How to manage a relationship with income disparity

by | Aug 1, 2016

Love and money when there is income disparity in a couple

Income disparity

Income disparity

It isn’t true that opposites attract.  Most people end up with a partner who comes from a similar background and is similar-looking.  Any kind of imbalance can be the cause of arguments, but earning more than your partner in relationships is particularly toxic because it so easily contributes to power struggles. But what about the mine is yours concept when there is income disparity within a couple?

When the woman earns more

Married couples with a big difference in income are much more likely to divorce.  The risk is especially high when a wife earns much more than her husband.  One rather grim study  found that men who earned more than their wives were happier in their marriages.  Not only that, but there was an inverse relationship between the wife’s income and the husband’s happiness: the less she earned, the happier he was.

All those 1950s ideas about men feeling threatened by career women: now validated by science.

We could talk about internalised misogyny.  We could talk about how patriarchal power structures harm men as well as women.  But all that’s theoretical and it doesn’t help.  You earn more than your partner and you don’t want to break up.

Read: Domestic Bliss - The Chore War Uncovered

How to accommodate income disparity within a couple

#Share without splitting

You don’t have to split things 50/50 for them to be fair: aim for equitable rather than equal.  For example, if you’re still in the dating stage, you could buy dinner one week and he could cook for you the next time.  Some couples share the bills in proportion to their earnings: you earn twice as much, so he pays half as much into the mortgage.

#Make decisions together

A couple is supposed to be a team, regardless of who brings in more money.  Sitting down and agreeing to a shared budget can go a long way to alleviating resentment.  By setting some financial goals together (maybe you want to save for a house, or set up a business) and agreeing how to get there, you’re underlining that both of you have an equal role to play.

#Think carefully before combining financesgender-pay-gap

Combining finances is always tricky, but especially so if you’re the higher earner.  Most financial experts advise keeping separate bank accounts and not getting a mortgage unless you’re married.  If you’re cohabiting and want to share an account for simplicity’s sake (like paying rent), then open an account together but keep the rest of your finances separate, and pay in a fixed amount each month from your wages.

Read: How to improve your finances in a difficult economy 

#Beware the power play

There are no arguments about money, only arguments about power.  When you earn more than your partner, you have the upper hand financially, and it’s easy to end up wrestling for dominance.  This power struggle can take many forms.  Perhaps he starts sullenly refusing to help around the house, soothing his bruised masculinity by keeping away from ‘women’s work’.  Perhaps you sit around on your laptop all weekend and ignore him, just to show off how hard you work.

These power struggles are usually going on at a subconscious level, so it’s hard to prevent them entirely; all you can do is keep enough self-awareness to look for the underlying cause when one of you starts being a jerk.

Many people don’t start thinking about their careers until there is a problem. So take a few moments when you are relaxed, to understand what is important to you.  Have our Career Reflections Worksheets delivered right into your in-box.  Print them out in the old school way or keep them open on your phone. Use them as a guide to give your thoughts some structure.

Invest some time in yourself! Don't wait until it's too late!

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Alice Bell Contributor
"Alice writes online about business, popular science, and women's lifestyle. After a few years working her way around the world, she has settled in the north of England and taken a day job as a maths teacher. Her life's ambition is to earn enough money to start repaying her student debt."

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