Economic dependency and sexual infidelity

Financial dependence is frequently a major consideration whether a person, especially the wife, stays in a sexually unhappy marriage or not. Many South African women born in the 1950s and 1960s often gave up their careers once their children were born or continued working on a part-time basis in order to take care of their children. Stay-at-home mother seldom received any compensation for the work they did as childminders and taking care of their homes. Most did not have any pension fund: this left them financially totally dependent on their husbands in their later years.

The patriarchal system promoted idea that the husband was the provider for the family. Within South African society, males were (and in some communities are) seen as the breadwinners and – until 1994 at least most senior positions were reserved for White males. This meant that the majority of women who did return to the official labour force after the birth of their children, often still needed their husband’s income to subsidise their own. For many women this financial dependence meant that, after being married for twenty years or more, divorce was not really an option. By that time, women are often in their forties, they had no work experience in the formal labour market, nor did they have their own pension or medical fund. For such women, divorce was often not an option.

The partnership between husband and wife on an economic level may persist long after the marriage’s loving origins have ceased, and therefore the couple stay married (Lake & Hills 1979:20). The effort required to unbundle the marriage and its assets is not seen as sufficient to justify a divorce – and thus: ‘[h]oly wedlock is often sustained by financial deadlock’ (Lake & Hills 1979:21). When women live in sexually unhappy marriages – with little or no option of leaving the marriage because of their financial dependence on their husbands – many women regard an affair as a way to escape their situation.

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria.