For richer or poorer

What do you do when your spouse quits their job?

It's been said that the Global Financial Crisis changed the face of the job market. Amongst other things it has made it more acceptable to be between jobs or to leave a bad one. The traditional rule was 'it's safer to stay where you are', but that's been fundamentally compromised as certainty no longer lends itself to long time employees. In fact, 'knowing when to leave the party' or change jobs, is a skill that more and more people are learning, with many agreeing with the notion that staying in a job too long can be more damaging for your career than not. The overwhelming response is more and more people are leaving their jobs, including those in senior management roles. Many are leaving, not because they have found a better job or any job in fact. The reasons vary from client to client, some ‘needing a break but will remain in the same industry and expect to earn similar levels of income’, through to the more serious of ‘I need to get out now because I am about to have, or am having a breakdown’. Whilst the motivations for leaving can be vast, I am seeing a swag of senior officials quitting their jobs because they want to try something different, they want to run their own business. Which, on paper, sounds good. But in reality can have some drastic connotations.

As the spouse of a partner who is fundamentally unhappy and stressed in their job, you tend to bear the brunt of it. Whether it is the fact they aren’t at home to carry their share of the family duties, to them being grumpy due to work frustrations and stress. You want them to be happy, you need them to be happy, otherwise the family situation will implode on itself eventually. So when your partner comes to you, ideally before they quit, this creates some form of relief, knowing that things are not going to continue as is. But this relief can turn to anxiousness too quickly. Many can relate to this story.

When you first “consciously coupled” with your partner things looked fine. You are both in good jobs with good prospects. Your spouse worked hard, progressed quickly, you both enjoyed the perks of a high income in the form of regular holidays and frivolous spending, which leads to a lot of frittered income (and usually little financial progress). But it's ok, the more money you earn the less you need to worry about it, right? And then the job is lost or the wall is hit. You both agree that he needs some time out and deserves the rest. It will only be for a month or so. But then a month or so later and he has taken to time off like a duck to water. He has ideas of developing a business, you want to be supportive but it is scaring you, and his general lack of regard for the family finances is unsettling. His lack of concern about how the family future is affected and he is unable to respond adequately to your voiced concerns and anxiety about his tardiness. He keeps saying that he could go back to a high powered and paid job at any time but he wants to have a go and he needs you to believe in him. You want to believe in him, but someone has to take responsibility for the family, so what do you do?

Transitioning between incomes (with self-employed or not) is a taxing time. When I am working with my clients who are attempting to navigate through the trauma of financial change, I put emphasis on the following points:

• Determine when your savings are going to run out.
• Determine what income your partner needs to earn to keep the family afloat.
• Agree a time-frame that they will work to and what deliverables you need to see (financially and through business progress, by certain dates). This point can create contention because if the goals are not realistic then your spouse will interpret your hesitancy as lack of faith. Yet at the same time, the money is going to run out at some stage and this creates natural deadlines.
• Speak to a business advisor to help determine the viability of the idea. Not all Accountants know how to run a business, so speaking to an Accountant might not actually give you the answer you need. I could tell you within 10 mins if I think an idea will work or not. People spend a lot of energy in dressing up business ideas, but the bones either work or they don’t. Being successfully self-employed is challenging. There is no point making your success harder than it needs to be by persisting with a stupid business idea.
• Speak up. Explain your concerns, voice your anxieties.
• Measure progress. Be accountable to the results.
• Pull the pin if it is not working and have your partner take a “reality check”.
• Always have someone impartial and qualified supporting you through this process.
• Whether we come from Mars or Venus has little effect of the financial consequence of dumb decisions.

Remember, any business takes investment. Of cash and time. Agree how much cash you are prepared to spend on business acquisition and development. Always, outsource your "financial sounding board". Any form of feedback, constructive or not, too often is interpreted as negative and unhelpful, even if the feedback/advice is correct. Many of my clients have expressed interests in businesses that do not stack up financially. Navigating through this period of change is traumatic and can add more strain to an already down-trodden relationship so engage help to make sure you do it the smartest way possible. Changing careers or starting out can be good thing, but remember, it is not your entitlement to do so, it is a privilege that few people have and fewer again take the opportunity and actually turn it into a financial success.


Photo Terrance Clarke