How Do Non-Traditional Earning Patterns Affect Relationships?

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Last spring, after eight years of marriage, Sasha and Michael filed for divorce. At first their friends were shocked and saddened by the news, but as the surprise faded, the couple’s underlying issues became clear…

When they first met, Sasha had just moved to New York City to play drums in a band.  She bartended on her off nights to make ends meet, and struggled everyday with the idea of pursuing a life in music versus looking for a more financially secure career. That’s when she met Michael: a successful computer programmer riding the wave of the internet boom. He was interesting, cute and… financially stable.

They both loved to travel and eat good food. Michael loved that Sasha played music. In fact, it inspired him to revisit his childhood passion for writing. And Michael’s stable outlook subtly steered Sasha to take a job on the ‘suit’ side of making music. Within a few years, she was the VP of marketing at a major record label and loving her high-paying job.

Their relationship progressed steadily, and they soon married. And with Michael’s writing hobby becoming a bigger and bigger part of his life, he actually quit his job to write a novel—with the intention of returning to work once it was complete so they could start a family.

However, that never happened. Michael chose not to go back to his old career so he could write full time, and Sasha assumed the role of the primary money maker. It was quite a role reversal from when they first met! As time went on, Sasha grew to resent her role as breadwinner—saying it was a key factor in breaking up their marriageor so she thought.

The Starving Artist & His Money-Making Muse

There have been many articles written about the complications that arise in a marriage when the woman is the main breadwinner. Many experts suggest that men often feel emasculated by their high-powered honey, while also suggesting that women actually have more issues with the gender reversal than their husbands.

Because 40% of women are now the main income source for their families, we’ve seen more and more of our female friends begin to earn more than their partners, while their husbands  pursue more artistic jobs for less income—or none at all. We’ve seen the situation work beautifully, with mom going off to work and dad tending to the house and the kids full time, and like in Sasha’s case, we’ve also seen marriages fall completely apart.

Is it Really About the Money?

In the irony of all ironies, Sasha is now dating a man who will never be in a position to earn more than she does, but somehow she doesn’t care. Her new man makes her feel sexy, desired and more secure than she has ever felt before—and money has nothing to do with it!

Sasha’s story got us thinking: Was money really the issue in her marriage—or was it something deeper? Does it really matter who makes more money in a marriage if both partners see eye to eye and know how to make the other feel wanted, needed and desired?

Communication & Expectations

Anyone who is married will tell you, divisions of labor—financial and otherwise—don’t usually happen automatically. Discussion is necessary. And these are not questions to leave until after your I do’s are said.

Having a bit of an uncomfortable conversation now can save you a lot of heartache down the road. Maybe you want to keep working and are on the partnership track at your firm?  Or maybe you plan to quit work the second you get pregnant? Want to be a stay at home mom? Are you ok with being the breadwinner if your husband is an awesome homemaker and dad? Maybe you see yourself as part of a two career family? These are all questions you need to broach while dating.

The Definition Of Security

Money is of course just one aspect of security—there’s a reason they say, “Money isn’t everything!” Try writing down when you have felt most insecure in your life and in your relationship, and have your partner do the same. Then do the same exercise for the moments you have felt most secure and loved. When you strip it down to moments and pure emotion, you may be surprised to find that money probably does not play a role in most of your scenarios.

Besides the fact that this ‘security’ exercise might provide you with some surprising answers, it also just might be the catalyst that gets you to communicate more with your spouse about financial issues—and that’s a skill that money truly can’t buy!

Read the story in its entirety at Fabulous and Frugal! CLICK HERE.

Tell us in the comments: What have your experiences been with non-traditional money-making situations within a marriage or relationship?

  • Anonymous

    Readers, what have your experiences been with non-traditional money-making situations within a marriage or relationship? How did you handle it?nCaroline WaxlernLearnVest’s Chief Content & Community Officer

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6700247 Sophia Teper

    My boyfriend and I actually randomly discussed this the other week. I’d been thinking about the fact that I’d like to continue being the breadwinner while he stayed at home with the kids and, basically reading my mind, he said that it was something he’d really enjoy, too. His job has more flexibility and he can work from home. I can do that occasionally, but not as much, so it’d be a great way to save $$ on a sitter in the long run. Hooray for communication! :)

  • erika

    My BF and I have discussed this many times. He always hints that he would like me to be a stay at home mom in the future but I am already making a little more than him and with just his income it would never work. I told him I wanted to keep working, my career is important to me… he needs to accept that.

