If you’ve followed my recent blog posts, you know that I lost my job a couple of months ago. Although I was quiet about it at first, I am being public about it now…because it’s a learning experience in my financial resilience and independence.
The sudden drop of income has brought new challenges to my marriage, and it’s created the question: What happens when your partner earns more money than you…and makes it known?
Here’s the answer.
My husband does the cooking, and I manage the finances.
He didn’t become the household chef because he was professionally trained. Jay started cooking because he was off work at 5:30pm, and I’d get home from work by 9:30pm, so he’d have dinner ready for us to eat before we went to bed each night. That’s the life we led for many months, until I started working a similar schedule to him.
Likewise, I didn’t become the “financial expert” of my marriage because I had a natural ability to manage money. I assumed the role because I entered our relationship with bills and $10,000 of debt, whereas he brought in a $250 loan and no monthly payments owed on anything. I already had experience paying bills regularly, and the majority of the budgeting needed was because of my own doing.
Over the last eight years, both of us have really come into our own with these skills, and take great pride in our abilities… but that pride is exactly what inspires today’s topic:
Joint vs Separate.
When we’re discussing couple’s finances, my opinion is that you will find success in one of two ways:
- Joint: Everything is equal. It does not matter who earns more money, because you are both contributing your resources towards the same goal.
- Separate: Everything is separate. You both pay your fair percentage towards costs, because you are both contributing your resources towards the same goal.
A lot of financial blogs and even couples wince at the idea of having separate finances, but honestly… successful “separate finances” arrangements are substantially more similar to “joint finances” than they are different from them.
I’ve got close friends who keep everything separate, and collectively pay their bills together (the partner who earns the greater percentage of income usually pays the greater percentage of the bills).
They make major purchase decisions together in regards to items over $250, and even sometimes consult each other on minor purchases such as “can we afford to eat out today?”, but ultimately they choose to keep their money in separate bank accounts but with joint conversational ability. It’s not a matter of one versus the other, but rather personal preference.
My husband and I function in a “joint” model.
There was a time when I was earning 2 dollars for every 1 that he earned, and right now while I build up a client base and my mortgage loan officer commissions start flowing in, he’s earning about 60% of the household income all by himself (the other 40% is coming from our rental property income, and 0% is coming from me).
No matter who earns more, all money goes into the same bank account. We consult each other on major purchase decisions in regards to items over $250, and even sometimes consult each other on minor purchases such as “can we afford to eat out today?”, but ultimately we choose to keep our money in a joint bank account.
Did you see what I did there? Funny how humans tend to be more similar than we are different, right?
There’s a third option, however, and it alarms me every time I see it.
Because cynicism is so strong in American humor and culture, and men are raised to seldom show true emotion, Jay and I may occasionally jest each other about our financial reality–such as him joking that “I am a freeloading bum“, or me joking that “I may not be earning an income right now, but he sure is enjoying his car that my money bought him“. For us, I think laughing is important because humor can go a long way towards easing the stress of a situation, but there is a time, a place, and a frequency for it.
One of the first pact’s that we made at the beginning of our relationship eight years ago was to always be a “united front”, and this is one that I take extremely seriously.
Our joking/picking on each other is almost always in private, because those kind of comments, without much context alongside friends/family, can easily transition from playful banter into gossip… and that’s where feelings get hurt or a partner loses social credibility. That’s a big no in my book, because keeping the peace at home is always priority #1.
As far as the general public knows, we virtually always agree with each other–because they do not need to be aware of every single time we disagree. They do not need to hear our disparaging banter, or our concerns, because ultimately… somebody’s ill opinion towards one of us hurts both of us.
Plus, let’s be real. Jay and I are adults who have been dealing with each other every single day for well over 2,500 days in a row. We know how to bring up situations with each other that need resolutions without involving our friends and family members.
I am also a strong advocate of “checking my man” financially.
He has full veto power over my spending if he finds it detrimental to our financial goals, and I have the same over him. Big or small, expensive or cheap, planned or impluse.
We exercise veto power regularly, too, because when you want something for yourself, you can often justify a hundred reasons why it makes sense to buy it…but when somebody else around you wants something, you can easily identify why it might be a bad idea for them to buy it. Same concept, because rose colored glasses are strong and it’s easier to give advice than it is to take our own.
Veto power is not a matter of “controlling your partner” but rather keeping their impulses in line with your mutually agreed-to financial goals.
To specify for those who may be taking me literally, marriage is a series of compromises–so we don’t “check” each other frequently, but rather only when it’s become necessary. We agree to listen to the veto’ing partner, and take them seriously. If they’ve taken the time to bring it up and articulate their concerns in a logical manner, they clearly mean exactly what they’re saying…and we need to listen to them.
