Besides sex, money is the number one subject couples argue about. But it’s become an even more contentious issue in recent years.
Up until quite recently, most husbands made more money than their wives, who typically had more responsibilities caring for the home and children. That’s no longer the case. With more woman going to college — and graduate school, they’re also landing higher paying jobs. As a result, women aren’t as concerned about having their spouses support them and are more interested in being successful in the world. Sometimes this means that the wife brings home more than her husband.
For some couples, having the woman make more money than the man creates an insurmountable problem. Some men feel emasculated if their wives are the primary breadwinners and they are asked to take on more household chores and additional childcare responsibilities. And some women feel resentful if they not only shoulder most of the household’s financial obligations, but also are expected to pick up the lion’s share of the domestic responsibilities.And deep down a lot of men and women still feel uncomfortable with this “role reversal.” Someone who grew up in a family with traditional roles and mentally holds on to them will have a more difficult time adjusting to this situation. Many men feel that they should be the “protector and provider.” For them, supporting the household fulfills that role. And many women believe that the man's role is to be the breadwinner. These women hold on to the fantasy that having a man support them makes them more feminine. They would look down on their husbands if they didn’t make more money, even if it wasn’t practical or possible.
If you’re making more than your man and you’re having disagreements over this issue, then it’s time to have an open and honest discussion about gender roles. It may be that either you or your mate needs some reassurance. You may need to feel more “feminine.” Or he may want to be considered more “masculine” in your relationship. If that’s the case, then you have to figure out ways to make each other feel comfortable in your gender roles without involving finances. If he builds and fixes things around the house and you make the dinners, you can still have traditional male-female roles.
In our society, money is frequently associated with power. In a couple, the partner who makes more money tends to feel more powerful, while the one making less often feels powerless. To prevent this from throwing your relationship out of balance, you need to discuss your finances with each other. And it’s important that you see money for what it is – money not power. Instead of thinking of money as the main component of your financial plan, you should consider responsibilities and money. When you’re going over household matters, make an effort to think of you and your partner as members of a team. So you if you make more money than your partner, that’s your contribution to support your household. He, in turn, may contribute his skills to fix maintain your home and care for the children.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: The key, as always, is communication. Be up front, discuss budding resentments early before they fester and grow. Divide responsibilities so that no one is unfairly burdened. Don’t take on everything yourself and be a martyr, blaming him for everything that may go wrong. The goal is to stop being “me” and “he” and be a “we.”
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .