MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

When someone loses a job, the struggles that follow begin but often don't end with money. Unemployment can change the entire dynamic of a family.

As part of our series The Road Back to Work, we've been following a couple whose relationship has been dominated by the search for work.

NPR's Tamara Keith gives us this update on the Barfields.

TAMARA KEITH: Brian and Jennifer Barfield have been married for seven months now, and they've never really known normal, at least not in the job department. They met at a networking group for unemployed professionals in St. Louis. They came from different backgrounds: Brian in manufacturing; Jennifer, an IT professional.

Ms. JENNIFER BARFIELD: Blessings come out of the tough times. I wouldn't have met Brian, our paths would never have crossed, I'm sure, if we weren't both unemployed.

KEITH: For part of their courtship, Brian had a job, but it didn't last.

Ms. BARFIELD: And then, of course, they let him go right after our honeymoon, which was a stay-home honeymoon. So we haven't even had a honeymoon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARFIELD: We're hoping to have a honeymoon within, I don't know, the first two years of marriage.

KEITH: Living on unemployment and early withdrawals from Jennifer's 401(k), the Barfields haven't been able to entertain the idea of a tropical vacation or even the occasional fancy dinner. For the Barfields, date night is hopping in the car and taking a drive around St. Louis.

Ms. BARFIELD: If you want, we can go to that area at Lindbergh and watch the planes go by. See, we know all kinds of ways to entertain us for free, except for a little bit of gas money, I suppose.

KEITH: At times, the frustration of both being unemployed puts stress on their marriage. Brian Barfield knows the havoc unemployment can wreak on a marriage. His first one ended after he initially became unemployed in 2007.

Mr. BRIAN BARFIELD: We lost the house and I got divorced. The kids went and lived with their mother.

KEITH: His daughters are both in college now. Back in February, Brian got a part-time weekend position that he hoped would be more regular, but it never really panned out. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking on Jennifer's unemployment benefits. And then, a breakthrough.

Ms. BARFIELD: This Jennifer Barfield. It is Monday, March 20th and I have an interview at 1:00. And I'm sitting in the parking lot where I'm about to interview. And I'm as ready as I can be. And I'm going to go in there and give it hell and hope for the best. And I'll be back afterward.

KEITH: Jennifer and Brian Barfield have been keeping audio diaries throughout the year to document their job search for NPR.

Ms. BARFIELD: Well, hello again. I've just left my interview and, well, it was good. And they really liked me a lot.

KEITH: After two years of searching, at times struggling to even get out of bed in the morning, Jennifer has a job. It's not permanent and the pay is $20,000 a year less than her last job. But none of that matters. She's just glad to be working again.

But if the Barfields have any hope of catching up on their bills, Brian needs a full-time job, too. And just as Jennifer is getting good news, it seems like all of Brian's leads have gone cold.

(Soundbite of phone tone)

Mr. BARFIELD: Mr. Hamel(ph), it's Brian Barfield. I'm just making sure I didn't miss your call this week. I thought you said we'd get together for the interview. Just give me a call back when you can. Thanks.

Ms. BARFIELD: What are you doing, honey?

Mr. BARFIELD: The fridge.

Ms. BARFIELD: Oh.

He's cleaning the fridge. Brian was making me laugh last night, saying he's now the house husband. And he is. He does...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARFIELD: He does the cleaning and the dishes, and sometimes the cooking.

KEITH: Brian may joke about it, but the idea that he isn't the breadwinner, that drives him crazy.

Mr. BARFIELD: She's working, so every dollar she earns is one more under my nose that I didn't earn, you know. And I'm not contributing, and it's a lot of pressure.

KEITH: So when the company where he works occasional weekends offered him a seasonal position just for late spring and summer, Brian jumped at it.

Mr. BARFIELD: It's supposed to be for college kids but I applied for it because I'm not doing anything else in the meantime. So I might as well earn some cash.

KEITH: The seasonal pay is about half of what regular employees get. Brian is hoping that he'll impress company managers enough to get hired on permanently.

So now they're both working, but it's still not what most people would consider normal. Jennifer works eight to five and Brian works overnight.

Mr. BARFIELD: We can still do whatever we want in the evenings. We still have dinner together. We can still go shopping. It's just, when she goes to bed I go to work, and when I go to bed she goes to work.

KEITH: They still have a date night on Fridays, and they still go for drives. For the first time in their marriage, the Barfields are able to focus on something other than finding a job - each other.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And you can find more on the Barfields and our series, The Road Back to Work, at NPR.org.

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