Coming to Terms With an Unequal Success Dynamic in a Relationship


Coming to Terms With an Unequal Success Dynamic in a Relationship | A Practical Wedding

The concept of success—what it means, who has achieved it, and whether or not it matters—has been a very common theme over the course of our ten-year relationship. Greg and I met in high school, where I was the over-achieving honors student, and he… wasn’t. Still, we had the same group of friends, and a few of the same classes, and considered each other very much equals. Immediately upon graduation, that all changed. I was accepted to and went off to a well-respected university located several hours from our hometown in Southern California. Greg, despite sending out dozens of applications in a frantic attempt to get out of his parents’ home, did not, and started taking classes at the local community college. Though we spoke every day, and I came home to visit at every opportunity, he slid further and further into a hopeless depression at the thought of having been left behind. It left me feeling ashamed of my success, guilty for leaving, and desperate to help. After one semester, he was accepted to a small private school on the other side of the country. After two months of separation, I left my well-respected university to fly to the frozen wasteland of Ithaca, New York to be with him, and enroll at said small private school.

In Ithaca, we were equals again, taking classes in the college’s relatively well-known communications program, where we both excelled. Unfortunately, I could not afford to stay the full four years, and since I had amassed quite a bit of AP credit, I graduated early. This was December of 2008—the stock market was in free fall, companies were laying people off by the hundreds, and it was generally a terrible time to finish school. With nowhere else to go, I moved back in with my parents while Greg finished up his last semester.

After that, I wasn’t employed, but I wasn’t idle. I threw out several last-minute graduate school applications, and was accepted to one. It was in Orlando, Florida—another world away. When Greg graduated, he also had nowhere else to go, and no job prospects to speak of. But this time, I wouldn’t just leave him behind in our hometown. I asked him to come to Florida with me.

It was not a good choice for either of us. Once again, I was the successful one—going somewhere, and doing something with my life. Greg found a part-time, minimum-wage job at Disney World, in which he faced the daily humiliation of leaving and returning to an apartment filled with business students while dressed in something that resembled a clown costume. Again, he became depressed. But this time, I didn’t feel guilty at my own success. I felt angry at him for bringing me down. And after a year of increasingly toxic feelings towards each other, mixed with a few unfortunate choices on my part, he left.

I came back to California after graduation, still without job prospects, to find him also unemployed, living on a mattress in his parents’ dining room. Sad as it was, we were equals again. It was a low point for both of us, and something that made us both face our reasons for ever having wanted to be together, and our greatly diminished plans for the future. It was during this time that we got engaged.

We both found jobs within a few months of each other. However, mine was relatively well paying, full time, and with the faint glimmer of a career around it. His was a part-time paid internship. We moved in with some friends, started paying what rent we could, and made the best of it. But the skewed power dynamic in our relationship reared up again. I didn’t much notice or care—we were both working, and we were both doing what we could. I saw us as a team. But Greg saw himself as dead weight in a relationship where, as the man, he felt he should be contributing more. He had left college with crippling student debt, and the bills were now largely being paid by me. As was the rent. As were the groceries. As was the majority of our entertainment. This time, I finally recognized it for what it was.

And here’s the thing that we have been grappling with over the course of our engagement: What is it to be a team? Does it matter that I make more money? (No.) Does it matter that his path has been a little rockier along the way? (No.) Is the “success” ratio in our relationship likely to remain constant over time? (No.) Is one individual’s value in a relationship measured by more than the size of the paycheck they bring home, or the future prospects they have at that precise moment? (Absolutely, unquestioningly, yes!)

So now our wedding is less than two months away. Greg has found a full-time job. He still makes less than I do, a fact that he is still acutely aware of, but we are trying to emphasize the more important parts of our relationship. We are facing this marriage as equals, because no matter how society measures success, all that really matters is that we’re both there to support each other, whenever and however it’s needed.

