Covid-19 and sudden loss of income by a husband

During an economic downturn, one of the first things employers do to cut costs is reduce staff and cut back on services. Besides death and divorce, the only other real stress comes from not being able to support your family.
During an economic downturn, one of the first things employers do to cut costs is reduce staff and cut back on services. Besides death and divorce, the only other real stress comes from not being able to support your family.
Image: REUTERS

During an economic downturn, one of the first things employers do to cut costs is reduce staff and cut back on services. The financial impact of the coronavirus is being felt globally and many businesses are forced to close either temporarily or permanently. This unravelling of business is no less in South Africa.

There aren’t many words to describe what happens in the life of a responsible husband with all the abilities, experience, education and attitude to suddenly lose his ability to provide. Other than death and divorce, we know of no other stress-inducing event in the life of a grown man that’s as shocking to his system as abruptly removing his ability to provide. Typically he feels his very manhood and identity are stripped away, and is powerless about it.

Many men struggle to fully express their feelings. The unemployed husband often suffers in silence. The effects however, of his inability to provide are often evidenced by low self-confidence, guilt, frustration, feeling overwhelmed, fear, self-doubt and lapses of depression. He often feels he’s a social outcast. And if the income loss lasts too long, he’ll likely become discouraged and negative about most things.

He may resort to infidelity, hypersensitivity, short temper, substance abuse, anger and violence as a way of trying to reassert his threatened masculinity. Things can get even worse if he feels he doesn’t get the support he desperately needs from his wife, or if she shows signs of disdain for him.

Don’t sit back

A posture of giving up gives rise to depression and all kinds of counterproductive behaviour. It may well be time to consider this season as an opportunity to invest in whatever he believes is his life calling. This is a great time to think about what he’s passionate about, and what gives him meaning. And then start to engage with that process instead of feeling helpless, waiting for some messianic phone call from a possible employer. He must invest himself in community work, start a small business, do something. We know of a once-unemployed husband that developed a business from a simple passion he developed from maintaining his own garden.

Give him his place

Allow him the space to be the man he’s always been before the income loss. If the children for instance, previously approached him for stuff they needed, let them still get the money from him. Remember, the income to the family belongs to both of you, not just you. This requires a massive deal of maturity and solid grounding in faith for both of you.

Keep the big picture in mind

Going through this rough season in your marriage, you may well have to consider what you actually meant when you vowed, “for better or worse; for richer or poorer ... until death do you part”? As a wife, are you able to respect your husband beyond his inability to provide? Do you appreciate the income loss situation as temporary in the backdrop of the permanence of your marriage?

Remember that unity is power

Nothing can beat you forming a strong alliance in a show of unity during this season of your marriage. You have to sit down as a team and strategise not only the job hunt, but ways you can minimise conflicts that come with this season. Let each other know you are on the same team. Your husband has to not feel judged and he must feel he is an equally valuable contributor in some or other way to the partnership you share.

Allow for a period of grief

Any significant loss, personal or professional, may provoke an episode of melancholy. The first couple of weeks after a job loss often involves a period of adjustment, which may or may not include grief. If it does, it is important to allow him a bit of time and space. The frustration may even be worsened by the limited options of income-generation. As most industries move online and minimise human contact, many people are nervous about their value and contribution.

Get practical about it

Along with all the emotional support needed, it’s important to think about the practical implications of the situation. Immediately talk to your creditors and suppliers to inform them of the situation. Work out a plan to meet your obligations. . You’ll be surprised how understanding they will be during the period of this pandemic.

Cut down on your lifestyle, and sell the valuables you don’t need. You’ll be amazed at how much money is “hidden” in stuff that you can do without. You may need to relocate to a smaller house until the situation changes. It’s time to evaluate the needs against the wants. Cancel unnecessary expenses, and collectively make adjustments.



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