How Do I Help Him Survive a Layoff?

Ask Demetria: There are no simple solutions to dealing with a boyfriend who's lost his job.

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I'm scared for my relationship, Belle. My boyfriend was laid off last year and is now having financial problems, and he seems depressed. It's causing us to argue a lot. I try my best to be supportive and loving, but he just seems like he's giving up on everything. He says it's not me, but I'm scared. I want to help, but what to do? --W.N.

It's not you; it's him. Being "let go" -- whether it's called laid off, downsized or fired -- will be a blow to most people's self-esteem. They will feel incompetent and unappreciated, and some will become resentful. Combine those feelings with the stress of being unable to find work, with bills piling up and money running low.

Some people have an additional factor at play: There are those who define their worth by an ability to "provide," and when they cannot, they feel as though their very being has taken a hit akin to what Basketball Wives co-star Tami Roman once landed on cast mate Meeka Claxton.

With all that your boyfriend faces, hearing you describe him as "depressed" isn't all that surprising. And unfortunately, there's not much you can do about it.

The unemployment rate for African-American men is 15.2 percent, nearly double that of white men. That means there are a lot of women in your position.

The conventional advice I've heard about how to "manage" an unemployed man is to let him know that you believe in him, assure him of your loyalty to the relationship, encourage his spirits with positive words and help him look for work by revamping his résumé or searching for job leads with him. The unconventional advice (which I don't recommend) suggests that you cheer him up by putting it on him as often as possible and putting off his creditors by paying his bills as if you're an ATM.

Does all that sound like BS? Good, because it is! Every woman I've spoken to who has been in a relationship with a man who's been laid off or fired has told me that she tried all of those tips, even the unconventional ones, and it was all in vain.

"We made it because I put my head down and got through it," one woman told me. In other words, she practiced patience, adopted an uncanny ability to ignore the worst of her partner's newfound traits and just plain hoped that her man would someday be transformed back into the person she fell in love with rather than the frustrated lump he'd become.

You're right on target to be concerned about the relationship under these circumstances. When I was in this situation, my guy and I didn't survive. I was with a man I adored when he called to tell me that he'd been let go. I sought advice from close friends and family members -- men and women -- who had been down that road before, and they unanimously told me to break up with him. "The bottom is getting ready to drop out of your world," a well-intentioned relative told me.

I didn't believe her, especially because I believed in my guy. He started off optimistic and enthusiastic, picking up odd jobs, spending his lunch hour making calls to set up informational interviews and sending résumés. He started talking about going into business for himself. He put together a business plan and hired a lawyer to get it incorporated. Work trickled in; investors didn't. That's when he changed.