When a woman earns more than her husband, unexpected problems can crop up. Here’s how you can anticipate and resolve these issues for a happy, healthy marriage.
In a perfect world, gender equality has been reached and traditional gender roles have been thrown out the window. However, we are a society that is still working towards this ideal. This means some gender roles are still the same as they were decades ago.
Among the most common gender roles are those where men are the breadwinners and protectors of the family unit while women are in charge of the household chores and raising the kids. When the woman out-earns her husband, it turns this traditional viewpoint on its head and this can generate a large amount of friction between husband and wife
Trouble in paradise
Men who earn less than their wives are often subject to scrutiny and criticism especially from their parents and in-laws. Remarks such as, “How can you let your wife earn so much more than you do? Aren’t you the man of the house?” or “So does this mean your wife ‘wears the pants’ in the relationship?” can chip away at a man’s confidence and cause embarrassment.
When a woman has a high-flying career and she is also a wife and mother, it is common to feel pressured to adhere to traditional gender roles such as doing the housework after work or cooking dinner every day. By earning a lot more, the wife may feel like she’s emasculating her husband by ‘taking away’ his role as the breadwinner and as such, she may feel obliged to help him still feel like the ‘head of the household’ by doing the household chores. This creates an imbalance especially if the wife works longer hours compared to the husband.
For some marriages, the woman starts out earning less than the husband but climbs the corporate ladder, gets promoted and is handsomely rewarded. Sometimes, the husband may be retrenched or has to take a pay cut due to unforeseen circumstances. The couple will then have to do a major overhaul of how their relationship works.
Talk it out
Communication is a key part of any relationship. Sit down with your spouse and discuss your misgivings. The most important thing is to leave your ego out of the discussion and speak from the heart about what’s bothering both of you. Lay all your cards out on the table and share your insecurities, whether large or small and work out ways to power through it. Address how both of you feel about her pay being higher and how to share the burden of household chores and also, raising the children. It’s best not to discuss this in the presence of your children just in case the argument heats up and voices are raised. If you’re both busy, find a babysitter for a few hours during the weekend and have the discussion then.
It all boils down to workload, not money. If one person has to work nine-hour days and still have to come home, cook, clean and bathe the kids, it is frankly, unfair. Remember you’re both in this together so work together and figure out what needs to be done every week to keep the kids safe and happy, keep the home tidy and clean and get the bills paid.
One thing to avoid is rigid beliefs. Don’t think, “Well, I earn more money so you should do all the housework and drop the kids off at school,” or “I’m the man so housework isn’t my responsibility,” If both of you find that it’s difficult to come to an agreement, it’s best to bring in an expert such as a marriage counsellor who will be able to mediate and provide advice to help your relationship.
Start a joint account for the household bills and use this account to save up for vacations and also the kids’ college fund. Discuss frankly about how much of your pay you’d like to contribute to the joint account and designate who will be handling all the bill payments and such. Personal expenses such as clothes or going to lunch with friends should be paid for, separately.
Talk about any and all financial worries to ensure that both of you are on the same page. If both are unable to agree on an amount to pool together for the joint account, speak to a financial planner who will have more insight on these matters. A financial planner is also an objective party who will be able to spot a problem that both of you have overlooked.
Equals in everything
See your partner as an equal but this could require some compromise. Men may feel that it isn’t their role to be at home but spending more time at home could bring them closer to their children. It is entirely possible for the kids to prefer one parent to read them their bedtime story but take turns with your spouse or even read to your kids together.
Lastly, you don’t have to fall to pieces every time any of you hit a bump in your marriage. Keep communicating with each other and adjust your schedules and expectations until both parties are comfortable.
It’s not your job to please other people who may be judging your marriage purely by how much both of you earn. If you find it difficult to have a discussion without causing an argument, speak to a marriage counsellor or a psychologist who can help you through your problems and suggest ways to further strengthen your marriage.