© The Author(s) 2016. Ireland used the Great Recession as an opportunity to pursue controversial reforms to lone parent social security payments while ignoring a significantly larger group of Irish women, qualified adults, the partners of coupled social welfare claimants. A review of the international literature about partners and recent policy trends is used to contextualise previously unpublished qualitative data capturing the practical experience of Irish partners and recent policy trends in relation to Irish partners. Despite the significant crisis-related rise in numbers of working aged qualified adults in Ireland, we see strong policy inertia in relation to this largely invisible group. The barriers to and lack of urgency for reform can be explained by several factors including fear of political backlash, ambiguous cultural norms about women’s roles, and practical capacity or lack of resources. The present policy architecture offers clear patriarchical dividends for male partners, employers and the policy elite, all of whom benefit from and remain attached to the concept of and the practice of a modified form of wifely labour. Policy avoidance cannot continue indefinitely, as reform of family-based welfare payments is central to resolving key policy problems including high participation rates and addressing child poverty. Options are briefly explored.