Why the ‘Tradwife’ Life Is More Dangerous Than Ever Before

The hype over traditional marriage comes as divorce gets a glow-up.

The Tradwife, or Traditional Wife, is an online female persona that’s been resurrected by influencers of late. (Screenshots from TikTok)

They were soulmates.

Well, at least that’s what Olivia thought—and Brad said too. (She’s too afraid to use their real names.) The couple met online when they were young but lived long distance so ended up with other partners. When they reconnected over a decade later, it seemed like fate.

“It was natural that I’d move across the country to be with him,” she said, recalling her decision to leave the West Coast for the South. “I mean, we had been dating on and off for years from a distance.”

Brad was charismatic and charming in a boyish way, sweet to babies and old people and close with his family. He’d been married twice, but Olivia believed his stories that painted him as the victim. She got pregnant within a couple years and Brad wanted her to stay home.

“He didn’t use the term ‘tradwife,’ but that’s what he wanted,” she said, referring to the social media trend glorifying the traditional wife of the 1950s who tends the home and has no financial independence. “I felt like a slave. He expected me to keep the house clean while caring for our baby. He got mad if he came home and toys were around. If I didn’t wear makeup and have my hair done he would ask why.”

She was also expected to meet his sexual needs on demand—and he controlled all the money. “The only thing with my name on it was a joint Costco card,” Olivia said. After he cheated multiple times, they got divorced and she got no alimony. Brad lives in a comfortable home thanks to his well-paying job. Olivia lives in a trailer.

“I caution women who are ‘tradwives’ because their whole lives depend on a man’s love,” she said, referring to the warnings she posts on social media when she sees the giddy promotion of this anti-feminist lifestyle. “It’s all sunshine and daisies in the beginning, but they could end up like me. I wish I had gone to college and made a plan to be independent. When I got divorced, I had nothing—no career, no life skills and no credit.”

Olivia has good reason to be sounding the alarm. Gone are the days when women receive lifetime alimony after sacrificing their careers to raise children and tend to the home. This arrangement, while it can work for some couples, allows the man to continue climbing the career ladder and increase his earning power. However, his wife’s marketable skills often lose relevance and, if they divorce, her age makes re-entering the workforce challenging.

I am a divorce coach and see “gray divorce” daily, a growing trend of couples over 50 who are splitting, leaving many women homemakers blindsided.

“It is buyer beware, since a significant number of marriages fail,” said Dori-Ellen Feltman, a family law attorney in Westport, Conn. “Some women can enjoy a comfortable, even luxurious, lifestyle as a traditional wife and when you’re in your thirties you don’t even think about the economic imbalance or the possibility of divorce. When things are good, it’s great—but you need to plan for what happens when it isn’t.”

Women can protect themselves by having a prenup agreement before marriage or a postnup negotiated afterwards when she decides to stay home, even requiring that she receive compensation for homemaker duties. These legal documents specify the financial settlement in the event of a split.

Feltman said she sees two factors that have influenced awards for spousal support in divorce.

“In the old days, if you were over 50 as a woman, you’d get lifetime alimony. But now, more fathers are getting 50-50 custody, especially since many have more flexibility working from home after the pandemic,” said Feltman.

“Plus many female judges have juggled it all, a job and kids, and may not have as much empathy for women who have chosen not to work outside the home,” Feltman continued, “even when that choice was made jointly with their husband. I think more women are expected to get back into the workplace, especially if she has the education to do so.”

I wish I had gone to college and made a plan to be independent. When I got divorced, I had nothing—no career, no life skills and no credit.

Olivia

In June 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) signed a law ending permanent alimony in Florida. Many critics insist that elderly divorced women who have been homemakers need this spousal support to survive. The First Wives Advocacy Group formed on Facebook as “advocates for fairness and dignity in alimony awards,” and its purpose is to “demand our marital contributions be honored by the Florida Legislature and the courts.”

But nothing has changed. Though alimony ends when a divorcee remarries in most states, and can even terminate when they cohabitate, the Florida law encourages ex-spouses to monitor and track their former partners to find out about new relationships—a potential danger for women. Women’s rights advocates see this as yet another attack on women’s freedom, and a way to keep them “under control.”  

After all, isn’t that why some men want a ‘tradwife’? Part of the tradwives philosophy, as one TikToker put it, is to “submit to their husbands and serve their husbands and family.”

Many insist they are making this choice because men and women should have traditional gender roles—and no one should judge them for it. The far-right tradwives believe the liberal feminist agenda, which empowers women to work outside the home, has robbed men of their status as the provider. Just search ‘tradwife’ on your favorite social media platform for picture-perfect homemaking bliss, domestic tips, plus lots and lots of apron fashion. 

When things are good, it’s great—but you need to plan for what happens when it isn’t.

Dori-Ellen Feltman, family law attorney

Ironically, this return to June Cleaver’s world for women represents a stark contrast to the definite “glow up” divorce is getting these days. A 2022 Gallup poll revealed 81 percent of Americans believe divorce is morally acceptable. Though the divorce rate is declining as fewer people get married, the celebration of singlehood is not as more women decide they love going solo. Divorce parties abound and women who have escaped toxic relationships wear it like a badge of honor—especially those who have experienced coercive control like financial abuse, isolation and monitoring of their time. 

“Lovers of single life, set yourself free,” writes Dr. Bella DePaulo in her recent book Single at Heart. “Gleefully reject the idea that putting a romantic partner at the center of your life is something you have to do, something that everyone wants, or that it is the normal, natural, and superior way to live.” 

As for Olivia, despite her struggle to create a better life for herself and her child, she’s grateful she escaped. But she won’t stop warning other women. 

“If you refrain from building your own success, it’s very dangerous,” she said. “Being a ‘tradwife’ is like playing Russian roulette.”

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About

Amy Polacko is a divorce coach and journalist who also runs a support group for single/divorced women. She worked on the Pulitzer Prize-winning team covering the TWA Flight 800 crash for Newsday. As a survivor of domestic abuse, she coaches women trying to escape and is writing a book on the family court underworld. Learn more about Polacko and her mission at www.freedomwarrior.info.