When a family is displaced from their home, it can take a toll on many facets of their lives including financial, social, and on their physical and mental health. But one aspect that can often go overlooked is the strain it can put on the spouses or adult partners in that relationship.
Because money and other financial matters are the most common cause of conflict among couples, it only makes sense that when enduring the financial hardship of experiencing homelessness, a couple is even more prone to argue. One partner may not feel that the other is pulling their financial or emotional weight, and this can lead to bitterness and resentment. Other stressors can include living in cramped or group quarters or having to adhere to shelter or social services rules and restrictions.
When there is a shift or loss of control over the typical roles and routines that normally allow partner relationships to thrive, feelings of inadequacy can take root within either person. I feel humiliated that we’re in this situation. Have I let my partner down by allowing things to get this far? Why haven’t I figured out how to get us out of this situation? If a person feels emotionally distant from their partner in addition to already feeling separated from others due to their circumstances, it can negatively affect their well-being.
In the most extreme cases, the strain can even lead to abuse between partners. For example, in Los Angeles, a city with one of the highest displaced populations in the country, 34% of 18-24 year-olds experiencing homelessness have experienced some form of Intimate Partner Violence, which can be physical, sexual, or psychological.
A strained relationship naturally impacts the entire family. When two parents are going through a difficult patch, it not only affects them, but the children that rely on them, and increases their burden. But if parents are mindful of looming relationship stressors and are committed to managing them, they are taking the first important steps to limiting the damage they cause.
When experiencing homelessness, it’s all the more crucial for partners to remain supportive of one another. This can include the simple practice of placing the good of one’s partner or the relationship above one’s own personal needs.
It can mean reaching out to others for care and encouragement and enlisting the help of organizations like Family Promise. While many programs separate male and female partners for both privacy and safety reasons, Family Promise is committed to keeping families together when they are unsheltered. Something as simple as a father being able to stay with his family and kiss his wife and daughters goodnight can help reduce the stress of an already daunting experience. These things can provide both members of the relationship a much-needed source of support, and remind them they have someone in their corner.
Having (and being) a reliable and supportive partner can help prevent negative feelings and reactions from occurring, so it’s important for both partners to remember that they’re in it together! And, in the very best of cases, it can strengthen the relationship immeasurably. This will help to stay focused on combining their energies into finding housing and taking the steps to secure a better future for themselves and their families.
 Intimate Partner Violence Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness, Homelessness Policy Research Institute