There is a new phenomenon that is fast gaining ground around here. Whenever I take the time to observe, there is usually one woman or the other shouldering the weight of the financial responsibility in her home. For many, it is just a lane they are passing through in their marital journeys and for some others, this weight has characterised the journey for as long as it was started and if truth be told, it appears to them like there might be no end in sight to the experience and its accompanying misery.
The sorry state of our economy coupled with a faulty educational system that unnecessarily places a high value on white collar jobs and our wobbling value system that celebrates overnight success stories without asking for explanations have all helped in ensuring we have more than our fair share of virile, good looking, well spoken, educated but jobless men.
How this affects the average woman out there is that the fact that she courted and married a man with a well-paying job does not mean that their finances will remain in a tidy state. Many men with such well-paying jobs have since lost those jobs and some are miserably making the transition from employee to entrepreneur or in some cases from employee to job seeker.
In the last two decades, many of our young men graduated from the universities but because of the lingering downturn in the economy were not able to find jobs. Quite a number of them became “business men” engaging in any and every venture to keep body and soul together. Some women had the good fortune of marrying such.
The army of business men at least made efforts at making income. Some others kept hoping and believing that they will soon land their dream corporate job. For those, it had to be a job in the banking, oil or telecommunication industries. They have written resume after resume, gone back to school for Master’s Degree Programmes and in some instances even earning doctorate degrees, but in spite of these academic achievements, they do not seem to see the connection between meeting a need in exchange for value and their personal finances. Since they are educated and good looking, what happens is that some sisters out there overlook their joblessness and lack of income earning capacity and get married to them!
In the above instances, one common thread that runs through is the possibility that a woman out there will one day pay dearly by being the sole provider in her marriage. She pays the rent, the school fees, puts food on the table, bears and rears the children. Societal expectation is that through it all, she remains the dutiful, loving and submissive wife. Where she falls short of these expectations or societal definitions of “submission”, she is reviled and tagged proud.
The aim of this article is to draw attention to the strategies of coping with what I call a short term rearrangement of roles and responsibilities as well as the adjustments to make if and when it appears like there is an unwillingness on the part of the man to rise up to his responsibilities.
If care is not taken, a short term rearrangement may signal the beginning of the end of a marriage. The pattern or tell-tale signals are usually in the following order:
- Both the man and the woman are tensed up. The man apprehensive of what the future holds and the woman of the additional responsibilities being piled on her.
- If there had been no solid friendship platform from which the couple related, misunderstandings may become the order of the day. Attitudes displayed and words spoken by both parties may be misunderstood.
- The woman may become impatient, cynical and critical when overwhelmed especially when she observes that apart from being the breadwinner, she also handles the bulk of domestic chores around the house.
- The man may become defensive of his ego and refuse to help around the house or even refrain from doing stuff he was accustomed to helping out with when he was gainfully employed. His thinking is that he does not want to become a doormat or be turned into a house husband.
- The woman begins to feel unappreciated. Her expectation is that in view of all she is shouldering, her husband should literally worship the ground on which she treads! After all the rent is paid, school fees are promptly settled, there is food on the table and fuel in the cars! As a matter of fact, in order not to give out the situation to other family members, new outfits are bought and sewn for him at intervals for family outings. The only thing that may not be available in surplus supply is sex… and the woman wonders why his libido has not adjusted to the size of his income. Come to think of it, she must be really worn out and too tired for any extracurricular activities after all her official and domestic duties are sorted out.
- The man though appreciative of all the woman is doing is nevertheless dying of shame and embarrassment. His self-confidence may disappear, he becomes irritable and he feels the need to stamp and enforce his authority out of desperation. He may take to alcohol, may stop hanging out with his old friends with whom he believes he is no longer at par because in their midst, he believes his failure becomes more glaring. He may start hanging out with people his wife believes are beneath their social status and she terms it a lack of ambition not knowing he is desperately looking for relevance and affirmation. His thinking is that with this new set of associates, his education and exposure will at least earn him some respect and admiration, the two things that have flown out the window back at home.
- The woman gets confused and frustrated over her predicament. It is a double jeopardy for her to sacrifice and bear so much and receive no overflowing appreciation. She begins to feel sorry for herself and if care is not taken, because she feels the need to reward herself, an entitlement to be happy and appreciated, she finds solace in her friends, religious activities, a new hobby or even an affair. Some women in this situation have extramarital affairs not because they are morally bankrupt but out of a desperate search for a perceived well deserved appreciation and care. They just want to be taken care of after having catered to the needs of other members of their households.
- The man is also not left out. Because of his dwindling fortunes and need for relevance, he may become reckless or become a recluse. He may indulge in extra marital affairs just to have access to sex without begging for it or being made to feel a huge favour has been done for him after the act. In addition to this, he may just be out to get “respect” so he goes after the young school leaver in the neighbourhood, the woman hawking bread or even the domestic help in his home. The woman finds out and she is shattered. She feels devalued! She wonders if she is no better than the women he is sleeping with. She wonders how he could descend so low? … and her self-esteem goes in the same direction.
- In retaliation the woman withdraws support, gets nasty and the centre can no longer hold…
Watch out for Part II of Double Jeopardy where we will analyse what to do in order not to find yourself in the scenarios painted above.
Feel free to share your own insights on this issue as well as your experience. Someone on this blog may just get encouraged. Head to the “Comments” section right away. So long dear sisters!