Married but single: The wives paying all the family bills

Married but single: The wives paying all the family bills. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

Today, a number of men are shunning their financial obligations, leaving their partners to shoulder the home burdens singlehandedly

Rose, a banker married to a civil servant for over 15 years, only remembers her husband paying household bills in the first few months of their marriage. The two had a ceremonious church wedding, marking the beginning of their marriage life.

At the time, Rose did not have a job, but she had to remind her husband to pay rent at the end of every month. Back then, she took the matter lightly as they were still both young and none of them was used to responsibilities.

“My husband would give me money only after I pushed him. I had no other means of getting money,” Rose says. 

The situation has only got worse with time. Despite her husband being a high-earning civil servant and driving a fancy car, he remains evasive of household bills. 

“He is irresponsible with money,” Rose declares.

After being jobless for a while, Rose later got a job in a bank. Her husband stopped paying bills altogether. 

“He would come home drunk and gradually this became a norm. He stopped buying food or paying any bills,” the mother of two says while adding that her husband has also abdicated his role of paying school fees for his children. 

A different era

A generation ago, it was expected that the man would be the provider in a relationship. That, when a woman married, her husband would take care of her and her children resource-wise. Then, being a breadwinner was a measure of masculinity.  Not anymore. Today, a number of men are stepping back from their financial responsibilities leaving their wives to carry the home burdens singlehandedly.

This comes with a heavy penalty for a woman as she not only has to sort out all the bills but simultaneously juggle it with being an employee, wife, mother and sometimes caregiver. At the same time, the men retain the title of head of the family, therefore enjoying the privileges without the responsibility of the position. 

Rose admits that she feels overwhelmed and overburdened. 

“I’m in this marriage because this was my first lover. I have regretted why I am a mother to his children. Sometimes I want to leave but feel, maybe, no man out there will love me. My relationship with my husband has gone sour and we don’t sleep in the same bed anymore,” she says, as she shares that they have tried marital counselling twice, but her husband’s behaviour has been unchanged. 

Mary’s story

Mary is a nurse in the same situation as Rose. The 47-year-old mother of five has become the sole provider of her household’s financial needs for the last eight years.

She took over the responsibility after her husband, a court Process Server, quit his job in 2015.

“At that time, we had four children. Even when our firstborn was joining high school in 2019 I paid his fees. I did that for four years until he graduated,” the Nairobi-based nurse, says. 

Mary, who has been married for 21 years confesses that becoming the main breadwinner has brought in stress and burn-out on her end. 

“Since the budget is tight I can’t employ a house girl and apart from my job, I have to do all the house chores. I am in charge of so many responsibilities in our house, it’s like I’m a single mother,” Mary says. 

When she tried to step back her husband turned hostile. 

“There is a time I got tired and stepped back but he became very harsh to the extent that I had to move to a friend’s house. I went back because I realised that my children were suffering,” Mary says. 

To Mary, her husband is simply lethargic to work and he has become a big burden. 

“He has shown no interest in searching for another job nor appreciated my efforts of taking over the household bills. When I inform him of available job vacancies and request him to apply, he leaves the house,” Mary, whose husband has been jobless since 2015, says. 

What irks Mary more is that her husband has become an alcoholic and he sometimes sells household items to keep his addiction going. 

“Anytime I have a conversation with him about finance he gets angry, so I even stopped talking about it and I now bear all the household responsibilities,” says the mother of five.

While Rose and Mary are women living in the urban area, things are not different for Jackline who lives in the rural area. 

Jackline’s story

Jackline, 45, has been married for the last 24 years and lives in Machakos County. 

When she was married as a young girl just after class eight, she totally depended on her husband for all her financial needs. 

However, things took a different turn a few months after they were blessed with their firstborn, when her husband was retrenched, rendering him jobless. This forced them to move back to their home county, Machakos to cut down on monthly bills.

“Life was very hard and we did not have any hope of things getting better especially because we were back in the village,” says the mother of three. 

