It might sound pretty sweet to have your partner taking care of you financially, but some people can feel uncomfortable and even inadequate if their spouse or partner makes more money than they do. Many of us, particularly men, have been taught that it is our job to be the providers and protectors for our partners and children, and this role can seem threatened when our partner is bringing in the majority, or all, of the income.
For years men were almost exclusively in the breadwinner role. However, that has been changing for the last few decades, causing a big shift in roles and incomes as more and more women become the breadwinners in their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 37% of wives earned more than their husbands (including households in which the husband had no earned income) in the U.S in 2014.
But regardless of whether you are a man or woman, if you are in a relationship in which one partner makes substantially more than the other, then this imbalance could cause division and conflict that reverberates throughout the relationship. Here’s what each partner can do to keep income differences from becoming a problem that harms their relationship.
1. Share your thoughts.
If you’re the one earning less, this is especially important to do. Having open communication in all areas of your relationship helps you and your partner understand each other better and prevents resentment from building. Your partner probably doesn’t care that you don’t make as much as them, especially if you work hard or help at home with the kids. If you’re struggling with the income disparity, share your thoughts and concerns with your partner. Hearing them remind you why they chose to be with you in the first place can help ease the doubts about your value and purpose. It might be a good idea for you both to revisit this topic periodically, too.
2. Recognize what you bring to the relationship.
Don’t let how much you earn define you or be your indicator of success. Your partner isn’t with you because of your fat wallet. (Remember the reasons they mentioned above.) Recognize the qualities you bring to the relationship and know that your partner is with you for many reasons more important than a paycheck. If you are having a hard time keeping that in mind, make a list of the reasons your partner has told you he or she is with you and read it over weekly to counter your self-doubt. Letting the income differences affect your self-esteem is not good for you or the relationship.
3. Don’t apologize.
If you are the one earning more, you don’t need to feel bad about it. You shouldn’t have to apologize to your partner — or anyone else — for earning a good income. This is especially true for women — they have come a long way in the workforce and have earned their positions and salaries. Don’t feel bad or apologize for being in the position you are in or for making more than your partner, regardless of your sex. Be proud of your accomplishments and all your hard work paying off. However, it’s also important to remember what affect the income discrepancy may have on your partner. Be careful not to unintentionally rub your success in his or her face.
4. Be supportive.
Check in with your partner periodically on the subjects of work and money. These are big areas of everyone’s identity and can be sensitive issues, especially when there is a significant income imbalance or during major transitions. If a salary discrepancy is due to your husband losing a job or one of you going back to school, your concern and support will be a big part of your partner’s success. Be sure to make important decisions together, especially financial ones, so your partner knows you value his or her input. Neither one of you should ever feel inferior in the decision-making or the relationship, regardless of financial status.
5. Maintain a team mentality.
Whether one of you works all day while the other is at home with the kids, or you are both working 40-hour weeks and bringing home different paychecks, you have to remember that you are on the same team. In healthy relationships, money isn’t “mine” vs. “yours” — it’s “ours.” So watch the words you use. Earning a higher income does not mean more power, so be careful not to hold your income over your partner or make each other feel bad for what you contribute to the relationship financially.
As long as you are both contributing to your family and home, it shouldn’t matter who makes what. But it easily can when the topic is ignored and resentment builds or self-esteem suffers. There are a lot more important things to focus on in a relationship than who makes more money, so don’t let it become a problem in yours.