When a woman marries the breadwinner of an extended family

In most African societies, one does not simply marry an individual; they marry the whole family. The thought of existing as a family sounds very romantic; unfortunately, it is not always the case,  especially when a woman marries the breadwinner.

Most African societies expect financially stable ‘couples’ to empower their poorer relatives. This is usually not a problem until that expectation turns into an entitlement, which if not properly handled could turn into a family feud.

At the centre of this feud usually, is a woman is since the society believes the woman is the glue that holds family relations together, despite the man’s paramount position.  “When a man marries a bad woman, his family suffers,” they say.

The new woman in the picture

When financial dynamics in a family shift, the blame is placed on the new wife. Suddenly, Fatima’s school fees are late. “Salehe always used to send us the money in time. She’s changed him.” They’ll chorus during family meetings. The upkeep money for Grandma in Gede has gone down by 30 percent. Now, second cousins, Ikeno and Jafari have to wait one more year before they can apply for college. Everything is changing and it is all “because of that woman.”

The society needs to keep in mind that just because there is a change in the budget or finances, it does not mean that the woman is bad or evil. Her responsibility and priority might only go as far as (together with her husband) creating a new family for themselves.

This is a reality that most of us fail to accept. Why should a stranger change the way your family has been things for a very long time? She must be evil. No, she’s not. It’s your son or your brother that simply became…a married man.

What changes after marriage?

1. Two people became one

There is no longer “he is my blood, she’s not.” Now they’re both related to you. Coming from a family that had a brother as a breadwinner after losing both parents, I experienced first-hand what it feels like to have a new person come into the picture. Certain privileges were taken away and given to his wife. And rightly so.

There is nothing like blood is thicker than water. Blood instead joined with water and formed its own unique bond. This bond is so powerful that it can produce other human beings bearing DNA that will forever tie these two together. Just like we exist as brothers and sisters and feel that we are thicker than outsiders, we too came into existence because two people that were ‘typically not related’ to each other decided to form a bond. They became one. A new kind of thick.

2. New family becomes first priority

This is very hard for the extended family depending on the newly married benefactor to accept. Men are usually cautioned against taking their wives sides because one “can replace a woman but can never replace their family.” Unfortunately, these two variables cannot be pitted against each other. Just like we can’t ask a man to choose between his mother and his wife and expect him to make the right choice. Like they say, when the question is wrong, there cannot be a right answer. Any man that picks either of the two is a fool.

However, when it comes to finances and all things related to marriage, it is a man’s responsibility to put his immediate family first. This does not mean that he should neglect the extended family altogether. It simply means that things will no longer be as they used to. Marriage comes with its own responsibilities. It is the duty of both spouses to make a plan that takes into account the needs of everyone involved. This might include a reduction in certain allocated budgets, a delay in school fees or postponed appointments.

3. Change in Financial Status

This change can be either a positive or negative one, depending on the financial status of the spouses upon marriage.  The impact will be felt by everyone involved. A salary that was once able to cover one family’s cost of living now has to cover that of two families. There is no way things would remain the same. It is the responsibility of everyone involved to accept these changes and to make adjustments.

It is easier to think negatively about people that come into our lives and change the way we do things. Often, we fail to recognise the courage it takes for a woman to marry a breadwinner. She has accepted to share this responsibility with the man she loves.

Unfortunately, because our society considers any married woman lucky (regardless of the quality of the marriage or the man in question), it hardly acknowledges the thought that she too will bear half the responsibility of her husband’s commitments and sacrifices.

Perhaps it’s about time we all started to shift or expand our perspectives.




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