Money can be one of the most difficult subjects to talk about with your significant other. A recent study by Ramsey Solutions found that the majority of heterosexual couples struggle to discuss money or experience recurring and significant strain on their relationship due to finances. Money can be an even touchier subject when the female in a relationship out-earns her male partner. While many couples make this dynamic work, more often than not, it can lead to resentment, bitterness, dishonesty, and even theft or divorce.
Although cultural norms are shifting, many couples in 2018 still avoid disclosing when the female is the higher earner, even going so far as to lie on the census about their income. Despite the changing cultural narrative, there’s still a deep, inherent social disapproval when the woman earns more than the man in a relationship. And though we’ve seen progress in recent years when it comes to women in the workforce, many couples still experience significant cultural shaming when the man isn’t the primary provider.
If you’re a man in a relationship with a female breadwinner, it can be difficult to learn how to overcome feelings of jealousy, shame, inadequacy, and even anger toward your partner. And if you’re the female breadwinner in the relationship, you may often wonder why your male partner appears to resent the fact that you earn a higher salary, even though it seems like that should be a good thing.
Navigating this dynamic can be tough, but it doesn’t have to spell doom for your relationship. There are many benefits to being in a relationship with a female breadwinner, both for the man and the woman. While being in a non-traditional relationship can be difficult, once you overcome the initial issues, you’ll find there is plenty to celebrate.
Here’s how to push past any discomfort and hard feelings and make your relationship stronger than ever.
How Women Took the Workforce by Storm
For most of history, women primarily functioned as caretakers and homemakers, while men were primarily the providers for their families. This social dynamic provided stability and structure to traditional family life for hundreds of years. However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, things began to change quicker than ever before.
By the time World War II rolled around, the American government had realized that society couldn’t continue to function if women remained confined to the home. Dozens of wartime initiatives were created to encourage women to join the workforce while their husbands were away, and more than 7 million American women did just that and began flooding the workforce. After the war ended and the men returned, many of these women found it difficult to return to their pre-war, gender-segregated lifestyle. They’d had a taste of what it felt like to earn a wage and contribute financially to their families’ well-being, and they weren’t going back to the old ways without a fight.
From that time on, women have been marching forward, championing the cause of social progress and breaking their way into both public and private arenas that had previously excluded them. Today, women account for nearly half of the entire U.S. labor force – yet it’s still considered taboo for a woman to earn a higher salary than her male partner.
A 2015 study by the Center for American Progress found that in as many as 42% of heterosexual couples, the woman is the higher earner. A number of factors contribute to this statistic, but perhaps the most obvious is that the number of women obtaining an education and entering the workforce has increased every year since 1982. Progress is slow, but the status quo is changing, forcing social, cultural and relationship dynamics to change along with it.
How a Non-Traditional Relationship Benefits Your Bottom Line
There are a number of benefits of being with a partner who earns a higher income. From greater financial security to more opportunities as a couple, it pays to be with a high-earning female partner. Here’s how.
1. More Financial Opportunities
When you’re a part of a dual-income household, you work together as a team to build a strong financial future. If you both make around the same salary, that’s great, but if one of you has a more lucrative career path, or the opportunity to earn a higher salary, that’s even better. It means you’ll have more financial opportunities as a couple, from saving more money to buying a home sooner to investing in real estate through a company like Fundrise. That’s certainly worth celebrating.
2. Active & Collaborative Financing
A survey by MONEY shows that the more a woman earns, the more actively she is involved in all aspects of family financial planning. When women are the higher earners in a relationship, they assume a more direct role in managing household finances. That isn’t to say that high-earning men don’t do the same, but that, by comparison, high-earning women take leadership of planning long-term financial endeavors more often than men in the same position.
Additionally, in a traditional relationship, men tend to assume a more independent, management-style approach to family finances when they’re the primary provider. But in relationships where women earn more, the study found, women took a more collaborative approach to financial management. When a woman is the primary provider, she tends to share more of the decision-making process, involving her partner more frequently than men involve their partners in a traditional relationship.
Collaborating on your financial management is one of the best ways to approach your finances, and women tend to advocate for this more than men, especially when the woman earns more. Couples that collaborate on their finances also report being more satisfied in their relationships.
3. Greater Collective Earning Potential
Let’s say you and your partner make roughly the same salary. Let’s also say that your partner’s company has more upward mobility and earning potential. Over the course of your relationship, she moves into various roles that increase her salary year over year. When you’re working together as a team, this is not only an opportunity for her to raise her income, but also for her to be able to financially invest in your earning potential.
Whether that means supporting your pursuit of a graduate degree or certification, weathering the financial changes of a career change, or investing in a business idea with the goal of increasing your income, having a partner that can help you financially is a huge benefit.
Tips for a Successful Relationship With a Female Breadwinner
Here are a few things you can do to help your non-traditional relationship thrive.
1. Be Honest & Communicate
The first and most important thing is to communicate openly about your finances. The foundation of any successful relationship is trust, honesty, and mutual respect. If you share financial responsibilities with your partner, it’s necessary to be as open and honest as you can about your shared finances.
That isn’t to say you should run out tomorrow to get a shared bank account or merge your salaries. You can maintain some financial autonomy while still being honest. What’s important is to have a clear line of communication about the responsibilities you share.
