Question 

I LOVE my man with all my heart and I don’t plan on leaving him. The only thing troubling our relationship is black tax. He has to provide for me and our children and his family back at home. He ends up in a lot of debt, taking out loans he can’t afford to pay back. On top of that, his mother has high expectations as he is the first-born. She wants him to build her a house. He cannot say no to his mother and is already trying to find means to get the money to build her a house. This is on top of the monthly expenses he has. When I tell my partner to limit what he is doing for the family, he becomes angry and says I don’t like his family. What is frustrating is that his sisters refuse to take any job in the meantime. We stay together with our two children and sometimes I have to end up paying for most of the bills because it is too much to take care of two families. What is the best way to cope in such a situation? - UNHAPPY LOVER

Expert advice 

TAKING care of your parents by financially supporting them even before they reach old-age is generally considered a given in South Africa. And to an extent, it is a very noble thing to do, especially given many of our parents’ difficult financial circumstances they had to raise us under.

A father-figure role 

This situation in black families is a norm. Most black people instinctively know of black tax, the burden of having to share your salary with responsibilities back home until you have nothing left to save or invest. Your partner most probably feels obligated to provide for his mother, perhaps because he feels he understands what she went through to raise him. Beyond that empathy, he may be trapped in the “first-born syndrome”, where it’s been engraved in his mind that he needs to play a father-figure role in the family as the eldest son. His sisters obviously seem to be happy folding their arms in the process even if he’s dead and buried in debt, as long as they also stand to benefit from his provision. That is very uncaring, immature and selfish.

Vicious cycle 

This is a vicious cycle, which can have no end attached to it. His current behaviour towards his family is not good. He may well expect it back from his own children in the future. That he may not have made enough life savings for his own retirement or possible disability, may mean that he will be a burden to his children. Someone has to draw the line and end the cycle. However, unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be you.

A vat ‘n sit situation 

Perhaps the biggest responsibility under the circumstances that you personally have is towards yourself and the children. You have no right to his finances despite the fact that you have children together. A vat ‘n sit situation has its own challenges, and often women tend to want to play roles of wives even to their partners’ income, instead of sticking to their lanes of just being domestic partners. His only responsibility towards you is his two children. He has no obligation to provide for you. That means he is at liberty to do whatever he wants with his money without your undue interference since you’re not his wife. All you have to do on your part is to ensure that he provides for his children.

Cohabitation agreement

In South Africa, there is no such thing as a common law marriage, no matter how long you’ve been living together. None of you actually have legal rights and duties to each other’s estates. That means if your relationship was to end today for whatever reason, you’d have no rights whatsoever in whatever property that is in his name. If you have no cohabitation agreement in place, you will be left vulnerable. The condition of your cohabiting relationship is such that you share an emotional, physical and financial relationship as that of a married couple while you are not. As such we recommend a domestic partnership agreement. In this regard, we suggest you see a family attorney for assistance.  

Bad financial choices 

And then of course, since you’ve already decided that you “don’t plan on leaving him”, it means you have to live with his bad financial choices for the rest of your lives together. It just boggles our minds how you are still with a man who clearly demonstrates that you are not his financial priority. This should be a deal breaker. How your partner behaves at this very moment is what he will be in the future and you have no reason to believe he will change for the better. Furthermore, if he’s already sinking in debt, and that you two are already failing to communicate around the financial issues, then you just have to be prepared to live with all that. It’s the choice you’ve made.