I know of a few couples who jest each other, but unintentionally (or even intentionally) pull rank or power-plays on each other frequently.
- “I earn more money.”
- “If I want to buy this, I should be able to, because I work hard for my money.”
- “You can’t afford our life without me.”
These statements startle me for them, because they show the surface of a much larger issue = financial inequality.
You and your partner live under the same roof. You share the same utilities, groceries, friends, family, and hopefully…financial goals.
A partner who reminds the other one of “where they stand” is one who has decided that their wants, needs, desires, and opinions are more important than their partner’s for no other reason than because they earn more money, have less debt, have more desires, or have more pride.
They are willing let resentment build between the two of them, inadequacy be illustrated, and are willing to turn their relationship into a “you versus me” battle royale because they’ve got more pride in their situation than they do in their partner.
Ask yourself this, how would you feel if your partner suggested that what you’re saying didn’t matter…because you are worth less than them?
The top two reasons for divorce in this country are communication issues, and money issues. Financial inequality is literally both of these things.
At any moment of any day, you should be able to discuss your financial concerns and goals with your partner freely. They should listen to what you say, and confidently know that they can respond to you with equal footing. It’s not you versus them, it’s both of you versus the problem.
It’s both of you versus the problem.
In the eight years that we’ve been together, my husband and I have got a lot of things wrong.
We got into $40,000 of debt together, and lived paycheck-to-paycheck. The two of us have unintentionally gaslit the other partner and turned small issues into bigger ones. We forget to show each other how much we love and appreciate each other. We are human.
We also get a lot of things right.
The two of us always keep equal footing, regardless of who’s the leader at the moment. We discuss our issues without yelling, name calling, or insulting. We respect our opinions and each other’s priorities. We value quality time over material possessions. We keep our goals in alignment.
Most important, we remind each other that we have both chosen to be here together. Every day that we wake up beside each other is a day that we choose to be together.
Even though i’m a hell of a partner with a sparkling personality, killer looks, and frankly…i’m the greatest “good” he’s ever going to get, I’m also not entitled to this marriage, and we aren’t soulmates destined to be together forever.
We are partners with like-minded goals and genuine respect for one another that understand that we are better together than we are apart…but we must actively do our part to show the other person why we deserve to be chosen by them each and every day.
If you are in a relationship where financial inequality exists, that doesn’t mean that other areas of your relationship are on unstable ground.
Don’t send me hate mail, tweet me, or burn my website to the ground… because i’m not suggesting that one of you loves the other any less, or that you’re doomed to fail. Rather, I encourage you both to level the playing field so both partners can prosper.
Extend the ability to call a “time out” where neither partner makes any financial moves until both partners have been heard. Devise your financial plan together. Conquer this land…together.
Rethink your motives on why you’re comparing yourselves against each other, and re-imagine your future together where you’re ready to dedicate yourself to this person… spiritually, physically, mentally, and financially.
You and your partner should be each other’s biggest financial advocates, and never each other’s financial adversaries.
The hand that you hold should never be the hand that holds you back.
I’m going to type it out one more time… You and your partner should be each other’s biggest financial advocates, and never each other’s financial adversaries.
It’s not healthy to resent your partner for earning more or less money than you. It’s not productive to try to compete against each other. It’s not prosperous to belittle one’s wants because of the other person’s desires.
Whether it’s a 5% contribution, a 95% contribution, or anything in between… it’s still a contribution.
I have told my husband that if he ever seriously tried to make a financial power-play over me, he can pay all the bills and our living expenses by himself. I’d open my own bank account, take my half of our savings, and my direct deposit with me… and he can flex those “financial muscles” of his all by himself…since he’s clearly the more important partner…and we’ll see how far he gets without me.
But that’s been said in a joking manner. He knows that, and I know that, because we both respect each other far too greatly to ever de-value the other person over their income earning ability.
Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes feel like his content-ness with his job is stagnating our household’s earning potential, but I never let that feeling turn into lectures or resentment…because he’s happy with where he is, and ultimately, happiness is what I want for him.
Likewise, now that our relationship has entered a new chapter where I am not earning a stable living, suddenly his salary has tremendous value to me, and to us.
At the end of the day, we are partners. What he contributes and brings to the table has value, just as my contributions do. We can quite literally assign a monetary value to our income contributions, but that doesn’t change our value of each other.
Don’t let money come in between you and the people you love.
Use money, and love people. The opposite never works.
[Pic credit: Two Can Play That Game]