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  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    Oh wow, thanks for this so much, it is what I needed to read. I am actually on my last day at my temp-job, and the future is not very clear.
    I moved countries to where husband had a stable job, and though it seemed there were opportunities for me, it is just hard and I don’t think I can handle the rejection letters anymore.
    And now we are faced upon all these decisions like whether or not I want to work for free some more… (like I haven’t done that enough) or what else. Often I feel like I am not giving as much to our marriage because even if I do have the degrees, I don’t have the job.
    Anyway… thanks for putting things in perspective… even if the answers are unknown.

    • Kate F.

      Wow, Amanda, I’m pretty sure I’ve stated ver batim your comment above. I’m still a wedding undergraduate, and moved to where my fiance has a steady job. I’m actually writing this at my unpaid internship (the second one I’ve had in the last year, along with a growing list of other volunteer activities over the last few years); your comment of “like I haven’t done that enough” actually made me laugh because I TOTALLY get where you’re coming from.
      Keep fighting the good fight; we’ll get through this!

      • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

        Thanks ! We’ll get through this :) , suppport and hugs and energy to you !

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    “Is the “success” ratio in our relationship likely to remain constant over time? (No.)”

    This is so key to these discussions on success and power dynamics. People and careers change, and with that being the case it’s very unlikely that a relationship will have the same unequal dynamics for its entire life.

    Granted, right in the middle of a long stretch of feeling like the less equal partner that’s not always easy to remember.

  • http://somethingshavehappened.blogspot.co.uk/ Siobhan

    I want to exactly this whole post. My husband is a little younger than me and has strong views on what being a man means.

    I am three years ahead of him in my career, and those three years mean a lot as I am in middle management and he is just below that, but there is a huge income gap there.

    He still likes to pay for things and I totally get that and would if I was in the same boat, but I think if you are a team then you tackle this issue as a team as well. I know that I might choose a path where I will be self-employed in the future, and by then he will probably be at least where I am now. Things can always change and being okay with whatever way they things are at any given moment? That is the key, that is where you hit the nail on the head.

    Also – I’m super glad to hear of other couples where this is the way round the “success” dynamic is.

  • SAM

    This is great, and it’s important to talk about, but it also makes me angry that power dynamics only ever become difficult in relationships when it’s the woman that is more successful.

    • Steph

      If it makes you feel any better Sam, I had issues at the beginning of my relationship that were the other way around. Hubby and I for the most part make about the same in our respective careers (and luckily for both of us “the same” has continued to grow over time as we both progressed in our fields. I know we are very blessed for that!) However, hubby has an AA degree but then worked his way up the retail management ladder. I have an MA but work in a non profit. At the beginning it frustrated me a LOT that he was making as much as me with 4 years less education (and hence with less debt). Over time I’ve realized that a) he earns every bit of his salary through his hard work! (working evenings, wknds etc and making himself indispensable to his company in ways I have no desire to ever do) and b) we are on the same team!! If we are both making money and able to contribute to our future that is a good thing!!

      • http://www.ameripriseadvisors.com/cristina.l.caruso Cris C

        Steph, I get your frustration. I’ve had a few issues just like this of my own. Taking the gender dynamic out of it doesn’t always prevent these issues when there is an ambition imbalance.

        I sometimes forget that I am working to grow a business and a practice, I often get frustrated at how little I am making for the hours and energy I put into work. When I start comparing it to my partner, who with a high school diploma and a job in manufacturing out earns me, I get really frustrated and wonder if its worth all the work and struggle. Its been a really big part of our relationship discussions, since she would rather see me be “in the moment” than working for what will be possible down the road.

    • Poeticplatypus

      This is a topic that should be discussed, not only on APW but when you are in a relationship. How do you personally define success? Is it tied into monetary value or that the two of you are reaching your goals as a team.

      Personally, it sucks that when a woman is less successful than the man this is a norm that doesn’t rock the boat. Yet, why do men hate the idea of making less. We need to have conversations about why this is an issue maybe even before it actually happens.

      To me what makes a successful man is a guy that goes to work and does what he can to support his family. End of story.

      • Alyssa

        I absolutely agree that this is a good relationship discussion, coming from the side of the pre-engaged. I went to a private university, majored in science, made all of the right connections, and had a high paying job waiting for me after college. My boyfriend dropped out of a state school, got his AA at a community college while trying to find some direction, and eventually took a part time position at the family business. So, I make nearly 3x as much as he does, which, at first was a bit uncomfortable for him. He would be very secretive about his finances, and his mom always fixates on my accomplishments, and even asked me if I was okay dating someone who didn’t finish his bachelor’s (since I am contemplating a master’s or two), especially since he is 2 years my senior.

