Updated 18 December 2017

What to do when he disappears over Christmas

Imagine you’re preparing for Christmas.

Your mind is filled with ideas about what to cook to make the festive dinner special, or which presents to buy for the kids. The last thing you need to worry about is a husband or partner who goes MIA − “missing in action” − just before Christmas and only reappears after New Year’s Day.

Yet this is the sad reality for many women, who end up spending the festive season without money and worried sick.

Usually, the woman’s immediate reaction is to go to the police station to file a missing person’s report. But then clues from family or friends suggest her better half is not in physical danger: he’s just gone on an extended party with his friends or a girlfriend. Or worse, to his “other’ family in the rural areas.

New city, new love

DRUM asked two Joburg-based relationship experts − Mandisa Muruge, a counselling social worker for The Family Life Centre in Diepsloot, and Bheki Zungu, a life counsellor and author − to shed light on the problem.

Historically, some black South African men have left their villages and families in rural areas for job opportunities in urban areas, and when they’re all alone in the city, some find love, Bheki says.

In some cases, however, these men are already married.

When they find their new city lover and possibly even start a family with her, they may not declare it to either of their partners and instead embark on secret polygamous relationship.

Even in a case where the man is not already married, he could have a serious relationship “back home” and may have kids, yet be keeping both partners in the dark, Bheki warns.


“These men often lie about their whereabouts and ensure their partners never get to meet,” he explains.

“They may find creative ways to be absent from one of the partners during the festive season.”

His village partner may believe the man when he says he’s working through the festive season.

If he’s dodging the city partner, he’d have “things to take care of ” in the village.

But thanks to technological advances, this behaviour is much harder to hide these days. Sadly, the main reason for these polygamous relationships is greed on the part of the man, Bheki explains.

“He wants to have his cake and eat it.” WHILE the economic migration system may have ended, old habits die hard, Bheki says.

“They are sometimes passed on to the younger generations who saw their role models acting out what was seen as acceptable behaviour.”

Even if a man doesn’t have a second family, he may still disappear to the rural areas over the festive season if he’s the traditional type who has cultural obligations to honour at home over Christmas and New Year.

If this type of man doesn’t show up around this time, he could be seen to be neglecting his duties and risk not being supported in future when he has traditional obligations to fulfil.

Duty to family

But he should remember his duty to his family, too.

A man and wife represent what unity should be like in married life, Mandisa says.

“Children look up to their parents and learn a lot from them as they grow up. How parents behave can make or break a child.”

Affected couples need to reflect deeply on their marriage and what it means to them, Mandisa urges.

“Not only for themselves, but for their family’s sake too."

What to do?

Bheki’s advice to  men is to be open.

Ideally, a man should be open at the start of the relationship with the second woman and state that he has another family at home who he will visit now and then.

He must communicate clearly with the other partner, too, since as with any polygamous relationship, a man needs to obtain permission from the first wife (or wives).

Do the right thing. Don’t get involved in situations (having another partner or going off with buddies) that will cause you to betray the trust of your partner and children.

Take the whole family along.

“For me, this is a no-brainer,” Bheki says.

“People should plan their trips back home and agree on how long they will stay.”

Communication is important

couple talking

Mandisa's advice to women is to communicate.

If you know your partner may “disappear”, address it beforehand.

Sit him down and ask him to come clean. Be together.

There should be no extended individual holidays at key times for either partner in a committed relationship. The husband, wife and children should spend the festive season together, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Don’t cover up for your partner. Women often lie about their partner’s whereabouts for the sake of their reputation. Covering up doesn’t solve the problem.

Get help. Anger often takes over when the “guilty party” returns.

Arguments can lead to serious fights, which may even get physical. “Rather seek help through counselling,” Mandisa advises.