  • Glitterspark37

    The disparity between my higher income and my BF’s lower income is fairly stark (I make about 3x what he does). In addition, his work is seasonal so he is laid off every winter, while I continue to work. There were moments at the beginning of our relationship, when we first moved in together, that it was a problem. But then we figured out that it wasn’t the income disparity or him being laid off seasonally. It was actually that I felt like he couldn’t handle his own finances and felt like he did nothing while laid off. Since figuring out what was really bothering me, things have changed. Now he is quite good with his money, although he could improve on saving a little, and his time being laid off is spent both applying to other possible jobs AND keeping the house clean & together. It takes stress off my back when I come home to a clean house and not having to worry about his finances for him anymore. nWe’ve lived together for 3 years now and I couldn’t be happier. He spoils me (mainly emotionally, which is what matters to me) and I feel secure and stress-free in the relationship. I wouldn’t trade our relationship for anything in the world. And we don’t have to worry about who’s going to be staying home with the kids – neither of us want any!

  • Laura

    I think it’s interesting that the comments below come from women dating (persumably with live-ins) and not married women. I am married now (recently) and the breadwinner. I would say I make almost 2x as my husband and when fights occur regarding “money” the articile is totally correct, it’s usually not about “money” it’s about the division of labor of household chores. When it comes down to it, I don’t mind paying for more, because I make more. I just want to know ultimately when it comes to the work that it’s split equally. I think everyone can agree to that! I can say that as someone who dated and lived with my husband for 7 years prior to our marriage that it is ALL about communication and having the uncomforable discussion now rather than the blow out fight later! Great article.

  • Kyralou

    I had no idea people don’t already do this…the marriage broke up because he broke the deal. They both may have changed, but that didn’t mean the Plan was supposed to change too, especially without bilateral (do i eeally have to mention “honest?) consent. How communication and decisions between peple is supposed to work. Silence is only assent if *both* of you convince yourselves it is. An if you’re scared to have the conversation, relighted tells you “where you’re at”, for one thin. Why not just assume “being scared” is part of the package (and maybe the problem) and do it anyway? In the end, it must be done, if for no other reason than to affirm that it’s unnecessry, lol.

  • Danie

    I am a teacher, and the main breadwinner, while my husband stays home with the kids and goes to school at night. For us, it just made the most sense. Childcare costs were about what our rent was and the kids were spending most of their waking hours with someone outside of our family. 

    My husband was unhappy in his career and needed very much to move into a line of work that fulfilled him. Going back to school will allow him to do this. 

    There was an adjustment period where he had to learn to take over the chores and cooking, and a few times societal expectations crept in causing issues but overall everyone is SO much happier than we were before. Although we have a little more than half the money we once had everything we gained from him staying home made up for it. 

    Sometimes the extra money a marriage partner brings into the family really isn’t worth all the problems and headaches it causes. There are so many other things you can contribute to a family besides money. 

  • Kikcind

    Oh…I hate to see these women give up everything. I did that for 19 years. I put my son through private school, I stayed home because my husband worked long hours. We always had just enough to take a vacation at the end of the year and we lived comfortably. But what I want to tell these younger ladies is wake up!!  Someday your husband could leave you! You need to start collecting a tea pot fund NOW…It basically is a fund that you have that noone else knows about. It isn’t wrong. After all you can use it down the road to send kids to college or something for you whole family. But what if he does divorce you Homemaker?? If your hubby does leave, are you prepared financially? Will you be able to pay for an attorney? What about your kids? More and more men are getting the kids because they are the bread winners and can pay for the mortgage, child care etc. Your kids may go with Dear old Dad if he has more money then you. If I had to do it over, I would have had my own job. PS and the most important is…If you share a credit card with your spouse, your responsible for debt. So at least get credit in your own name. 

  • Kikcind

    Oh…I hate to see these women give up everything. I did that for 19 years. I put my son through private school, I stayed home because my husband worked long hours. We always had just enough to take a vacation at the end of the year and we lived comfortably. But what I want to tell these younger ladies is wake up!!  Someday your husband could leave you! You need to start collecting a tea pot fund NOW…It basically is a fund that you have that noone else knows about. It isn’t wrong. After all you can use it down the road to send kids to college or something for you whole family. But what if he does divorce you Homemaker?? If your hubby does leave, are you prepared financially? Will you be able to pay for an attorney? What about your kids? More and more men are getting the kids because they are the bread winners and can pay for the mortgage, child care etc. Your kids may go with Dear old Dad if he has more money then you. If I had to do it over, I would have had my own job. PS and the most important is…If you share a credit card with your spouse, your responsible for debt. So at least get credit in your own name. 

  • Bodie621

    I agree with Laura on the division of responsibilities and communication being key. I also made around 3x what my husband made before he was laid off earlier this year and I’m now the sole breadwinner. I work long hours so he does most of the household chores (we have cleaners so this is the grocery shopping, cooking, errands, etc) and while he has no problem with that, my biggest problem is when we are with friends of ours, couples who are all in the reverse situation (the man is the sole breadwinner) and any mention of what he does with his days comes up I tend to get regarded as lazy or high maintenance for not doing the roles traditionally performed by women in the home. I don’t want to emaculate him by bluntly stating the obvious so I stay quiet. It’s a huge double standard that is never going to stop being annoying.