My Husband Makes More Money and I Feel Guilty

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It was after midnight when Michael slipped through the front door. I could tell he was trying hard not to wake me—the way he gently closed the door behind him; the way he tiptoed over the hardwood floors; the way he undressed in the bathroom, his jeans whispering down his legs to the tiled floor.

But I had been awake since the moment his car door slammed in the back parking lot.

“It would have been nice to know when to expect you,” I muttered to him as he pulled back the sheets in the dark. He looked startled.

“I told you I’d be working late,” he finally said, sliding his glasses into their case and checking to make sure the alarm was set. “It’s going to be like this for the next month or so.”

“This is bullshit,” I said, not ready to let him off the hook. “You’re working all of this overtime, and you’re not even being paid for it. They’re taking advantage of you.”

“Yeah, well, this is the startup environment,” he said wearily, tired of having the same argument over and over. “This is how it is. I have to play the game if I want to be able to pay the bills.”

I glowered, thinking back to the trip we’d taken for our four-year wedding anniversary, several months before. Upon arriving at our motel, he’d pulled out his laptop, saying there was “just one thing” he had to take care of, despite the fact he’d been granted a vacation day.

“You need to reevaluate your priorities,” I said now, as I had said then. “You have a wife to come home to.”

“I’m being a good husband,” he said. “I’m taking care of you.”

“I need more than money,” I said, my body thrumming with anger.

“Well, maybe if your income was higher, I wouldn’t have to work so hard.”

This was the point in the conversation where my head usually exploded.

Even When We Weren’t Fighting About Money, It Was Always There

As a couple with wildly divergent incomes, this issue was always there, lurking in the background. No matter how far removed an argument was from our finances, at the climax of each disagreement he would throw his breadwinner status in my face, as if to say I had no right to complain about anything. He was, after all, carrying me. He was carrying us.

It enraged me.

When we first met back in 2004—at a strip mall Dunkin Donuts in North Jersey — I had just been laid off from my first post-college job. Only 23 at the time, I was already collecting unemployment checks and, on top of that sparse income, did nightlife reviews for Shecky’s and handed out food samples at Pathmark. The food sample gig was demoralizing, and the reviews barely covered bus fare into the city, but I prided myself on being an independent woman. I insisted on splitting every date-night dinner check.

Around the same time, I also dug myself into $10,000-deep holes five times in about five years (not to mention my student loans and car payments). I racked up credit card debt from buying pretty dresses and piles of paperbacks and home décor. When the interest rates on my cards shot up, I fell behind, and things spiraled out of control. My family bailed me out the first three times. Michael bailed me out the fourth. When it happened a fifth time, I cried when I told him, because it was no longer just my problem. It affected both of us. I gave him all my cards and stopped using them entirely. It took me a few years to finish paying off the last of that debt.

As Time Went On …

By the time we ended up buying a condo together, I had a job working full-time for an academic book publisher. But even though Michael was an underpaid direct mail copywriter back then, my salary still couldn’t hold a candle to his. I was saddled with guilt by the fact that he had to singlehandedly cover all the household bills while I only bought groceries and paid down my debt.

I knew he was feeling a lot of pressure to keep us afloat, and I wished I could contribute more. Still, as time went on, I found myself relying on Michael more and more.

(Was the issue about feeling taken for granted? One study shows a simple thank-you could save your relationship.)

Where We Are Today

I had always dreamed of devoting myself to my writing. To prepare, I took continuing ed classes, attended networking events and read a ton of books on freelancing, writing and business. After our wedding, I had a chat with Michael about going full-time freelance. He said he’d support me, but that I had to show results within a year. Within six months, I had matched my previous salary.

So now I’m a full-time freelance writer. I’ve done okay for myself, and have even managed to pay off my credit card debt. But Michael’s salary has tripled since we first met, thanks to a career switch from copywriting to web development. No matter how much I accomplish, I feel as if I’m not contributing enough. I feel worthless.

I feel as if the things I’m most proud of (like writing a book proposal and signing with an agent, or appearing on a panel for the American Society of Journalists and Authors, or launching a “starter kit” for writers that tripled my mailing list but didn’t bring in any money) don’t count.