        After several discussions, (“I don’t care how much you make, we have enough to live off of AND have sushi every week!””It’s okay sweetie, my finances are in shambles since I wiped out my savings and took out loans to go to college and you’re debt free with solid savings. I’m totally jealous of you!”) he seems to be much more comfortable with it. What really helps is not making money a priority. We’re content having enough to live off of and a little extra to put away for the wedding, European honeymoon, and condo that are in our future plans.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Did you get him to open up about his finances? I’m in a similar position, and the secrecy feeds my resentment. I was very open about my finances, because I like personal finance intellectually and because I had relationships broken because of financial issues. He was ashamed, so I didn’t press. He gave me figures rounded to the nearest $10K, and for over a year, I was OK with that.

          Then he moved in unexpectedly, and the financial arrangements became close to what they’d be if we were married. Or I think they are. Because I only have a vague notion of his finances, I’m not sure. Now I regret not forcing the detailed disclosures involved in a pre-nup.

          But I don’t know how to begin the conversation. I don’t really think he’s a freeloader, but how to balance my unease at his secrecy, with his unease at disclosing? I have the information I need to picture our future. Part of me feels guilty for wanting more, but part of me worries this is setting a pattern.

          • Alyssa

            I did get him to open up. I told him I was frustrated with his secrecy especially since I’ve always been full disclosure with my finances (which despite my great job are a bit of a mess from school). I told him I don’t care how much he makes I just need to know. We’re talking about marriage withing the next couple of years and there’s a wedding and a house to save for. I refuse to go into debt for a wedding and our parents can’t help so I’ve started saving now.

            I think the kicker was when I asked him for his advice in this context. I was trying to figure out whether to put my extra income in savings or to put it towards my student loans. Then I told him that since I didn’t know where his finances stood I felt like I was saving for our future alone, and his lack of disclosure was making the savings vs. loans decision difficult for me to make an informed decision. That’s when I got a disclosure (turns out he has 3x more savings than I do).

            Good luck! Communication is key :)

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Thanks. I like the idea of forcing the issue when there’s a financial decision to make. Then it’s not so anal. Though I also think it’s fine (just harder) to say, “It’s just a personality quirk, but I’d really like to know. Can we talk about why you don’t want to share, or a timetable for when you will share?”

    • Erin

      Actually Sam, I’m on the low side of the success ratio in my relationship, and it’s making me uncomfortable. I’m pre-engaged (just got the guts to start posting here yesterday after months of lurking), and my guy owns his own business, while I’m a designer who works longer hours for less pay. That’s the choice I made, but before my current relationship I was always dating other designers who were in the same financial situation, and I’ve realized that it was easier to think of myself as an equal that way. I’m trying to come to terms with not always being 50/50, with the idea that when we get married, my guy may just decide to pay off a big chunk of my student loans (cause he can just decide to up and DO things like that, this concept of just having money lying around is crazy to me), that even though I’m a feminist and a strong woman I’ve chosen a partner that fills this really traditional, man-bringing-home-bacon role. So this is one of the things I’m working on leading up to the actually making it official bits, trying to see us always as partners, and see money as ours instead of mine + his.

