A few years ago, my little brother moved his family to Seattle. His wife had received a promotion and an opportunity to work at her company’s flagship location. The offer was too good to refuse. There was just one problem: They moved before Tony could find a job.
Tony’s wife enjoyed her new position and increased salary. He pounded the pavement looking for work. He had no luck. When he was in Portland a few months later, he stopped by my place for a beer.
“How are things going?” I asked.
“They’re OK,” he said, but he paused a moment, which told me things weren’t okay.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Well, it sucks,” he said. “It sucks to have your wife be making all the money in the family. I don’t feel like a man. I mean, I’m proud of her and everything, but I am the one who should be providing for us, not her. Ever since we moved, I haven’t felt good about myself.”
Tony isn’t alone. In roughly one-quarter of married U.S. couples, the wife earns more than her husband, up from just 6 percent in 1960. While this fact isn’t an issue in many marriages — during the time we were together, Kris almost always made more than I did and neither of us minded — for other couples, this can be a real problem.
This dynamic is the subject of a new book from Farnoosh Torabi. In When She Makes More, Torabi explores statistics, biology, and psychology to explain why relationships often suffer when the woman makes more — and how order and harmony can be restored in this new kind of relationship.
10 Rules for Better Relationships
Torabi cites a lot of research (so much research, in fact, that at times the reading is dry) about how relationship dynamics change when the woman in a relationship makes more than the man. She also includes anecdotes to illustrate some of the pitfalls (and solutions) to common problems, such as shared housework and childcare.
Her book is structured around 10 rules for managing money in a relationship in which the woman is the primary breadwinner. Her rules are:
Face the facts. To start, couples have to accept their situation for what it is. She makes more. And because she does, risks of burnout, infidelity, and divorce are much higher than with a traditional relationship where the man is the breadwinner. To deal with the very real psychological costs, each couple must recognize the trade-offs they’re making to maintain this dynamic.
Rewrite the fairy tale. Torabi says that it used to be that girls grew up “dreaming of marrying a Prince Charming who could provide for them and their children.” To be happy in the modern world, women (and men) must dream of something different. As they date and marry, they have to change their expectations, and look for new ways to achieve an effective partnership.
Level the financial playing field. Like me, Torabi believes money management is more an emotional issue than a logical one. It’s important to establish a family financial structure that’s appropriate for your situation, one that’s fair and equitable to both partners. For some, that means joint finances. For others, that means separate finances. Financial chores should be divvied up based on each partner’s strengths.
Hack the hypotheticals. To make better long-term financial decisions, Torabi says women must consider a series of “what if?” questions. Plan in advance to deal with the unexpected. Consider a prenup (or postnup) agreement. Prepare for the future, including retirement and elder care for your parents.
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J.D. Roth, Editor, Get Rich Slowly