Why I Would Never Want a Corporate Job

Still, I could never go back to the corporate world; freelance life has ruined me for that. I also can’t bring myself to hustle harder, going to great lengths to land even more writing assignments. I worked hard to build up a valuable network, and I made my current successful freelancing happen, but I’m not the type (especially not anymore) to spend nights and weekends developing query letters and executing complex marketing plans.

I value work-life balance more than I value career growth, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I’m working toward. I don’t know if I want anything more than to work on writing a book and teach yoga (I signed up for teacher training in January) and be a mom. The motivation and zeal is no longer there.

I make about 26% of what Michael makes, but I love my job

I get to roll out of bed at 7:30 or 8:30 a.m., lose myself in a cup of coffee as I catch up on emails, and work on everything from ghost-tweeting and ghostwriting books to helping clients manage their social media, writing freelance articles, doing some career coaching, managing my own blog and monthly newsletter and developing an online community. I can generally fit a yoga class into the day and knock off work around 6.

I make, on average, maybe $30,000 a year (working part-time hours, truthfully). It goes up and down every year. To put things in perspective, I make about 26% of what Michael makes.

All the same, I’m happy.

How My View for the Future Aligns With My Husband’s

All that seems to be missing is children, and we’re working on that. I’m turning 32 and Michael is 33, and we’ve been trying to have a baby for two years now. We’re on our second round of intrauterine insemination (IUI) now and the plan has always been for me to work from home to be with the kids. It’s one of the main reasons the freelance life appeals to me.

As for our money issues, I’m sure having kids won’t make things any easier, but I know we’re strong enough to work through it.

(Wondering how money might affect your relationship? More on that here.)

We’ve also been trying to sell our condo for as long as we’ve been trying to have a baby, but the value has dropped so low we’d lose too much money by selling right now, so we’re planning to rent out our condo once we buy a house. Thanks to Michael’s salary, we’re now at a place that we feel secure making that move, and we’re in the process of buying a house through a short sale.

Here’s Why I Don’t ‘Want It All’

Anne-Marie Slaughter recently wrote a piece for The Atlantic on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The media sphere exploded with commentary on why she was right, why she was way off base and why the phrase “having it all” was in itself problematic. (LearnVest interviewed guys for their views on the subject, and that exploded, too.) This was around the same time as the debate around Marissa Mayer’s work-life balance. I tried to ignore the uproar. All these articles only made me uncomfortable.

When I explore this discomfort now, I realize that I don’t really want to “have it all.” Or, rather, the phrase “having it all” is different for everyone. For me, it means having a balanced life, as a writer and wife and mother and woman. A high-powered career doesn’t interest me, though I wouldn’t want to stop working completely.

Michael and I have always wanted the same, basic things: marriage, children, a house, fulfilling careers. When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a writer. When I was in college, I wanted to be a writer. Now? I’m a writer. Though the details of what I’m writing change, I never get tired of working with words.

But then I think about how Michael’s carrying me. How he’s carrying us. And not wanting “it all” (in the conventional six-figure sense) makes me feel guilty.

All the same, we’ve been having the money argument a lot less than we used to. We’re being better to each other in general. Once we both cool down from an argument, we’re able to see the other person’s side. All we can do is continue to support each other.

Steph Auteri is a freelance writer and editor who typically writes about sex. She has overshared in Playgirl, NerveBabble, the Frisky and other publications. Thank God her husband loves seeing his name in print.

  • Lucky Freelancer

    Oh boy, I can totally relate to this! (sarcasm intended) I’m a freelance writer, too, and my parents and b-friend have both helped me out financially this year. Last Sept. I unexpectedly lost my anchor client. Soon after I went on a volunteer trip that was supposed to build my backpack journalism skills and lead to paid travel writing gigs… but the paid part never panned out. 

    The only difference between my story and Steph’s is that I feel guilty about borrowing a grand total of around $4,000 from family and friends, money I used to keep from getting evicted and so I could buy health insurance, anti-depressants and food for myself. I am awed and humbled by the fact that my family and friends believe in me so much that they were willing to help support me when I hit rock bottom financially. And the guilt I feel? It’s more regret that I didn’t manage my finances more effectively when I was younger and when I made 5x the salary I do now. On the plus side, I’ve learned a lot this year, and I have plans in place to keep this from happening again… (Maybe *that’s* what missing from this article… what Steph intends to do about this.)

