Business & Economy

Tuesday, 05 May 2009 13:32

When debt enters, sex leaves: Marriage trouble in SA as economic woes tighten

{pp}Financial difficulties placing significant stresses on families as debt-burden increases.

South Africa’s debt counsellors are increasingly referring couples to marriage counselling too, as high debt burdens lead to couples fighting and divorcing.
“We have wives asking that we don’t tell their husbands how badly in debt they are, or vice versa. We have screaming matches in front of counsellors when the wife discovers the husband has three credit cards and then he discovers she has four,” Consumer Assist CEO Andre Snyman said.

Consumer Assist is South Africa’s largest umbrella network of debt counsellors accredited in terms of the National Credit Act. “We had one client, a very well-to-do businessman married in community of property who thought they were rich. It was only when his wife took him for an appointment, that he realised it was to meet with a debt counsellor because his wife had spent so heavily they were now in very serious debt. “We now have psychological counselling available for our debt counsellors because they are seeing increasing numbers of very distressed people; couples are fighting, their children are being harassed by schools because fees haven’t been paid and coping skills are being eroded as debt counsellors deal with very depressed or suicidal people,” Andre Snyman, CEO of Consumer Assist said.

Veteran marriage counsellor Liz Dooley of the Family Life Centre in Johannesburg which will see clients for free if they lack funds to pay said: “arguments about money often lead to arguments about sex, both are about power. Traditionally the man exercises power over the wallet if he is the breadwinner, while a woman exercises power in the bedroom.” She advises that couples should see a financial crisis as “an opportunity to revisit values. Money issues are very often not about rands and cents it is about how you see yourself in the world. I’ll ask couples, ‘what does being poor mean to you?’’ How do you view the beggar at the traffic light?’ If you save 5c today, that could be R5 tomorrow. “Let’s see financial problems not as a punishment but as a way to bring creativity into the relationship. Is money about status? Do you really need another pair of shoes? Is it better to buy your kids a play-station or to play with them yourself?” Dooley said that schools that give pink slips to children in front of classmates or won’t let them to go to matric dances because parents had not been able to afford school fees, “should reconsider their strategies, children can’t earn this is not their responsibility.” Japie Coetzee, a pastor and trauma counsellor who helps Consumer Assist debt counsellors said that there was a saying in Afrikaans: “when poverty comes in the front door, love goes out the back. Financial issues create tensions.” He said he had personal experience some years back of interest rates leaping after he and his wife bought a house; “my wife became concerned about finances and was withdrawn and quiet. It can affect communication. “There are often issues around trust, betrayal, failure and disappointment. People may become desperate because they feel helpless and all of this relates to fear – are we going to lose the house, will we recover?” Coetzee says couples need to create situations of “openness and trust so if there is a problem they feel safe. If a husband tells his wife he has lost his job he must feel safe that she won’t say, you are a failure. They should avoid trigger words like ‘if only’, ‘because’ or ‘it’s your fault.’ Anger is often a smokescreen for those who feel disempowered.” Snyman said, “Faith organisations like churches, mosques, temples and shul are helping many people who are indebted and it is putting strains on some of them too. Organisations like Family Life Centre do wonderful work, often for free, but they too are hard hit by the financial crisis, we need corporates to assist these organisations that do so much good. “But ultimately resolving debt problems needs to be approached in a holistic manner. It impacts on every area in an individual’s life – their self esteem, friendships and family relationships, the way they see themselves…

“Any delay in getting help can make a bad situation worse. In the United States house repossessions are up 70%, that’s an astonishing figure, here the estimates are 2 000 homes lost each month. There are lots of ways to find help and debt counselling is a way to accelerate the road to recovery.”

Contact information:
Andre Snyman
CEO Consumer Assist
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 012 654 6018

Issued by:
Charlene Smith Communications Pty Limited
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Tel: 011 646 76376 or 021 762 2656

Charlene Smith Communications (Pty)Ltd
Contact: Leila Beltramo
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 021 762 2656

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