      • ErinC

        I’m so grateful for all of these posts! It’s the first time I’ve ever read a blog post and seen so much of myself in it. I’m a college drop out engaged to a tenured university professor (Oh, the irony!), and I’ve recently found myself at a job related crossroads. I’m contemplating leaving a job that I’m perfectly qualified for, but that I no longer find satisfying for a more risky business venture that could be much more fulfilling, but probably won’t make a lot of money for a few years. I’m struggling with more guilt about my small salary than I ever have in our relationship. While we were dating, it didn’t bug me quite as much that he was much more successful professionally than I am, but now that we plan to build a life together and it’s not just about taking care of me anymore, I’m feeling guilty that I’m not contibuting more financially. Feminism and equality aside, I just don’t want to be a mooch.
        My fiance bought the house we will share, he’ll likely pay for 90% of our wedding celebration, and when I was concerned about being able to pay an unexpected medical bill he said he’d be perfectly fine with taking me down to the courthouse to get married just so I could be covered by his insurance. The fact that he wants what’s best for me and unselfishly offers to help me in any way he can makes me love him even more, but it can’t stop my own struggle with not being entirely comfortable with thought that I’m marrying a man who will “take care” of me. Just as Rachel started to feel guilty about her successes, I’m feeling guilty for my failures.
        Finding myself confronting my own self-image and past choices so intensely has been one of the most surprising things about being a committed relationship. Now that major life choices (like changing jobs) no longer effects only me, my anxiety level just keeps rising. What if I make the wrong choice? What he if starts to resent how much I’ll depend on him financially? What if *I* start to resent how much I’ll depend on him financially? It’s not a pretty loop to be caught in.

        Being able to read how others are struggling with the same issues has been the most comforting thing I’ve experienced in weeks. I’m hoping I’ll be able to take a deep breath and embrace the changes and challenges that are ahead.

        • R

          I’m in a pretty similar situation to Erin’s (he makes a bunch more money, etc…), and I’ve felt the same way you do- it feels really uncomfortable that I can’t (and probably won’t ever) contribute 50% financially.

          I was talking to my mom about how weird it felt that he would likely put a bunch of money towards my student loans after we got married, and she pointed out that if the roles were reversed (and I had the money to pay off his debts) I would be happy to do so. And she was absolutely right. So I try to remember, when things like that come up, that if I were in his position I would be more than happy to use my money to help him, and that it’s okay when he uses his to help me.

          Still feels weird, though :D

          • Erin

            It definitely feels better when you can identify a way in which you do help and contribute in a way that he can’t. For instance, buying a car was driving my SO absolutely insane (we’re just more straightforward people, so the car-dealer approach is infuriating), so I researched, called, and scheduled appointments to take some of the stress of of him. And I’ve realized that once we’re married, he’ll be able to get onto my insurance, which is a much better deal than buying it individually, so my crummy long hours job will contribute something that his more relaxed and profitable job doesn’t. I definitely don’t want to get into a place where I’m trying to balance everything tit for tat, but I’ve noticed that I feel better about the overall imbalance when I can remind myself of this sort of thing.

      • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

        It took me a number of years to be ok with the inequality in our earnings. For a very long time my fiance made four times as much as me. Which was a huge difference. He was super understanding and supportive of everything I needed to do job and money wise and completely turned the whole idea of career success into a non-issue.

    • Ari

      It looks so different, when it’s skewed the other way, but it can definitely cause difficulty.

      When my partner and I met, I was a single mother with a salary about one third the size of his. He was–and is–wildly successful within his industry, and never lacks for job offers and opportunities, while I was doing low level tech work. The first part of our relationship involved a lot of wrestling with this, at least for me. I didn’t want to feel like a gold-digger, I didn’t want to rely on a man, I wanted to pay my fair share for everything, which should be at least half, damn it! And so on, and so forth.

      My partner, an ardent feminist, was untroubled. He was happy to have found a woman with an independent streak, happy that I was working my way up in an all too male-dominated industry, and happy to pay for things as much as I was willing to accept, not because he was supposed to, but because he could afford to and wanted to. Sure, this was pretty easy on him, because he was conforming to the social “norm”, but he was always very respectful of my struggles with our balance, and of my desire for independence.

      Shortly before our son was born, my company was acquired and I lost my job. Too pregnant to job-hunt right away, and about to have two kids under five in the house, I sort of slid into stay-at-home-mom-dom inadvertently. It’s hard work, and real work, and I am amazed by the women who choose this, but it’s not something I had ever imagined for myself and, nearly a year into it, not something I have entirely figured out for myself.

