Most of us have heard the old proverb, “Money is the root of all evil.” Philosophers have suggested that it is the lack of money that is the root of all evil. And we might have heard other comments regarding money that make us wonder whether having it or doing without it are the better paths to individual happiness. Money certainly plays a role in many relationship conflicts as well.
In our society, it is normal for both husbands and wives to work outside the home. The old pattern was that the husband was the family breadwinner while the wife was the homemaker. Both partners still worked, but her labor was unpaid.
This is not today’s picture. Now we see many women in the workforce. With some even making more money than their spouses.
How does this affect a relationship?
Some men feel threatened, while others like having extra financial resources and admire their wives for doing well in their careers. If you are a woman and a high earner, you probably know if your income makes your husband feel “less than,” threatened, or a failure. If so, what do you do? Deliberately hold yourself back to bolster his ego? This plan may work in the short-term, but you will surely come to resent it. Given how hard it is for most women to break through the glass ceiling, a blighted career is not easy to repair.
Most couples’ counselors know that there are several “hot button” issues that couples will only discuss with them after a lot of trust has been created—if then. One of those issues is sex, but money is also near the top of the taboo list. Financial well-being or scarcity of resources are tied to gender roles, self-esteem, and family security (or lack of it). Ironically, too much success can cause depression or anxiety if it also leads to marital discord, while challenging times can have the same effect.
Here are a few suggestions for discussion topics between you and your partner. It goes without saying that these are things that need to get resolved before you make a long-term commitment.
The truth is most of the time, this conversation never happens. So now what? Look over these questions and see which apply to your individual situation. Make time to have this important talk.
- Do you expect the husband in a marriage to make more money than the wife? If so, under what circumstances would it be okay for her to exceed his salary?
- Are you planning to have children? If so, how will you take care of them before they are old enough to attend school? Which partner might be expected to work part-time (or not at all) so that person can provide child care? How will this labor be compensated?
- What is your emotional relationship with your work? Do you have a career that is deeply meaningful to you, or are you working to make it possible for you to have other things in your life that are actually more important to you? If your spouse has a low-paid vocation, do you feel okay about making up the difference so he or she can continue to be fulfilled?
- If you plan to work while your spouse attends school, are you going to feel burdened or exhausted by this situation? Is there a reciprocal agreement that will allow you to take some time off or go to school, while your spouse goes back to work?
- If family members are ill and require a caretaker, or if this happens to you or your spouse, what is the ideal way to handle this challenge? Don’t assume one of you is automatically going to be the caretaker. Who is best suited for that job, and what can you create that will have the least effect on your family’s quality of life?
- Whose job will it be to create a budget, pay the bills, monitor savings, and plan for retirement? Are these things that you want both of you to do because there are many joint decisions to be made? Or does this obligation automatically fall to one of you and not the other?
- What is your picture of the good life? Do you want the trappings of wealth (a new car, a large house, expensive clothes, and vacations) or do other values guide you? How important is the status that comes with a high income or a prestigious job?
- What did you learn about work, money, and family contentment from your own parents?
- Find out how the high earner spouse can help the other with feelings of inadequacy or slow self- esteem so there can be comfort in the financial differences.
It is well worth taking the time to examine these and other questions related to money. Compatibility and compromise are key to marital harmony—but so is understanding. If you can honestly put your cards on the table, it will save a lot of trouble further down the road. Sometimes these difficult conversations are easier if there is an experienced, professional to mediate.
There are many types of prosperity. I hope you can achieve your personal definition of a rich and wonderful life with your beloved.
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