This subject was in particular addressed by John Stuart Mill, in The Subjection of Women (1869).

Historically, many societies have given sets of rights and obligations to husbands that have been very different from the sets of rights and obligations given to wives.

In some cultures, particularly in the Anglophone West, wives often change their surnames to that of the husband upon getting married.

For some, this is a controversial practice, due to its tie to the historical doctrine of coverture and to the historically subordinated roles of wives.

In the case of divorce, terminology such as former-wife or ex-wife is often used.

With regard to annulment, such terms are not, strictly speaking, correct, because annulment, unlike divorce, is usually retroactive, meaning that an annulled marriage is considered to be invalid from the beginning almost as if it had never taken place.

In some cultures, it was paid not only to support the establishment of a new family, but also served as a condition that if the husband committed grave offenses upon his wife, the dowry had to be returned to the wife or her family; but during the marriage, the dowry was often made inalienable by the husband.

Today, dowries continue to be expected in parts of South Asia such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and conflicts related to their payment sometimes result in violence such as dowry deaths and bride burning.The term continues to be applied to a woman who has separated from her partner and ceases to be applied to such a woman only when her marriage has come to an end following a legally recognized divorce or the death of her spouse.On the death of her partner, a wife is referred to as a widow, but not after she is divorced from her partner.In Middle English it had the form wif, and in Old English wīf, "woman or wife".It is related to Modern German Weib (woman, female), and Danish viv (wife, usually poetic) and may derive ultimately from the Indo-European root ghwībh- "shame; pudenda" (cf.Tocharian B kwīpe and Tocharian A kip, each meaning "female pudenda", with clear sexual overtones) The original meaning of the phrase "wife" as simply "woman", unconnected with marriage or a husband/wife, is preserved in words such as "midwife" and "fishwife".