With the corporate environment in a constant turbulent state, downsizing and retrenchment has become somewhat the norm.  Helene Vermaak, Business Director at corporate culture experts The Human Edge says that equipping an individual’s spouse with tools to cope with the retrenchment process is becoming necessary for many relationships.  “We’ve seen individuals get caught up in a growing spiral of ‘failure’ resulting from losing their job. This often leaves their partner feeling isolated and unable to help in any way,” says Vermaak.

Vermaak references tactics from international partner VitalSmarts for assisting and guiding partners through these types of situations:

Painful stories. Think of your partners’ termination as a powerful blow that left bruises. These bruises are painful realisations or stories your spouse is now telling him or herself. The stories we see most often are helpless, victim, and villain stories.

  • Helpless Story: Your partner might be thinking: “I’m a failure,” “It’s hopeless,” or “I’ll never succeed.” These stories will undermine their mood, self-esteem, and motivation.
  • Victim Story: Your partner might be thinking: “The system is rigged” or “People don’t respect me.” These stories would make him or her feel put upon and oppressed.
  • Villain Story: Your husband might be thinking: “My boss wasn’t fair to me,” “The company shouldn’t have fired me,” etc. These stories would lead to ruminating on and revisiting the blow.

Help your partner come to the realisation that these stories aren’t a true focus of their successes.  However, words alone aren’t likely to be enough. Look for ways to use direct experience.  For example, how can he or she help others during this time between jobs?

Focus on the purpose, not the strategy. One of the challenges we face as family members is that we’re seen as nagging, rather than helping. The solution is to back away from the specific requests we’ve made, and focus on the broader common purpose that unites us. Ask for your spouse’s help with the broader mutual purpose: managing your family’s critical financial decisions is a good example.

Remember, respect is at risk. Your spouse’s self-respect has taken a beating. They are likely to be extra sensitive to any sign of further disrespect. Take extra care to avoid being directive or controlling during any interactions.

Explore barriers, instead of advocating for actions. There is a common mistake most of us make when we’re in this situation.  We advocate for actions we believe in instead of exploring the barriers that make these actions difficult. When we take it as our role to advocate, we force the other person to argue the other side. We argue for, they argue against, and guess who wins?
It works better if we begin by acknowledging that the action will be difficult, showing respect for why they are stuck.  Then explore the barriers one at a time and brainstorm solutions, while continuing to emphasize personal choice and control.

De-escalate your finances. As a final suggestion, Vermaak suggests cutting back on expenses before you land up in too big a financial ‘hole’.

Find a way to reduce your predictable expenses. Some elements to watch out for that can influence our expenditure and financial habits include:

  • Internet bookmarks – if your home page is a shopping site, you think about this shopping site and the more you think about it the more likely you are to eventually buy.
  • Accomplices – if all you talk about with your friends is fashion, you will acquire more clothing.
  • Wicked incentives – merchants masterfully use incentives to make you feel like you are losing out if you don’t make a purchase.
  • Credit cards – research shows the further we get from paying with cold, hard cash the more likely we are to blow our budget.

Some additional financial behaviour-changing tactics that you can implement to help you manage your finances are listed below.  It is best to incorporate all five of these or similar tactics in combination for the best results.

  • Keep score: Track and review past spending. Mindless spending is the real enemy. Tracking expenses increases your awareness and motivates you to improve.
  • Learn what you don’t know: New habits always require new skills. Changing spending habits means learning new skills like budgeting, reducing expenses and replacement behaviours.
  • Step away from accomplices: Avoid groups and activities that are likely to cause you to spend more than you should.
  • Reward yourself: Look forward to inexpensive or free treats after achieving spending and saving goals. It takes very little to make yourself feel good for accomplishing a short-term goal.
  • Make the easy cuts: Everyone could cut 5 to 10 percent of their current spending without creating much pain. Consider reducing your water and electricity accounts, suspending or reducing your DSTV subscription, cancelling data plans or magazine subscriptions, etc.

Vermaak reiterates that the process of retrenchment can be humiliating and devastating to individuals involved and their families. “The suggestions above are just pointers for family members to follow in strained times, but pulling together as a unit and communicating with each other will go a long way in helping the situation.”