      We can both agree that this is work, but neither of us is good at accounting for how much work, or how hard, and can undervalue parenting versus his professional job. I am now reliant on my partner for everything, including insurance and everything for my children. Right now, jobs in my previous field would scarcely pay enough to cover full time daycare, after taxes, which makes the idea of going back to work exhausting and frustrating (and that’s before we even get into all the “you’d be abandoning your babies!” social pressure bullshit). We’re still working out how to manage finances in a way that’s reasonable and empowering, and we can talk our success dynamic to death.

      I had a moderately traditional upbringing, and never expected, on a gut level, to be more successful than any partner of mine. At the same time, I’m a feminist, and I know that I’m awesome and smart, so I never expected, on a gut level, to be *less* successful than any partner of mine, either. How to I redefine success in a way that doesn’t feel like moving the goalposts? Heck, how do I redefine success in a way that accounts for the largely unmeasurable task of parenting? Our struggles are invisible, because they’re trapped in the appearance of a solid, traditional power dynamic, and this makes me feel invisible, too. What is the measure for *that*?

      • Steph

        THIS!: “I didn’t want to rely on a man, I wanted to pay my fair share for everything, which should be at least half, damn it! And so on, and so forth.”

        We are in a different situation in that we (by choice) don’t have kids, and there have been many thimes we’ve contemplated me transitioning to part time work because I’m so unhappy in my full time job. However, in addition to it being not quite feasible right now because my job is the one with health insurance, I *know* that part of my reluctance has to do with feeling uncomfortable about being financially dependent on my husband. I *like* knowing that I am contributing equally finiancially to our partnership, even though I hate my job.

        (We’ve started to figure out an alternative plan that involves us working our arses off this next year so we can afford to take a travel sabbatical together this summer.)

        I definitely acknowledge what a hard and valuable job full time parenting is. But I also imagine I would feel similar to you if I suddenly were unable to work outside the home. Sending good thoughts your way!!!

    • http://breckwinokur.com Breck

      This is absolutely not true in my case. I’m just finishing up my undergraduate degree and work as a glorified nanny while my boyfriend has a well-paying, stable job in the corporate world, so we’re on pretty opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of income. For a chunk of time, I felt very uncomfortable that I only pay 1/6 of our rent and take care of groceries, while he covers basically everything else. We make an effort to split dinners out and vacations, but I still felt guilty and like I was disappointing women everywhere by letting him pay for (ungodly expensive) cable. When I finally broke down and talked to him about it, he surprised me with some incredibly wise words (as only our partners can), saying that he thinks of us as a team where the goal is to do the best we can in life in our relationship and that HE actually feels guilty that he doesn’t do as much housework because he doesn’t want to be a stereotypical guy who can’t lift a finger to empty the dryer.

      • Laura

        Sounds like you landed yourself a good one. But I still understand the dynamic making you uncomfortable.

        Also, a bit of a tangent, but we just could not justify paying ungodly rates for cable any longer, especially when it is teeming with commercials and product placement and general indoctrination. But we are both movie and tv show enthusiasts and love relaxing on the couch after dinner. So, we killed our cable, got some reasonable but fast internet (which we would need anyway for work), and bought a small, inexpensive device that streams netflix, on demand movies, and hulu+ to our tv. We save an estimated $50-$100/month, can watch what we want when we want, and almost completely avoid ads! Life-changer.

        • http://breckwinokur.com Breck

          We’ve actually gone the exact some route! I love having Hulu+ and enjoying the odd Amazon Instant movie once in awhile. This not only saves Team Us a nice chunk of change each month, but I also think it encourages more active TV watching. Now we sit down and enjoy The Daily Show every night with dinner, discuss/make fun of politicians, and feel like we’re super well-informed ;-).

    • Marina

      I remember seeing quite a few posts on APW about women struggling with being less monetarily successful than their partners. For instance http://apracticalwedding.com/2012/08/redefining-career-success-in-marriage was recent. I know there are others… anyone have links?

  • Kay

    Oh, thank you for this post. After Monday’s post about growing careers together I was feeling a little anxious, because my relationship does not look like that at all. I’m a lawyer, but my partner has chosen a career in the arts, which has made for a much more rocky road. While I tend to give him a lot of help with drafting letters, applying for positions, and developing his career, he feels somewhat out of his depth trying to advise me on my legal career because it’s very foreign to him.