And you should be open about more than just your finances. It’s easy for resentment to creep into a non-traditional financial relationship. The woman may start to harbor bitterness or resentment for shouldering more of the financial burden, while the man may become bitter if he’s made to feel inadequate for not bringing as much to the table. For this kind of dynamic to be successful, it’s vital that both parties remain aware of these potential pitfalls and communicate openly if and when those feelings begin to take root.
2. Contribute in Other Ways
When you’re in a relationship with a female breadwinner, it can be disorienting and disheartening if you’ve never been in that position before. It’s socially and culturally embedded in most men’s psyches that they should be the primary provider, and upsetting this deeply ingrained relational dynamic can cause feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. However, there are more ways to contribute to a relationship than just paying the bills.
For instance, you could do some extra chores to help out around the house. Whether it’s putting away the dishes, taking out the trash, or sweeping the floors, there are likely plenty of ways you can contribute to your shared space and feel like you’re doing your part. You could also take some time to pamper your partner and show how much you appreciate her hard work. If she’s had a long day at work, consider preparing a nice dinner or picking up some flowers for her from your local grocery store.
If your partner works from home, consider setting aside some time each week to give her space to work. For example, I work a full-time job and do some freelance writing on the side, and my partner also works full-time. One of the ways he contributes to our household is by cooking dinner a few times a week and taking care of minor things around the house on the weekend so that I have time to work while I’m at home. This not only shows that he cares, but it also helps me focus on my work, which in turn benefits our household bottom line.
The important thing is to tailor whatever you do to your partner’s needs and preferences. She might not like flowers, but she might enjoy a long foot rub or a back massage. There are plenty of ways to show that you care, you’re invested in the relationship, and you want to do your part. Talk with your partner to figure out what you can do to help take some of the pressure off of her.
3. Set Goals Together
Part of being a dynamic duo is making plans and setting goals together. These can be financial goals, life goals, future goals – whatever they are, the important thing is to set mutual goals you can accomplish together.
For instance, you might set a goal to reach a certain financial milestone together in a year. Agree on a number you’d like to reach based on what you can each contribute individually, then make it a point to keep each other financially accountable. You can use that money to eliminate debt, plan a vacation, or build your savings, but whatever you use it for, it should be something you can both benefit from. Alternatively, you could buy a piece of furniture or another household item together, as that’s something you can both share and enjoy without one party feeling like they contributed more or less than the other.
You can also set non-financial goals, such as reaching personal health goals together or completing a home project. Setting goals for your relationship that aren’t financially related helps take the focus off of how much money you each make and puts it back on more important things.
4. Have Regular Check-Ins
It’s not enough to have one or two conversations about your finances and then never discuss them again. Finance conversations may be difficult, but they’re a necessary and vital part of communicating with your partner, and they’re critical to the health of your relationship. So, plan to have regular check-ins.
Only you and your partner can determine how regular these check-ins should be. If neither of your financial situations changes that much, you might not have to check in that often. But if, for example, you work as a freelancer or contractor and your finances can fluctuate month-to-month, while your partner has a consistent income, it’s a good idea to check in at least once a month to make sure you’re on the same page.
Pro tip: By keeping an updated budget through Personal Capital, you will have a 360-degree picture of your finances from one month to the next. You can use this to lead your conversations.
5. Remember That You Only Succeed as a Team
When your partner succeeds, you succeed too. You aren’t in competition with each other to see who can make more money. You share each other’s ups and downs, and that shouldn’t be any different when it comes to your finances. When your partner gets a promotion or raise, focus on how hard she’s worked to get there and share in the celebration with her.
Adjusting to a non-traditional relationship dynamic can be difficult. Not only is there potential for your self-esteem to take a hit, but there are also social pressures and expectations to deal with. It’s essential for both parties to be understanding and patient as you navigate these uncharted waters. Remember that you’re in this together, and at the end of the day, who brings home the bacon doesn’t make or break who you are as individuals. You succeed as a team, and you fail as a team.
6. Do Things With & for Each Other
Just because your partner makes more money than you, that doesn’t mean you have to stop doing things for each other. In the spirit of keeping the romance alive, commit yourself to doing a few little things for your partner throughout the week. Whether it’s getting up early to care for your pets or children and letting your partner sleep in, putting a little extra effort into dinner, or picking up something sweet on your way home from work, keep the love alive with little, thoughtful gestures.
Also, successful relationships need new experiences just as much as they need routine. You might not have a lot of extra cash to take your partner out to a nice dinner or fancy event, but you don’t have to be flush with cash to find a great local lunch joint or plan an afternoon picnic. You can catch an indie film at a local theater, check out a new park or hiking trail, or take a road trip somewhere neither of you has visited. Whatever you do, making time for new experiences together will help your relationship thrive.
If you’re a man in a relationship with a woman who earns more than you do, it’s important to understand that your feelings are valid, but also that you don’t have to feel inadequate or insecure about not being the primary provider. If it bothers you that you make less than your partner, then communicate openly about how it makes you feel and find ways you can contribute to your relationship that don’t put a strain on your finances.
The goal of any relationship should be to help each other succeed and reach your mutual goals. At the end of the day, if you’re happy with the person you’ve chosen to be with, that’s the only thing that should matter.
Are you in a relationship where the woman earns more than the man? What has helped you navigate the dynamics of being in a relationship with a female breadwinner?