Unemployment Affects Marital Satisfaction

A common problem observed among married couples is the stress resulting from one partner being employed while the other is looking for a job. The study examined three different mechanisms of passing the stress to the spouse, i.e., direct, mediating factors like marital contentment and routine reasons for stress like impediments in daily activities. Of these, the first and last factors contributed the most to stress. The reactions to stress varied between men and women; it was also dependent on the level of contentment in the marital relationship.

Unemployment affects a person beyond mere loss of income. It impacts at an emotional level and, often leads to depression, especially if their spouse is working. In this situation, both partners could trigger the stress and also pass the stress to one another. This stress can affect the working spouses job performance. The primary mode is through direct crossover. Support from spouse is a critical mediator of stress. With empathy, stress could be effectively shared. Distress could aggravate stress. Also, everyday tasks like caring for the child could become a topic of contention. Stress could arise out of work pressure in the working partner or from frustration due to financial need. It could also arise from a bad experience when searching for a job. Marital satisfaction also significantly moderates stress.

* One hundred unemployed persons from nine community centers, along with their employed spouses, participated in the study.
* The participants were given surveys that they had to fill in and return every following morning. A new set of surveys was given at the time of returning the previous day’s survey. All the participants lived within walking distance of the center. The visit to the center to pick up the survey sheets was one way of encouraging participation and reducing forgetfulness about important points.
* Features such as distress, marital support, family hassles, unemployment versus work-related factors, work-family conflicts and marital satisfaction were all assessed thoroughly.
* The analysis was based on several hypotheses drawn out on each of the above factors.

* Overall, the unemployed spouse was prone to higher stress. Nevertheless, the negative impact of job loss affected the employed spouse also. The additional emotional and marital support provided by the unemployed spouse to the employed spouse could be the reason for the higher distress levels seen in the unemployed spouse.
* Financial strain, daily family hassles and family-work balance clashes were the main stressors for the working spouse, while time structure, insufficient financial resource, futile job searches, and family commitments were the main stressors for the unemployed spouse.
* These stress inputs, along with other everyday tensions were directly transferred between the spouses while trying to maintain a family-work balance. Daily family hassles affected both the employed as well as the unemployed spouse. These stresses were bound to spill over into the workplace affecting job performance. However, a healthy marital relationship with good interpersonal support did seem to play a significant role on stress.
* Men did not allow percolation of work stress into home life while women tended to link work and home more by bringing work pressures home. Women were more sensitive to work and family stress.  The sharing of stress was also dependent on the condition of the marital relationship.

The study did not consider unemployed males, looking out for jobs. The study was carried out in lower socio-economic groups that had a lower education level and low family incomes. Stress could be cushioned by a happy married relationship. Different variables like parents’ consent for a marriage could also impact marital balance. The length of the period of unemployment could be a critical factor. Mindset regarding specific man/woman roles is an important moderator in ironing out stress between couples. Also, extrapolation of these results to other countries and cultures may not be meaningful.

As is evident from this research, unemployment can have major consequences, especially those of a psychological nature in a married couple. Also, it is now established that stress does not pertain to a certain individual. In a marital relationship, stress is transferable. Therefore, it is important to work out solutions with a basis in husband-wife interactions, treating a family as one unit. In a situation where one spouse is employed full time and the other is seeking a job, a possible catalyst could be more employee-friendly company policies or social service agencies. These catalysts may provide comprehensive unemployment assistance programs to support the unemployed partners. This will ease the financial burden and endorse commitment. It will go a long way in stabilizing the affected family as well as increasing compliance to the work.

For More Information:
Unraveling the Daily Stress Crossover Between Unemployed Individuals and Their Employed Spouses
Publication Journal: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2011
By Zhaoli Song, Maw-Der Foo; Business School, National University of Singapore, Singapore; and Management Division, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado at Boulder

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.