Understanding Unemployment and Divorce


  • Having one spouse unemployed can put a strain on a marriage, making it vulnerable to divorce.
  • Studies have shown that married men who find themselves unemployed are at risk for divorce.
  • Household chores also play a factor in an unemployed spouse being vulnerable to divorce.

" Even if there is money coming into the house, the occupants of the household still could be spending more than what is being taken in. This type of spending only can last for so long, before you run out of money entirely."

For people going through a divorce, their job can be a source of comfort. The routine of a work day can provide the sense of normalcy that they need in their lives, especially during a time of great upheaval. In addition, the income of employment allows for moments of financial stability during a time of financial division and uncertainty.

However, this sense of stability only applies if you have a job.

For those that are unemployed, much of the fuel behind any sort of marital issues or even, the actions of pursuing a divorce, stem from one’s employment status. Unemployment causes complications in the familial dynamic, forcing the family to rely on one source of income, if that.

Strain on marriages

In the current economic climate, it makes sense that unemployment would provide a constant strain on marriages and eventually lead to divorce, if they can afford it. Many people in the United States simply cannot afford to get a divorce, because they don’t have a job. According to the National Public Radio-Kaiser Family Foundation survey, more than a fifth of all Americans who have been out of work for a year or more say that their relationships with intimate partners have changed for the worse.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where those out of work, go through marital problems that lead to a divorce, but cannot afford a divorce because they do not have the funds to pay for all of the fees involved in the process.

Harvard University did a study, published in the American Sociological Review, of 6,300 heterosexual couples and found that men who were not working full time were 33 percent more likely to divorce in the following 12 months than husbands who did have full time jobs.

Division surfaces

Additional studies from Ohio State University, that examined marital satisfaction and employment status found that when men are not employed, it heightens the possibility of either the man or woman leaving the marriage. They no longer feel tethered to the commitment, because they no longer feel that one of the spouses is not pulling their own weight.

Unemployment can create a division that magnifies all of the other negative opinions of the marriage that the employed spouse has. It can make the situation worse, causing animosity to grow between the two. In this environment of negative emotions, men can often feel as though they are not living up to the expectations set by society. These expectations can often be a source of social anxiety, putting them at risk for anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Pulling your own weight

Many spouses, regardless of gender, do not wish to take care of someone that cannot take care of themselves. It’s a matter of pride for some, and they do not want anyone to weigh them down by causing financial problems, breeding a storm of negativity, and not moving their life forward.

There’s so much pressure in today’s society to progress. We, as a society, find ourselves constantly challenging ourselves to be better than we were before, and when someone is in an unhappy marriage to an unemployed individual, it can feel like there is a cinder block tied to your feet, and you’re sinking deeper and deeper underwater.

This is primarily due to the logistics of spending more money in a household than what is being made. Even if there is money coming into the house, the occupants of the household still could be spending more than what is being taken in. This type of spending only can last for so long, before you run out of money entirely. For the employed spouse, that type of pressure could simply be too much to handle.

Household maintenance

In addition to money, maintaining a household can put stress on any couple, especially if one is employed and the other is not. Many couples feel that if only one spouse is working, then the other one should be in charge of household chores, and if that expectation is not met with the unemployed household, it not only puts a strain onto marital expectations, but it can affect your chances of getting a divorce, depending on when you got married.

According to Good Housekeeping magazine, couples who married before 1975 experienced more marital issues related to housework and wives not doing enough, but for couples who got married after 1975, there was more tension when the husband was unemployed.

This is primarily due to the fact that before 1975, less women were working full-time, which meant husbands expected their wives to play a bigger part in household chores, according to the Monthly Review Foundation. However, since more women joined the workforce around 1975, the dynamics shifted.

Identity crisis

This has created an identity crisis with men and women who cohabitate. With individuals who share income, regardless of their marital status, employment used to be used to identify “the breadwinner” of the household. The societal perception is that to be men. However, if the breadwinner becomes unemployed for whatever reason, they can find themselves at risk for several different types of health risks.

In addition to the health risks, they could find themselves resentful toward their spouse, who may find themselves with a job, in an attempt to support the both of them. Due to the societal and historical perceptions of gender roles within the confines of a marriage, they may find themselves unwilling to accept the reality of their situation, creating additional tension within the relationship. This simply adds fuel to the divorce fire.

In ending a marriage, two individuals find themselves inadvertently in the pursuit of financial independence, which can spell trouble for the unemployed ex-spouse. Nevertheless, the amount of damage that can be done on a marital relationship, due to the stress of unemployment, makes the divorce experience a necessary step in getting two individual lives back on track.

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