    Ultimately, I feel like guilt is just a really unproductive emotion. You can either change the situation so you don’t feel this way by living on less or making more. Or you can own the fact that you are waking up, every day, and making a conscious choice to combine the best of 1950s housewifery with a post-feminist sex writing career at the expense of spending time with your husband—and if you have kids later, at the probable expense of the time they can spend with their father. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too… and then feel guilty about it… and then expect people to sympathize.

  • http://twitter.com/Bickitori Vickie Long

    Sounds like it’s time for a conversation with your husband and find out how he actually feels about your level of contribution. And make some peace with yourself about his working hours. You are right that things will only get more tight once babies come (good luck with the IUI). If you aren’t already using a budget system, get on board with that and keep a sharp eye on spending on anything that isn’t a necessity.

    You like your lifestyle and don’t want it to change. It sounds like your husband is generally supportive (but maybe a tish cranky/irritable when he’s getting home late thus may not be the best time for these chats, IMHO). So y’all need to identify what your goals are for your household income and what to do with those goals. Otherwise you’ll keep generating what sounds like insecurity-fueled poison to your marriage.

  • Jenna

    I think you need to determine what exactly you’re feeling guilty about. Are you the one requesting the lifestyle that you have, and hence feel guilty that he’s putting in more $$ towards your desired lifestyle? Is it that you’re feeling societal pressures to earn more? Do you feel guilty that you work part time, and he works long hours? Is it because you’re working your dream career, and he’s not?

    The solution is different based on what is actually causing the guilt. In case 1, you could compromise by cutting some budget items. In case 2, that’s just something you’ll have to move beyond. We all need to stop worrying so much about what we think we’re expected to do. In case 3, you can make up for your short writing hours by taking on a lot of the household duties so that you both can enjoy free time together on the weekend. In case 4, help him figure out what it is that he really wants to do, and support him (emotionally and financially, if need be) to help him do that.

    Sounds like the societal pressure (“having it all”) is at least part of it, but make sure there aren’t other resentments hanging in the shadows.

  • Seriously

    Whiny privileged me me me why can’t the world give me everything I want without me lifting a finger

  • CleoBarker

    Soooo back to the real issue… Income disparity between spouses. I supported my husband while he was unemployed for a few years right after we were married. Did I resent him? Not at all, I even helped him write his resumes and get professional reviewers look at it. I make more than he does now with about the same amount of hours put in. I pay almost all the bills beyond his cell phone and our joint car insurance. Do I resent that? Not at all. Because in the end, I look at it as OUR money. I pay bills and save money, and he saves all he can and pays the few bills he takes care of. But it is still our money. Not just my money, not just his.
    In the end, he wants to be the one to stay at home once we have kids. I know I’ll be able to provide more for my kids by having a parent at home and me making enough money to fully support my family and with a job that fully supports the work-life balance I crave.

  • Chris

    I usually just read the comments to things, and almost never add my opinion, but I have to in this one.
    I am a husband, and I am very happily married. I own a business that I have worked very hard to build up a clientele base, and even though we are not wealthy, we do rather well. Sometimes I have to go out of state for a job, but I make sure that I have enough time with my wife.
    I have told her that she could do whatever she wished. If she wanted to work, work. If she didn’t, don’t. If she wanted to start her own business, then I would help her. Whatever made her happy. And she does feel guilty sometimes that I do all the work and bring in all the money. But I don’t care. It’s our money. There are no separate bank accounts, or separate credit cards or anything, it’s ours. We are not out to be rich, just comfortable. And we have achieved a balance where I work during the week, and some on the weekends, but I still have plenty of time for her. That is what life is about in my opinion.
    My previous marriage was a disaster because all she cared about was work, career, and money. I just don’t see what kind of life that is.

    You have to balance between work and the ones you love.

