Earning More Than Your Spouse Could Strengthen Your Relationship

Earning More Than Your Spouse Could Strengthen Your Relationship
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When you earn more than your husband, it may bring a different dynamic to your marriage.

If you’re a woman and the primary breadwinner in your family, it means you’re one of an increasing number of women who are making more than their spouse.

Just how many women are out-earning their spouse? In 2017, 28 percent of married or cohabitating women earned more than their partner, compared with 12 percent in 1980, according to a Pew Research Center survey, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 29 percent of women out-earn their husbands in dual-income households.

While it’s no longer a rarity for women to be a household’s primary earner, some expectations regarding gender roles are slower to evolve. You might expect men to do more housework when their spouse is the primary breadwinner, but research shows a man does less around the house than if he was the primary earner.

However, your marriage is not a statistic. Your relationship and home life can be just as solid as your résumé.

Communication is a first step — and an essential one. “I recommend couples have regularly scheduled meetings that are just for fun,” says Marianne Clyde, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Warrenton, Virginia. “This is your opportunity to air and address concerns before they harden into resentments, so mark it on your calendar and follow through.”

Providing — and Dividing

How you allocate disparate incomes is one issue to address and then revisit. One allocation method entails earmarking part of each spouse’s income for specific bills or savings goals. For example, you might pay the mortgage from your earnings while your spouse is responsible for the children’s college savings account or saving for a vacation from his earnings. Alternately, you can split all household and joint expenses proportionate to your income.

Clyde suggests a “three-bucket” banking system in which a joint account for shared expenses is funded according to income, while each spouse maintains a separate account in his or her name. That separate account is theirs to spend as they see fit, with exceptions. “Certain kinds of purchases, like boats or puppies, should be discussed first,” Clyde says.

The bucket system gives each spouse independent control over money; it should not require a spouse who earns less to ask the breadwinner for money. “In a mutually respectful and advantageous relationship, I don’t think anyone should be put in that position,” according to Clyde, saying that generally, it’s a bad idea for a spouse to give an allowance to the other.

Earning more does not give you the right to control the purse strings nor sole burden of managing household finances. However, as primary breadwinner, life insurance and insurance in case of disability are important investments to keep the household manageable. As for self-protection, it may be important to explore a post-nuptial agreement, especially if you own a business or professional partnership.

Home Economics

Whether you realize it or not, there are possible emotional effects on a marriage from a woman earning more than her partner. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that divorce rates are higher when the wife makes more, because it subverts societal expectations, among other reasons.

“Couples should present a united front to fend off outside negativity,” Clyde says, “which may include teasing remarks from friends or judgments from in-laws and even your tax preparer.” She adds that societal expectations may exert pressure upon the marriage as well.

This may partly explain why some husbands who earn less may do less housework: Feeling diminished, they may resist doing what was once considered “women’s work” like cleaning or cooking. By the same token, even women who shatter the glass ceiling may divide household labor along stereotypical gender lines. “Outsourcing the housecleaning prevents a lot of headaches,” Clyde says. “Shift your thinking from, ‘Who should do what?’ to ‘What can we outsource?’ It’s like buying time, in a way. It’s like buying peace.”

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