When I got the news that I was being laid off, I reacted in such a nonchalant fashion that I’m sure most of my friends and colleagues thought I’d been dipping into the Zoloft bottle a little too often. Since this was the third round of layoffs at my company, I guess I was simply sick and tired of waiting for the ax to drop and somehow felt strangely relieved to have it over with.

I’d toyed with the idea of freelance writing for years and now I’d have the perfect opportunity to give it a go. I even felt a little pumped up - the fact that this setback didn’t crush my world could only mean one thing - I’d finally risen above my petty insecurities and doubts and become the strong, confident person I’d always wanted be, right? So, imagine my surprise, when during a casual conversation with my husband, he suggested that my first article answer the question, “Is a layoff ruining your marriage?” With those six words I felt the cold hand of reality slap me across the face and then proceed to rip the bottom out of my world.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I snarled, glaring back at him as if suddenly possessed by a demon from hell.

Was he insinuating that this could possibly happen to us? O.k., I’ll admit that I may have over-reacted just a little, but it truly was like a fist to the gut for me. I instantly felt naked and insecure; crushed under the burden of having to achieve. What if my freelancing plans didn’t pay off? Would that lack of stability and a steady paycheck be the beginning of the end for our marriage?

With some time, and just a little bit of tequila, I’ve been able to distance myself from the subject enough to realize that his suggestion had been a good one. If I was feeling this way, then it was quite possible that millions of other newly unemployed spouses were too. As if changing your career direction at the drop of a hat isn’t hard enough, it appears that you also have to simultaneously work to safeguard your relationship as well.

Are we just over-reacting, or do we really have something to worry about? Psychotherapist and FOX News contributor Beatty Cohan thinks we have a right to be concerned: “A layoff is not the thing that ends a marriage, but it may be the straw that broke the camel’s back”. So how can we keep our camel standing strong, ready to handle the heavy load of a layoff? By being prepared for what may come our way, even before it’s happened. Here’s a list of what to look for:

Be aware of the danger signs of drifting apart. Although we often hear stories about the lovelorn spouse who returned home to find his house empty and his sweetie gone, there are always signs that your relationship is heading south, if you choose to see them.

You stop talking. Communication is the foundation of every great relationship. Emotionally, a layoff can cause us to become introspective in an effort to figure out exactly what happened. It’s important to remember that you’re partner is also be affected by this new change in status and make an effort to keep the lines of communication open. Confide your feelings and be sure to keep your partner up-to-date on everything you’re doing to remedy the situation.

You’re arguing all the time. Loss of a job is one of life’s most stressful events, right up there with death of a spouse, divorce and serious illness. The extra pressures it places on your relationship can naturally cause anyone to become a little testy. It’s important to try to temper your words and plan some carefree downtime with your spouse. Don’t be concerned about setting aside your worries for a few relaxed moments with your partner; the situation will still be waiting for you when you get back.

Your partner is becoming disconnected. Not all of us respond to hardships in the same way. Naturally some handle adversity better than others. If you’re spouse is becoming withdrawn, it’s important to make them aware of this behavior and express your concerns. It’s quite possible they’ve become so fixated on the issues at hand they may not even realize they’re doing it. Also, although you may not be feeling overly amorous, it’s important to maintain physical intimacy during this time. When our minds shut down, our bodies can serve as a gateway to help us reconnect.

Drinking or using prescription medication. Attempting to find a temporary escape from the pressures of the situation can only serve to compound the problem. If you notice a tendency toward these sorts of destructive behaviors, address them sooner rather than later.

Know what’s coming emotionally. According to Beatty Cohan, www.askbeatty.com, “losing a job is like a death. People go through the same series of stages.” Knowing what to expect can help you weather the emotional storm. Here’s how it lays out:

Shock: No matter how long the war and how prepared we may think we are, there’s always a bit of shell-shock involved with a layoff. The minute we receive that news, our entire to-do list changes and we’re forced to move forward in a sort of shock-induced trace. Don’t worry, it’s normal.

Denial: Even though we may be doing all the right things, (i.e. looking for another job and putting on a brave face), the truth is, it could take months for us to truly wrap our heads around what’s happening and how it actually effects to our long-term life plan. Allow yourself to experience whatever feelings may be surfacing. It’s o.k. to be sad or disappointed that things didn’t work out the way you intended them to.

Anger: After the sadness comes the anger. They’re natural progressions of each other. Instead of seeing anger as negative emotion, allow it to fuel your fire. A fighting spirit will help you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and design a new life-plan.

Acceptance: This is the final stage and unfortunately there’s not quick trip here. It takes dancing through each of the preceding emotional mine-fields to exit on the other side unscathed.

Be a team. “If you’ve ever needed your partner’s support, it’s now. Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t feel that you have to keep a stiff upper lip,” Cohan says. Sit down together, look at the options and possibilities, and help each other to design a plan that you can both live with.

Be ready to make some tough sacrifices. Today’s economy is offering up some unique challenges. When devising your plan of action, it’s o.k. to entertain “worst-case scenarios” so that you’ll be prepared no matter what. Odds are you won’t have to use the escape hatch, but sometimes just knowing that it’s there provides a certain peace of mind.

Safeguard your health. “The body is being stressed more than it ever has been,” Cohan says. “I’ve seen people losing it emotionally, starting to develop all kinds of psychiatric symptoms because they didn’t have another identity, their identity was their job.” Excess worry can interfere with normal sleep patterns and set off a destructive chain of events. Exercise can be especially helpful during these stressful periods of our lives. Not only does it help us to expend nervous energy and reduce anxiety, but it triggers the release of calming endorphin levels in the brain, as well.

See a counselor if need be. If, despite everything, things seem to be spiraling out of control, a few sessions with a good counselor might help. Many healthcare plans offer a certain number of visits with a counselor at no cost, or for a small co-pay. Check with your healthcare provider.

Despite the many challenges it presents, Cohan says couples can come out of a layoff even stronger than they were before. “When people have worked together and worked through it well, there’s a renewed sense of closeness and unity. You find out who somebody is, and isn’t, when you go through tough times and you come out on top”.

As for me, I’m plodding along one small step at a time and keeping the lines of communication open with my husband. I may not know exactly where I’m going, but at least I know I won’t be alone when I get there.

Author's Bio: 

Marci Wise is a freelance writer, producer and editor who has been providing people with valuable information to help them lead more successful lives for more than two decades. She is also the host of "Finding Meaning in the Mysterious" on www.theshiftradio.com. For more information on her current projects, visit marciwise.com.