What to Do When You Make More Than Your Partner (And Vice Versa)

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Couple sitting on a jetty over white backgroundMoney is a touchy enough subject for people in love; add in the sticky dynamics when one partner makes significantly more than the other, and there are plenty of chances for complication.

You’re the Breadwinner

Making more money than your partner comes with perks, but can also lead to an uncomfortable dynamic, say experts. If you’re paying, make sure you’re both past common stereotypes; paying for a meal shouldn’t make you feel apologetic or guilty, even if you do it more frequently (and at pricier places) than your partner. Handling the check at a fancy dinner might be a good idea, since you’re better equipped to pay for it. But, all the same, give your partner the chance to pay for other things hat may cost less, says Patricia Rossi, a Tampa-based etiquette coach. That way, you won’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of, and your partner won’t feel like he’s a mooch.

Together and Equal

When you’re in a serious relationship, earning the same amount of money can create an equal balance of power. All the same, don’t fall into the trap of splitting every single, little activity straight down the middle; taking turns can help you avoid meaningless arguments if one of you ends up paying slightly more or less. At any rate, taking turns treating each other lets both of you feel generous—and treated.

You Make Less Than Your Partner

Even if you’re making less money, you’re not entirely off the hook when it comes to covering the check. “The person that makes less could choose a less expensive place to dine and pick up the check,” says Rossi. Or, “offer to pay the tip, buy dessert or coffee, [or] make a meal at home.” Because paying can also be perceived as having more invested in a relationship, it’s important that you continue to pay for less costly items (even if your significant other tends to cover the big ticket items). Make it clear that you neither begrudge your partner’s success–nor want to take advantage of the generosity.

The Key Takeaway

On average, women make about 80% of what men make. Whether or not this directly impacts your relationship, don’t feel bound by traditional gender roles. It’s totally okay to go against the grain.

If you feel uncomfortable with the way that money interactions are impacting your relationship, have an honest conversation with your significant other. Although having the money conversation can be awkward, it’s an important step for a growing relationship. At the very least, you don’t want to feel like you’re expected to pay for more than you’re willing to (even though you sometimes wish that your partner would chip in, at least a little). Similarly, if your partner usually treats, you don’t want to feel like an ungrateful mooch. The best solution? Talk about it. When you do so, remember to use ‘I’ words, and consider how the other person is probably feeling about the same issue.
However you look at it, there are no strict rules. The most important thing is to make sure you feel comfortable in your unique relationship.