    It’s taken me a while to turn around my worries on that point and realize that being a partnership of equals doesn’t mean that your contributions will always be the same. Right now, he needs more help than I do, and it’s fantastic that I’m in a position to give it to him. We’re extremely fortunate that my steady job means that our finances stay strong even when he has trouble finding work. It may be that at some point in the future, I will need more support, and hopefully my having helped him through this harder time will make him more able to provide it then.

    But sometimes, when I see stories of these amazingly balanced relationships, I still get stressed out and worried that this is not what a successful relationship is supposed to look like. So thank you for providing the other side of the coin and reminding me that it’s sometimes hard for other couples too, and that doesn’t make me crazy for still wanting to marry this man!

    • Cleo

      “It’s taken me a while to turn around my worries on that point and realize that being a partnership of equals doesn’t mean that your contributions will always be the same.”

      This is something I SO needed to hear and SO need to keep in mind right now (and probably for a while). Very wise. Thank you!

      • SC

        Thank you for this comment. I’m in a similar boat in that although I’m 2 years younger than my SO, I went right from a pretty prestigious public university, to an ivy league graduate school and started a professional career upon graduation at 24. I’m now 29 and stable professionally, with growth on the horizon. My So on the other hand (not engaged yet, and this is partially why because he is struggling with trying to feel like the ‘man’ even though I tell him he IS the man, money or not!) went to a decent undergrad, and then did a bunch of random stuff for years, and just finished graduate school for his MFA now at 31, and is starting a 3 month paid internship in design. Yes, it pays, and yes, it’s professional! But it doesn’t pay much, he doesn’t have benefits, there is no job security, etc. We grapple both ways on this issue – I like to think of myself as a feminist and an egalitarian when it comes to our finances, yet, a part of me sometimes DOES also wish that I wasn’t the main one pulling our combined financial ‘weight.’ He has the same ambivalence – on the one hand he is so grateful that he could play the starving-grad-student role with support from me, but also struggles that he can’t afford yet to even buy me the very simple (~$1,000) engagement ring that we’ve been talking about for a while with his own money. We are working to learn how to suport eachother the best that we can, and not to make finances the priority.

  • BB

    Thank you for this post. I can relate to it very much. My fiance has been similarly plagued by misfortune and depression over the years while I have been very fortunate to succeed in school and now grad school. He frequently gets upset that he isn’t doing his part to support our little family, and I think that a large portion of it is the historical expectation that it’s the man’s job to work hard (regardless of the job) to bring in money and support the family.

    Last fall we decided that he should pursue a certificate program for a new career field even though he wouldn’t be able to work very many hours (at the job he hated, was killing him psychologically and physically, and he had no upward mobility in–a no brainer for me that he should leave!). We had to put his tuition on credit cards because neither of us could get more loans (he already has many school loans and we just bought a car).

    As icing on the cake, he broke his foot in march and was entirely unable to work in his previous manual-labor job so we were completely without his salary (and it wasn’t on the job so he had no disability payments). Although he has found a job in his new field of interest that pays well (and he loves!!), he stil doesn’t have many hours and thus for months, I have been supporting the two of us with my (generous for what it is, but still) graduate student stipend-based salary. I know that we are making a very important investment into our shared future, but it really hurts his pride that my salary is paying for HIS collage and certificate program loans/credit cards and OUR living bills, while he barely pays for our groceries.

    Through all of this, he is very anxious about money (it was a point of stress in his house growing up) so I feel as though I can’t complain about our finances without him taking it as a comment on his work ethic/manhood. I just keep reminding him that my job future is by no means certain after I graduate in a few years and that he will most likely be supporting me for a while. We have a long life ahead of us and it is likely that the primary money-maker will fluctuate over time.

    These times are hard, but I firmly believe they will get better for both of us….. and for you! Goodluck!!!

  • Miriam

    I can’t decide if this is the best or the worst thing for my relationship, but I’ve started to accept that my wonderful, kind, considerate husband is also a little lazy. And unambitious. And I’m not those things. Do I sometimes wish I had a partner with whom I was in lock-step around career goals? Yes. Do I recognize that me being Type A is not an unambiguously positive trait, and that laziness has its benefits? Yes. Do I think we can use these differences to enrich the life we’re planning together? Yes … most of the time. (Not gonna lie, nervousness creeps in every now and then.)

