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Dear Teressa: How Can I Help My Boyfriend Who Just Lost His Job?

November 5, 2013

DDear Teressa Tuesdayear Teressa,

My boyfriend was a top performer at his company and was recently laid off! This news has been very painful for him and has affected our relationship in many ways. I am trying to keep him motivated, provide support and get him to move on with his life. Can you provide me tips on how I can help him and others who go through losing a job — especially before the holidays?
~K

Dear ~K

Big life changes – like the loss of a job – can be destabilizing for the individual affected, and for everyone who cares about them.

Certainly, when people we love suffer a loss, we want to be helpful. Yet, our own experience tells us that all help is not helpful. We offer due respect to others when we provide assistance when, where and how it’s wanted and welcomed. That said, consider asking how you can be helpful. Listen carefully and do your best to honor the requests.

Looking at this situation a little more broadly and deeply, let’s acknowledge that when we face significant changes, particularly those we didn’t initiate, a measure of compassion is helpful. Yes, of course we have to develop a plan of action and get on with life. And, we also need to work through our emotional reaction before we can move on, free of the trauma associated with the change. A resource you and your partner may find helpful is William Bridges’ Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Although this book is written from a business perspective, the same concepts apply to our every day lives – especially for someone who is a “top performer.” The author looks at transition the way mental health professionals look at grieving. There are stages of transition that must be given attention and respect. If ignored, these stages can create problems that ripple through a company or a person’s life.

SARA:  Shock, Anger, Resistance, AcceptanceTo help with this situation, the SARA Model is another tool you may want to consult. SARA describes four stages most people go through when faced with change. First, we’re in Shock – we can’t believe this is happening to us. Then, we move to Anger – we’re upset about the unfairness of it all. Next comes Resistance – we push against our new reality, blaming others and justifying our position. Each of these stages is normal and natural. If we consciously move through our emotional reaction, without getting stuck in one of the stages, we ultimately settle into Acceptance. Once we achieve acceptance, with a burden-free head and heart, we’re ready to take constructive action and move on.

Each of us moves through these stages in our own way and in our own time. Depending on when the layoff occurred, your boyfriend may be in one of the earlier stages of this process. If that’s so, he may still need time to deal with his feelings. William Bridges’ Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, or sharing the SARA model, may gift your partner with an opportunity to rationally consider what he’s experiencing emotionally.

~K, through the lens of LIES That Limit, you may be dancing with the Illusion that it is your job to keep your boyfriend motivated. It’s not, and you can’t. Not really. A good way to be supportive is to get clear about the impact this BIG change is having on you. Look inward before you look out or act.

Take time to explore how you’re feeling about your partner’s job loss? Are you in shock, anger, resentment or acceptance? Are you excited about the opportunity this creates, or are you feeling afraid? Be honest with yourself. Whatever your truth is, it’s absolutely fine. And, it’s important for you to know and acknowledge how you’re feeling because most likely, your feelings are evident to your partner. Is the energy you’re transmitting to him empowering or disempowering, supportive or diminishing? Are you feeling enthusiastic, confident, optimistic and excited or anxious, worried and fearful? You’ll pass that energy on without saying a word or doing a single thing.

Here’s an unconventional idea to add to the options you’re exploring. Instead of attempting to motivate your partner, which to the recipient often feels like pushing and criticism, be helpful energetically. You can do so without saying a word. Here’s how: don’t preach, offering tired, positive platitudes while you’re feeling terrified or frustrated. Instead, hold positive thoughts AND feelings about him and his ability to find his way into a suitable new career opportunity. Work with your own emotions until you feel optimistic about the opportunities that lay ahead.

Here’s to making the most of the learning and growth this situation provides for both of you.

Teressa Moore Griffin

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