Things only got worse when they got their second-born and third-born. 

This situation pushed Jackline to think outside the box so that her family could get their basic needs.

It was this kind of situation that saw Jackline put her hands into her tailoring job, a two years course she had pursued prior to getting married. 

“I started by sewing and selling petticoats to women in the village. Getting customers was not easy. The more I kept hawking the petticoats the more I interacted with people who asked me to try the shopping centre which was a little more populated,” she says.

For more than two decades, Jackline has supported their children’s livelihood and education that has seen their firstborn enrol at university. She has expanded her business and besides selling petticoats she also makes other types of clothes alongside selling shoes and other women’s outfits.

But though her husband does not chip into the family bills, Jackline takes it as her responsibility. 

 “I am supporting my family because if I did not have a husband I would have been the one educating my children. What if he died? Won’t it still be a must that the children attend schools?” she quizzes.

She admits that it is a tough life but her strong Christian background has seen her overcome the challenges of being the main breadwinner.

“God has been standing in my marriage, without Him, life could have not been possible. The most important thing is trusting in God,” says Jackline. 

When wives become enablers

Gender and Social Inclusion specialist, Dr Elizabeth Waithanji says that some highly qualified men who genuinely lose very good jobs have their wives as breadwinners. This she says is because they want to get similar jobs since they don’t want to downgrade their life.

 “There are situations where a man refuses to work and the woman enables it, so the man develops a bad attitude.  Maybe the wife is earning more money than him. Instead of bringing what he can, because of toxic masculinity, he wants to just frustrate the woman because he feels he should become the man of the house, so in protest then he does nothing,” says the Waithanji. 

Waithanji sees this kind of scenario as overwhelming for a woman. 

 “Everything gets pilled on the woman. It’s a big disadvantage because the man still expects to be the head of the house and interferes with decision-making. So even if they are farming and they are not bringing many things to the table, a lot of them will try and control whatever the woman is bringing to the table,” Dr. Waithanji says.

She says that even irresponsible husbands still want to reach for their wives’ money and in situations where their wives do not allow them, then the marriage becomes dysfunctional. 

“When you become irrelevant in society then you physically fade off. If a man is irresponsible and has refused to work, they don’t end up well because they just become irrelevant,” the specialist says. 

Being kept man is bad for health

A 2017 study noted that men who keep off the daily grind are at a disadvantage health-wise. Being a kept man is dangerous to a man’s health, the study reported, as it raises the risk of suffering heart problems, chronic lung disease and stomach ulcers.

“Men whose partners are the main breadwinner suffer from stress-related physical conditions because their masculinity is damaged. Toppled from the position of breadwinner, they may also seek to regain their manliness through smoking, drinking and eating unhealthily,” notes US sociologists from Rutgers University studied almost 1,100 married couples over three decades. 

Previous research has found house-husbands are more likely to be unfaithful, with the risk of an affair rising the greater the earnings gap with their spouse.

While women who are the main breadwinners may try harder to keep their marriage on track, their husbands are more likely to abuse them or cut back on their contribution to housework.

Dr. Waithanji agrees that irresponsible husbands become alcoholics and zombie-like as they eventually lose interest in engaging in any activities and become inactive.

Dr. Waithanji acknowledges that patriarchal attitudes keep women glued to nightmare marriages. These women, she says work harder and struggle because they have secured a home for their children and a name through the marriage.

“Maybe you’ve been told that a woman without a husband is useless. You may be quite achieved but you put up with extreme irresponsibility to make sure that your identity as a married woman is intact to avoid being labelled and stigmatised,” the specialist says. 

Even as some women in marriages continue to carry the household responsibilities, Dr. Waithanji sees things improving in the future. She says that the next generation will bring transformation and challenge the status quo.

“The new generations who really question things will say my father didn’t bring anything to the table, I don’t want to be a father like that. I suspect the next generation is actually going to go back to what it should be, they are going to redefine themselves and their values based on what they’ve observed in the past,” says Dr. Waithanji.