    • Granola

      That’s a hard issue for me too. One one hand, I know that I would be unhappy with someone like me. And that a lot of the things I love about him stem from the same personality that also leads to laziness. But oh am I angered other times by the crazy uptight woman narrative which I just think is so unfair.

      If it helps, I try to take things one issue at a time – is this particular instance of laziness actually a problem? Can I relax about this issue? Am I just getting overwhelmed by the “oh my god he’ll never do anything ever!” rage, even though I know that logic is false? And when the chips are down, does he have my back? The answer is usually yes.

    • http://www.madeinmorningside.blogspot.com Ashleigh

      I’m similar, he brings so much to our relationship that isn’t around career goals and most of the time I’m not worried. But every so often I too get nervous.

      It’s really nice to hear other people dealing with this as within my friendship group the women are all more ambitious and making more money than their partners. As we reach the age of settling down, having babies etc I worry about the finances and my own sanity of being the breadwinner. It is a conversation my girlfriends and I have regularly.

      xox

    • Lynn

      This is what I am coming to terms with in my relationship. My husband is an all-around great guy. But he’s kinda lazy. When you get him going on something, he works very hard to make sure that it gets done. He works hard at his job. But he’s not going to go out of his way. He’s content to stay right where he is…even if staying right where he is means that our family is extremely limited in the ways that we can grow that require money. Which doesn’t stop him from wanting us to grow in ways that require money, which makes me feel more pressured to stay at a job where I’m not happy because it pays all of our bills.

      We’ve had several really difficult conversations about the things we want, the things he wants, the places we want to go, and how we’re going to get there (and for him, while some of that is material, the biggest thing he wants is for us to have a child). There’s been a dawning realization that if those are the things he wants for himself and for our family, then he can’t remain content. He’s got to make some changes. He’s making those steps, but it’s a frustratingly slow process for me…and I know he feels that frustration, which makes him frustrated as well.

      • http://www.madeinmorningside.blogspot.com Ashleigh

        YES! This!!

        I find it is so hard dealing with the frustrations, and not taking them out on him, he is trying to progress but it’s not easy. xox

    • Alli

      This is something I’ve struggled with since my fiance and I started dating. We met as established adults – I have a successful career in a male-dominated field and have always been very up front that my career is high priority for me. I’m also a pretty highly charged person with occassional anxiety issues. He’s a super-chill, pot smoking, union worker with zero career ambitions. What he does want is a nice house with a yard full of kids and a garage with an old car to play with. That’s it.

      What I’ve come to realize is that it’s the balance in this that makes our relationship great. He’s rarely stressed and makes me see that some of my big worries aren’t really that important (like that the house looks perfect when people come over). At the same time, he supports my career 100%. He puts on dress clothes and makes nice at networking events. He’s willing (wanting) to stay home and look after kids, if we can make it work financially. I know that I will never have the stress of a sick kid + an important presentation, because he will be home with the sick kid, no questions asked. My career comes first and my career success will support our family’s success.

      Basically, I’m marrying a traditional wife who happens to be a macho man. And he’s esctatic about it. And so am I.

      • Lynn

        Your fiance sounds a lot like my husband. My husband has worked in mental health for the last 8 years and as he tells me all the time when I’m telling him that I can’t get to sleep and he’s dozing contentedly, “Baby, I teach people relaxation techniques.”

        He calms me and centers me. I tend to be a little high strung, but I work really hard at keeping that under control. He lets me come undone and then pulls me back together. It is the perfect counterpoint to my stresses and frustration. Even if it occasionally creates stress and frustration for me.

    • Marina

      Yes. This. I wouldn’t call my husband lazy precisely, but he would be (is) MUCH happier not having a job than I would be. I get really, really twitchy if I feel like my life isn’t progressing in some measurable fashion, while his only reason to progress is to get where he wants to be and then stop.

