By: Jamie Birdwell-Branson
Long gone are the days of Don and Betty Draper, where the majority of men toiled away in the city at their “big jobs” and made their big money while their wives stayed at home with the children. Women are working, thriving and sometimes even out-earning their partners by a significant amount. According to a Pew Research study, 40% of American breadwinners are mothers, and 37% of those women are wives who make more than their husbands.
This gender role reversal has sparked hundreds of studies, books, articles and also feuds between husbands and wives. We have entered into uncharted territory and sometimes it can be a little daunting to know how to navigate out-earning your partner. A New York Times article entitled “Breadwinner Wives and Nervous Husbands” said that “while men tend to applaud their spouses when they help to bring home the bacon, husbands aren’t always as enthusiastic when women start bringing home the filet mignon.”
So how do you define the terms of your relationship when you are bringing home the filet mignon (with maybe even a side of lobster)? What should you do if your partner is frustrated that you make more money? What do you do if you are frustrated that you might be “carrying the load” by yourself? Here are some tips to handle being the breadwinner in your family:
- Don’t say sorry.
Be proud of that paycheck because you EARNED it. You have worked hard to get where you’re at and it’s unfair of your partner to expect you to be apologetic about your earnings. There is a difference between being humble and being apologetic, however. Be sensitive to your spouse if they have recently lost their job, are venturing out into a new career field or if their chosen career just doesn’t pay as well as yours. Money is always a tricky subject, but with open and honest conversation it doesn’t have to be.
- Split after-work chores fairly.
According to a survey by the American Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19% of working men did housework on an average day versus 49% of women. Women who work are more statistically likely to do the majority of the housework and childcare, even if she makes the same or more as her male counterpart. The best way to change these numbers is to make an effort to split the housework and childcare up evenly or proportionally. Agree on a detailed housework schedule and stick to it. Balance is the key to prevent resentment from either side.
- Remember that you are on the same team.
While it may seem cliché to tout teamwork in a relationship, the truth is that you ARE a team. The two of you work together to create a life, and you will play different roles in that life. Just because your relationship doesn’t fall into the gender norms doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at your partner as just that—a partner in life. Work together to get things accomplished. If your partner makes dinner, you should do the dishes. Or if you’ve been having a lot of late night meetings, your spouse should pick up more of the household chores and make sure the kids are doing their evening homework. Make your life as balanced as possible. While you may not achieve true balance, you should always strive for it.
- Seek out role models.
Do you have a great example of a couple in your life who just seems to have it all? Ask them what their secrets are. Do any of your coworkers earn more than their spouses? Ask them for advice on how to handle it. Your peers can give you real, true advice that has worked for them.
- Find a financial plan that works for you.
Although your mother might tell you differently, joint checking accounts are not for everyone. Figure out what you and your spouse are most comfortable with when it comes to finances and stick to the plan. Do you have a knack for finances and want to take care of all the bills? That’s great, but make sure your partner is comfortable with that as well. If you both want to have a sense of control over the money, then split the bills down the middle or transfer money back and forth between bank accounts. Do whatever it takes to get that balance that brings harmony to your household. What works for you might not work for other couples. If splitting the bills right down the middle wouldn’t be considered fair, then figure out what would be proportional between the two of you.
While it is encouraging to see that women are working hard and earning good money, it takes a lot of support from family and friends to ensure that attitudes change toward successful working women. The most important thing to remember is to make sure you choose a spouse who is supportive of your goals, and that you are also supportive of theirs.
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