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Earn more than your man? 5 relationship tips

Financial editor Jean Chatzky shares smart advice on how high-earners can keep a happy home.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

A recent “New York Times” story focused on the problems some high-earning women are having in the dating arena. The men they have been going out with are, to some degree at least, having trouble with the fact that these women are now the breadwinners.

This is understandable. Women as the primary wage earners is a big shift. On average it is true that men working full-time still outearn women working full-time. But it is also true that since the 1970s almost all the income growth in this country has come from women. Today, 30 to 40 percent of women earn as much or more than their husbands. The younger a woman is, the likelier she is to outearn men her age. And research predicts that by the year 2030 the average woman will outearn the average man.

In 1981, 16 percent of women outearned their spouses. In 2000, it was 22 percent. Today, it's 30 to 40 percent.

And it's a problem. We like our traditional roles. Men and women are happier in marriages in which the husband earns more money. Men and women are happier in marriages in which the woman does more of the housework.

What happens in these situations? Unfortunately, too much of the time when women start outearning their spouses, they begin to compensate. They try to hide it by putting complete financial control in the husband's hands or earmarking the woman's income to pay the bills so that there's no money left to spend as she sees fit. Other times, the woman feels so guilty about outearning her partner that she takes on more and more of the housework. Rarely will either spouse admit that the woman is the breadwinner to their friends or family. And more of these families split up than average. Is there a solution?

Talk and listen to each otherPaychecks and housework aside, a new study from the University of Virginia shows that the factor that contributes most to a happy relationship is whether you and your spouse are engaged emotionally.

Be his biggest cheerleaderMake the effort to understand why your husband gets such a kick out of his career (even if he doesn't get as big a paycheck). Tell him you admire what he's doing. And if he's home with the kids, tell him how you believe it's helping the family as a unit. You have to believe deep down that what your partner is bringing to the relationship is just as valuable as what you are bringing. Otherwise it's destined to fail.

Open yours, mine and ours accountsThis allows you to pay for dinner out of the ours account without discussing whose money it is each time. You can do the same with family vacations, cars, groceries, things for the kids, etc. The separate accounts allow you to maintain a little financial independence — a chance not to ask permission about the things YOU want to buy.

Focus on the endgame
No matter who is earning the money, take the time to dream financially. Set short, medium and long-term goals — vacations, buying a house, etc.

Recognize that marriage changes things
Interestingly, researchers have seen a marked difference between the money habits of people who just live together and people who are married. When people are living together, they operate as two independent souls who just happen to reside under one roof. They both wash dishes. They both pay bills. Women feel little pressure to give up work that is meaningful to them. But when those people marry, they start carrying the cultural weight that comes along with being husbands or wives and behaviors change. Husbands hand over the social calendar (again, generally). Wives all too often cede financial control.

With reporting by Arielle McGowen.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at “Money” magazine and serves as AOL’s official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC’s “Today” show and is also a columnist for “Life” magazine. She is the author of four books, including “Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day” (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .