The tides are turning. Almost one third of working women in the US now out-earn their husbands. Women now make up 58 percent of college students pursuing a bachelor’s degree and six out of ten graduate degrees. In the current recession, three men have lost their jobs for every one woman that has and because of that women now make up the majority of the workforce. An estimated 158,000 unemployed fathers of children under 15 are caring for their kids full time while their wives work.
For most couples this is uncharted territory. Without many firsthand role models it can be difficult to know how to structure the relationship, finances, decision making and family life. Traditionally men have relied on their ability to earn money and support their families as a source of self esteem. But these new roles require couples to rethink their ideas of gender roles, family structure and, even, what is sexy.
If you are a woman whose spouse or boyfriend earns less than you, here are a few tips to help things run smoothly.
1. Make it clear that value in a relationship in not based on earning power. Do this by acknowledging his contributions to the relationship both verbally and with acts of affection.
2. Support his career and passions. Just because he isn’t earning as much as you doesn’t mean that his job is any less important to him.
3. Make household decision together. Traditionally the person who earned the most money got to make the choices but that diminishes the importance of the person who is earning less.
4. Brag to your friends. Let him hear you telling your friends how terrific he is. This allows him to hear how much you respect him and also helps your friends to value him as well.
5. Let him pull out his wallet. If you are married and out to dinner, let him take the check regardless of where the actual money comes from that pays the credit card bill. If you are still in the dating stage, let him pick restaurants that he can afford so he can have the opportunity to take you out.
6. Divide the labor fairly. When deciding who is going to do which chores at home, don’t let earning be a factor. Make those decisions based on time, skill and strengths.
7. Make big financial decisions together. Don’t assume that just because you are earning more that you can go out and buy a new car without any discussion. Operating as a team is crucial.
8. Make long term goals together. Have common goals that you can work towards together. It is easier to hear him say, “Let’s not eat out tonight so we can put more money into the house fund” when you know that choice is based on plans for a future together. You are far less likely to have an entitled attitude (i.e.“I earned it so I should get to decide how we spend it”). Sacrificing and working together as a team helps bring you closer.
9. Have a joint bank account as well as individual accounts. This makes it so you don’t have to ask each other for permission for every purchase. This can help avoid making him feeling infantilized and you feeling resentful. It also allows for a surprise birthday gift.
10. Communicate your expectations clearly and respectfully. Clear and honest communication about what is working and what isn’t helps couples improve their relationship. Keep in mind that these issues of money and power are sensitive ones. Make sure to discuss them when you are calm. It helps to write down each of your agreed responsibilities and continue to reassess as time goes on.
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