Money issues are one of the most common issues all couples deal with.
It has long been understood that financial stress is one of the most common reasons given for divorce and relationship trouble – and Australian couples are no different in this regard.
Combine the after-effects of the global financial crisis and the fact that many women still don’t make as much as their male partners and you get a pretty complicated situation. Here are some things to keep in mind if income disparity threatens to undermine your relationship.
It’s about value, not money
A family – even a family of two – is an entity bigger than just the sum of its individual members. We all bring something different to our relationships, and the fact that we can’t just be replaced is proof that we each have our own unique value. We live in a capitalistic society that makes it easy to quantify people’s value in terms of how much money they earn. But romantic relationships are about much more than that.
As equal partners, what do each of you bring to the relationship table?
It’s all too easy for the one with the biggest salary to “buy” their way out of doing household chores or paying attention to the health of the relationship.
Likewise, partners who earn less may gradually internalize the message that they are less. Be mindful of not only the financial contributions of each partner but what they contribute in time and energy elsewhere. When you consider other areas of work and value, you may see that your shares are more equal than you thought.
We live in times of increasing gender equality. But who pays for what is still a difficult topic that each couple needs to resolve for themselves.
If you fully intend to marry a woman who quits her job and stays home to keep the house and raise children, then neither of you is likely to bat an eyelid at the fact that you make 100% of the money in the marriage.
But if you expect that men and women should seek independent employment and find fulfilling work outside the home, you can be sure that an extended period of unemployment for either of you is going to put a strain on the relationship.
Many couples meet in their youth, a time when financial maturity is not exactly at its peak. We need to be open and honest about our plans and expectations though.
It may not be comfortable to talk about the more gendered aspects, but honest communication about this early on will prevent misunderstandings later. In a long-term partnership, what does it mean if one earns more than the other? Do you and your partner agree on this?
Work on yourself
It’s a sad fact that while society often encourages men to go out and make their fortunes, women are encouraged to seek relationships as the most important part of their lives.
In my practice, I have sometimes encountered brilliant women who let their careers and ambitions go to the back burner while they focused on children or their marriages. For some, this is the best choice. But if earning less than your partner is wearing you down, it could be time to ask how you can bring those dreams to life again.
Earning less than your partner can be dangerous, financially and emotionally, but it can also be a comfortable situation that’s hard to get out of. Ask yourself if there is a way to enhance your competence in something, learn a skill or start a new project. Even if you don’t earn more money as a result, you’ll benefit from the confidence boost and consequently, bring more to your relationship.
Money is, whether we like to admit it or not, bound up in our self-identities. Clear expectations and a shared vision of your future as a couple will go a long way in insulating you against occasional financial scrapes.
Our attitudes and beliefs about money play out in real ways in our day-to-day life, especially in our relationships. You owe it to yourself to make sure that you and your partner are on the same wavelength when it comes to this important issue.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.