career change could happen any time, whether by choice or by circumstances.

Whether you or your spouse are facing a job loss, a lay-off or an economic downturn, an involuntary career change impacts a marriage and a family. Here are five areas to help work through it as partners and come out stronger than before.

Create an emotionally safe space for one another

Without a doubt, finances can be one of the biggest sources of stress in a marriage. As income is provided through work, your income will likely decrease when your revenue streams change. 

There’s also a sense of purpose that comes with work, and when work is no longer in the equation, it might lead to a feeling of a loss of purpose. If the role of breadwinner has shifted, this may especially be true. You can create an emotionally safe space in a number of ways:

  • Give each other permission to honestly express how you feel with these changes. You are in this together, and as stressful and difficult as it may be, you can lean on one another and live out the wedding vows “For better or worse, in sickness and in health.” There will be plenty of time to formulate a plan.
  • Agree that you both are contributing to your responsibilities and needs in different ways. While finances may be the more obvious form, taking up household duties and caring for your children are just as important.

Take an inventory about necessities

Our biggest priority was to determine what we want and what we need. We needed to pay our mortgage and property taxes, buy food for our family, keep our utilities running and cover any other necessary bills. We already lived quite frugally but found there were ways we could cut back: take our second vehicle off the road, reduce our fuel consumption, put some of our charitable giving on hold and pause our discretionary spending. By cutting back in some areas, we thus were able to reduce the required amount of income.

This requires openness and communication, and it will help you accomplish the following three objectives:

  • Discern wants versus needs, and come up with an alternative. For example, one spouse may see something like a gym membership as a need, whereas in reality it is a want. However, as physical exercise is important for our bodies and our minds, you could explore options to exercise at home instead of in a facility.
  • Establish a weekly budget. Now that you know what your needs are, you can build a plan that will outline how much income you require to fulfill those needs. A weekly budget will help you stay on top of it and work toward a common goal.
  • Hold each other accountable. A small spontaneous purchase here and a small spontaneous purchase there can add up to a significant amount of money – especially if it results in higher-than-expected credit card balances that will continue to accumulate interest. By keeping track of every expense, you’ll stay honest about your spending habits and build trust with one another.

Communicate about financial needs and goals

“How much money would we need to have on hand if we suddenly lose our safety net again?” “How long would we need to stay afloat while we look for more work?” These are circumstances no couple wants to face, but 2020 showed us that we never can truly predict the future. Once you have established a bit of a new normal, you can set goals and start working toward them. This could be as big as further schooling, or finding an opportunity as an apprentice or intern to test the waters of a different field of work.

Explore your income-earning options

If 2020 taught me and my wife anything, it was that we can’t plan on things always going according to plan. I decided to diversify my income streams with gaining experience in physical work while also pursuing education in a health care job I can perform remotely. In addition, we looked for items around the house that we could sell to others at a low cost and saved that cash for unexpected costs, or even to treat ourselves to something fun as a reward for our hard work.

Lean on God for strength and guidance

As part of our premarital counselling leading up to our wedding day, my wife and I were asked to choose a verse as a sort of “hope” for our marriage. We chose Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” The latter part of the verse proved to be a lifeline throughout our first decade of marriage with career changes, having and raising children, relocating and other seasons of change. It was even more appropriate when the COVID-19 pandemic rocked our plans. Our own resources were becoming depleted, we were unsure of what to do, yet we had peace that God would continue to lead us and provide for us as he always has. He is the “third cord” that binds you and your spouse together, and that cord will not be broken when he is at the centre.

While these tips can certainly help you navigate unprecedented times, we do recognize that some circumstances require more guidance and help, and that these types of changes can take a significant toll on a marriage. Our registered in-house counsellors are here to give you tools to navigate your unique challenges, or to offer guidance if your marriage is suffering in this transition. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for a free one-time phone counselling consultation.

Todd Foley is on staff with Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2021 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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