  • Guest

    She complains about not making enough and then admits she only works about half-time. She basically admits she has no direction, and that she feels guilty about it, but not enough to actually do anything except aspire to be a mom. 

    What exactly was the point of this article, LearnVest? Was that supposed to be inspirational because it just grated on my nerves and made me feel less confident that Americans will ever graduate past their miserably, self-entitled states of mind. 

    • Audiofoxx

      Agreed, this article was pathetic. Don’t complain about things that are in your power to fix, but obviously don’t even try.

    • Lucy P.

       I was expecting there to be some sort of resolution that they came up with like she would take a part-time job and handle all the household duties. I don’t understand how someone can complain to the person who gives them the ability to work in the environment they want.

      If the tables were turned and she were making more, the guy would be seen as completely out of line and lazy. Just saying…

  • MCM

    The author knows exactly what she wants. She said it. 
     ”I realize that I don’t really want to “have it all.” Or, rather, the phrase “having it all” is different for everyone. For me, it means having a balanced life, as a writer and wife and mother and woman.”  This is a big statement that I bet many do not figure out so soon in life. If more of us realized what we really wanted earlier in life, the manic rat race may not have to endure so long and we could spend more time being happy. And when we get a little happy about that, what’s so bad about feeling a little guilty that everybody else hasn’t figured it out?! 
     

  • livloveblog.com

    It’s really easy to push the “work/life balance” when you’re
    NOT the one working; OR paying the bills. The author should be
    thanking her lucky stars her husband is driven/hard-working & makes enough
    money so she can lounge-around, get up when she feels like it & put in a
    few hours work. The only reason she leads this life is b/c HE supports her. She
    has a lot of nerve to snap at him for working late….. jeesh.

     

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EV7SMXLKRIOUDO7ZIR7JPIN37M Lupus Yonderboy

    The author sounds like a bitch. Glad I’m not married to her.

  • takabanana

    Wow.  Money isn’t everything.  Trust, honesty, and happiness is worth a LOT more.  You two are married.  You’re a team, in a partnership.  It’s not a competition.
    Being able to say “because it was no longer just my problem. It affected both of us. I gave him all my cards and stopped using them entirely” says a lot about you – because that’s called being honest, respectful, and responsible.
    The fact that you can argue, and not hide or lie, means you respect each other, and are “in it together” – not scared of conflicts or “hurting your ego”.  Randy Pausch said “When you’re doing a bad job and nobody points it out to you, that’s when they’ve given up on you.”
    Unfortunately, I was married to someone who would rather hide all that, and lie to me (and backstab/throw me under the bus) because she was afraid of conflict.  Surprisingly, they talked on the local radio this morning that this is very common behavior with spouses (men and women) and I’m baffled by that “non-team” behavior.
    There is so much to be said for just being happy – we’re all pretty spoiled, especially in this country.  I actually regret going into a “high-paying” career – it’s a lot more respectable to help others and be happy (school teacher, social worker, therapist, etc) than to be making a ton of money.

  • emery ann harris

    So, a woman whose husband word hard to support the family so that she has the freedom to work only as much as she feels like doing….is mad that her husband works hard to support the family so that she has the freedom to work only as much as she feels like doing. Ooookay.

  • CKZ

    I feel guilty, too. Even more so because I have a college degree. I’m working in the field I went to school for. My husband doesn’t have a college degree (or college loans, like I do), yet he currently makes about 8 percent more than me. Last year, we made the same, but my entire company got a pay decrease and wage freeze. Next year he will make even more, which is great, of course. We don’t have money problems, though, and my husband always says it’s not about the money, but that we love our jobs. It’s hard not to feel like I’m not contributing enough. To me though, I’d rather sacrifice making more money for living close to work and being able to spend more time with my family.

  • Dianne333@live.com

    Your husband should be ashamed of himself for throwing the income difference in your face. If he truly loved you for you, it wouldn’t matter. He sounds like a pompous jerk to me.

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  • http://twitter.com/Aidawo2 Aida

    Show him that you appreciate his sacrifice. He’s not working those long hours because he wants to- if he had a choice he would rest more often. Right now it seems that you lash out at him because of how you feel. 

