Extended unemployment may not hold the same stigma that it did not so many years ago, but it certainly has the same sting. Unemployment has plagued my family for three of the last four and a half years. It is hard. It's hard on a family, it's hard on a marriage it's even hard on a friendship.
Supporting a friend during unemployment can be tricky. Here are a few suggestions to support your friend during a difficult time.
Ask if it's OK to talk about it. Asking gives your friend the option to get it all out or request a night off from the worry. Don't make it the elephant in the room. That just makes everyone uncomfortable. If your friend wants to talk - listen. If he doesn't want to talk, maybe what he needs is a vacation from reality - a little denial.
2. Share a meal
Whether money is tight or not, a nice meal is a welcome treat. When my friend's husband lost his job she said it was nice to be invited to dinner. Invite your friend alone, as a couple or invite the whole family. Invite her to a meal at your house or take her out to a restaurant. When the world is falling apart, it's good to get out with friends who care.
3. Share an activity
Invite your friend's children to participate in activities with your kids. It might be hard for your friend to justify the cost of an outing. When my friend ended up with extra tickets to the rodeo, she invited my kids to go. They had a fun night out with their friends and attended an event that we would not have put out the cash for. I have another friend who invited me to go hiking during an especially difficult time. The combination of fresh air, exercise and good company really helped my outlook.
4. Share a gift
Think of ways you can share a gift without damaging pride. We had to leave our home after 14 years. We moved across the country and we miss our friends desperately. My friend's husband told me the best gift he could give his wife was a week with me. He bought me a ticket and I surprised her with a visit. It was so great to see her and get a short reprieve from the stress in my life. And, while unspoken, I knew the gift was just as much for me as it was for her.
5. Don't assume
Don't make assumptions about the situation. Being unemployed is not the same as being on vacation or being retired. Spending every day together might sound romantic, but given the uncertain future and the financial strain, it can be really hard. A change in togetherness causes strain; expectations change, schedules change and responsibilities change. Be supportive, be compassionate and never assume that things are ideal.
6. Avoid guilt
Don't neglect your friendship because of winner's guilt. We have friends who are wildly successful. In the time that our savings account has depleted, they purchased a fancy new car, a new boat and a vacation home. There is no reason that they can't enjoy their success and maintain a friendship with us. Our situation is hard, but it was not caused by their success and we would never wish anything less for them. On the other hand, don't be offended if your friend creates some distance. Watching others succeed when things seem hopeless can be really painful.
7. Help with the job search
Evaluate your contact list; friends, associates, extended family and acquaintances. Make a personal call or introduction on your friend's behalf, then follow up. A job opportunity can surface in the most unexpected places. Be creative and don't discount what you can offer. A member of our church congregation offered his home office to spearhead a job search.
8. Be normal
One of the most difficult things to lose is a sense of normal. Make opportunities to participate in activities with your friend that you enjoyed together before the unemployment. I have been fortunate enough to have several friends invite me to lunch. Ladies' lunch is something I really enjoyed when I lived in my normal place in my normal life. Having lunch with my girlfriends reminded me what it was like to be normal. And, even gave me courage to hope that I will have something normal again.
Let your friends know that you are praying for them. One friend who endured extended unemployment told me that she experienced spiritual fatigue. Even though you are not experiencing a friend's trial, you can always share your faith.
Friendships are tested when times are hard and when life situations change dramatically. Look for ways to help, support and show love. You may find that your friendship grows stronger despite the personal difficulties.