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For Richer or Poorer!

Very few events in the life of a married couple can put the “for richer or for poorer” vow to the test like a partner, especially the male, that loses income.

We found ourselves talking about this very issue when Robert Mugabe was recalled as President of his Zanu-PF party and Zimbabwe. While he’s stashed vast wealth for his family in various parts of the world during his 37 year tenure, we thought of an ordinary family going through the unfortunate ordeal of losing income. With a wife like Grace Mugabe and their sons, whose lavish and opulent extravagance is well recorded worldwide, this usually spells, trouble for a common family in similar circumstances.

We’ve been there ourselves. We both lost our jobs two years apart. We know exactly what kind of risk the loss of income can put on a relationship. That we’ve come out of it without the smell of smoke is a story for another day.

The stress that comes with having to manage the household expenses through a single income when the second one is abruptly cut is beyond words. This is especially stressful as you are accustomed to a certain standard of living, but are now forced to adjust downwards. Your relationship suffers strain as already existing marital tensions are exacerbated and financial stresses spark new challenges.

The partner that lost the job has new issues that surface. For a man, losing a job generally translates to loss of self-definition. The loss of self-confidence and self-esteem usually translates to lack of intimacy, lack of interest all-round, over sensitivity and even depression. Full-blown depression can crumble the relationship altogether as the other partner may feel heavily weighed down by the negativity of the other.

Depression as a result of a job loss can have a profound effect on your psyche. It can shake your confidence and challenge your self-worth. It can lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness that can make it difficult to find a new job, even when you look for one. It’s common to feel shock, denial, fear, panic, and anger. You feel shocked that this has happened to you, panicked and fearful about your financial situation, and angry at God, the former employee and at yourself.

Job loss conveys that your sense of who you are has changed. Yesterday you had a job title that helped define your place in the world, but today, it’s all gone.

In high-income earning families, like when we were when we first lost our jobs, status-oriented activities like vacations, parties, restaurants, movies and charitable giving are unfortunately clipped, if not cut altogether in order to give way to the reprioritized way of living.

When only one person brings in the money and the other stays at home, the integrity of the relationship must not be compromised. Balance has to always be maintained in order that mutual respect is not lost.

In so doing, we invite you to consider the following:

  1. The effect of your actions on your partner’s feelings. Try to see things from their perspective as much as you can. What is it like for your partner to always have to ask for money from you? What is it like to be responsible for all the bills?
  2. If you’ve both decided to have a singular income by choice but now find that’s no longer working, renegotiate your set up. Never build unnecessary resentment toward your partner if you feel the strain taken by the relationship as a result of financial pressure.
  3. We recommend a discretionary non-accountable income that you both need to have access to. A little bit of financial freedom will do wonders for the partner who lost a job, which in turn benefits your relationship. Having your own money helps you feel like you haven’t given yourself up in order to be part of a relationship. And that is very important!
  4. Validate your partner. Often couples would consider the partner that works at home as doing something insignificant. Or vice versa, as the one at home may feel the career partner has no clue on the details and tediousness of working in the home-front. You do not want to send the message that what your partner is doing is unimportant. That will add serious stress to your relationship.
  5. Share the process of bill paying and budgeting. This does not have to be one person’s responsibility. For a while Mo extended this responsibility to Phindi while she was going through the shock of her retrenchment. It helped her tremendously to regain confidence and self-belief as depression was beginning to settle in. Never exclude your partner just because you’re the one bringing in the cash, and they’re not. If you were to quantify the work done at home into Rand value, you’d be amazed at the worth.
  6. Never tie love, emotions, sex and intimacy to your money issues. Demeaning sex by using money like, “if you don’t want have sex with me then I can’t buy you that favourite item you’ve always wanted” is to create a prostitute. Deal with your emotions emotionally and with your finances financially.
  7. Take care of yourself as much as possible. Even if you’re not the primary breadwinner, you need to feel like an equally important part of your relationship. Operate from the same understanding with your partner with regards to how you want your relationship to turn out. It’s both your responsibility.

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