  • http://twitter.com/Aidawo2 Aida

    Those of us who are making suggestions are doing so for the benefit of other people who are going through that situation, not necessarily for the author. She has already said they are quarreling less.

    There are many people in that situation and sometimes, one person wants to live a comfortable life but doesn’t want to do the work necessary to get it. The other person may sometimes toil along and feel unappreciated because they have to work instead of taking a break at six to have coffee with their spouse.

  • loveedovee

    I must first say thank you to the writer for sharing her story with the world. It opened up a dialog confirming what my fiance and I have discussed prior to and more after getting engaged. The only thing you should feel guilty about is sending negative energy and putting pressure on a man that obviously loves and supports you in ways that count most. He sounds to me like he’s doing his best and that he loves you. That’s a winning combo right there, nobody is perfect. When he retaliates with the ”breadwinner” thing, it seems only in response to pressure from you when he’s trying his best (and it’s not always easy for him) to give you the lifestyle you desire. You could end that guilty feeling and any discord in an instant !  If you decided to appreciate this man for all he has done and graciously accept what he is currently doing. Then, make the very best of some of the compromises and sacrifices YOU BOTH have had to make in the relationship you will be better off. Think about it……..you already have the life you wanted and love, please don’t complain anymore.  

  • AB

    To address your claim on your website that all the commenters here “hate [you]. They really, really hate [you],” I’ll tell you why people are so annoyed. For reference, I am a writer too.

    Lots of us have things that we want to do. I’m glad you have decided to pursue your dream, since life is pretty short. And after all, it is your life. Except you’re married, which means your life is inextricably linked with someone else’s. Surely you knew this would happen? The money you’re making is damn good for a writer, but you had to have known this disparity was going to be an issue, especially considering your financial past with your husband. You were already in a position to feel inadequate, and now you’re continuing to feel this way. Your husband’s comments aren’t helping. This article is asking for approval for your choice because your choice has created tension in your marriage. I admire your dedication but my approval or disapproval (or anyone’s) still does not affect your choice.

    I too have wanted to be a writer since I was little. You know where I am now? In school. I’m going into the medical field for a good-paying job that, even part-time, will allow me to live comfortably. I’ll admit I’m frugal, but I want a safety net, not to be living on every penny of my paycheck. It will give me the free time to write and a way to support myself. Of course, like you, “I would never want a corporate job.” No one does. Very few people have ever dreamt of wasting their lives in cubicles. That doesn’t stop me from having two freelance jobs myself right now. I say this without contempt or sarcasm: you are living a good life. You could theoretically live on the money you make, and not many artists can say that. You may need to have a serious discussion with your husband about his discomfort with being the breadwinner, and maybe you’ll have to make ongoing compromises.

    But in the end, only you made your choice, and only you can make another. Now either live with it without complaining or renege on your promise and go back to corporate work for a better wage.

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  • Guest

    This sounds exactly like me. Last night my husband suggested we go out for dinner. I was like, “your treat!”…he’s like, “why?” …”Because I have $1.50 in my wallet. I was angry this past week because he got over $1000 in bonuses from work and he blew it on board games…while I’m scrounging and shopping at goodwill so I have clothes to wear to work. I can feel the resentment already brewing, but I don’t know how to stop it. bills are split about 60/40 but he clears a good $2000 more than me each month. I dunno…

  • nickel

    Pathtic. You are treating your husband wretchedly.

  • MrsT

    This really hits home with me. I am now a freelance designer and use to have a high paying job before I got married when my husband (fiancé at the time) and a very low paying job, so I always felt like I was contributing more, but happy to do so because I always considered it OUR money. Now that I have gone back to school to get my masters, I also love the flexibility and lifestyle of my freelance work and hope to soon be a mom. I make good money doing what I do and happy with the amount, but now my husband is getting a super pay increase and I am super proud, but also feeling like I am not doing enough. He is not making me feel bad and is happy with the new change, but I guess it’s my former independence that is making it hard that I am not contributing equally and makes me feel like he doesn’t need my money anymore. Even though I am being silly and I know he loves me so much, I still can’t get out of my mind that he might start to resent me and realize he can do fine on his own with his new fancy paycheck.