      I’m working on a Reclaiming Wife post about how if someone had told me when I first got together with him that I’d end up the primary breadwinner, I’d have run far and fast. But it’s actually been an amazing thing that both of us are determined to continue as long as possible. I mean, as a person who sometimes gets far too busy, it’s pretty freaking awesome to have someone greet me when I get home with a cup of tea and a listening ear.

    • Cleo

      I am so glad you started this thread, Miriam.

      I’m in the same boat and, I’ve come to understand that his ambitions (to have a relatively stress free life with a loving family) are different than mine and that’s okay. Although this peace came after a lot of soul searching and readjusting.

      It’s something I’ve never talked about honestly about with my friends because they have partners who are all very motivated, goal-oriented, type As (and they are also motivated, goal oriented and type A), and most of the time, the discussion ends up going to a place of “Hey, so when is W going back to school?” which is so awkward for a variety of reasons, mostly because neither of us know when/if that will happen, but also because they go to a judge-y place about his lack of education.

      Anyway, it’s nice to see that other people are in the same “type A” / lazy relationship dichotomy as I am. I was beginning to feel very alone

    • Soon 2 B SJE

      Ironically, this is almost exactly the dynamic of my relationship. However the roles are reversed. I’m not lazy nor content with the status quo. But my almost-husband is certainly more focused, enduring, and w/ 7 years my senior, much more established in a well paying career (more than double my salary). I actually aspire to have his success…sometimes. and too often I aspire to have his approval that I’m doing enough.

      I once felt he didn’t think I was worth committing to. It took time to get over my own insecurities and accept that my non-type-A personaility did not lessen my worth. I know better now.

      Though I know he struggled and may still struggle with these sometimes glaring differences, we are moving successfully forward together. It has been helpful to communicate the truth and recognize that there are strengths in these differences that help us as a team.

      I don’t pretend that we won’t continue wo have discussions, esp considering our tentative plans for me to stay at home with future children. However, I believe we’re both very wise and realistic about life, love, and marriage. So in deciding to make this commitment we’re sure we are willing to tackle this issue with grace and the goal of mutual success in mind each time.

    • Kah

      Well said, this has been a constant issue during the 5 year relationship with me and my fiancé. I have excelled in my chosen career, payed down debt and supported him during the slow winters that he wasn’t working. It is something I have grappled with in my head, should I feel bad for being frustrated at the obvious lack of ambition on his part? Should I be frustrated that ultimately all of my debt would be paid if I didn’t have to carry him so often? Our wedding day is quickly approaching, the day which my middle class family has so graciously offered to pay most of, in which his middle class family has barely offered to help with, as the sole bread winner in the relationship, I will be picking up the rest of the slack. Because of my ambition I sought out and bought our first home by myself, organized renovations and paid for them alone. Don’t get me wrong, he is a hard worker and he made some stupid decisions in college and racked up debt, but he pays his bills for the most part by himself and does not ask for much help, sometimes I just want him to have more drive to better his own financial situation. Occasionally we fight about finances and motivation and I wonder, am I a bad person for getting so angry about money? I want to marry the crap out of him in a couple of months, and I will. I know it won’t be the end of our fights and life could change at the drop of a hat and boom we are in opposite roles. You just never know… I do know that we love eachother a whole heck of a lot and that means more to me than anything.

  • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

    This really is a very good post. Honest, raw, and very real. I admire you for confronting the issue head on, and grappling with it.

    In my unsuccessful first marriage, these dynamics were hugely at play, and the mistake we both made was not being honest about our real feelings about them.

    I should have been honest about needing to be with a man who had ambition. Unequal pay I could accept with my respect for my ex intact, but unequal ambition and fundamental differences in work ethic I couldn’t respect. I wanted to be the kind of person for whom such things don’t matter. I’m not that kind of a person–at least not when it comes to my life partner and co-parent. And it turned out that my husband simply couldn’t find his way through the financial, educational and ambition-level canyon that gaped between us. When he didn’t feel good about himself, he began trying to tear me down to bring us into equilibrium. Very bad and sad.

    That said, I think it is worthwhile to delve a bit into the way you as an individual, and a couple, define “success” because I have found that my definitions of success have 1. changed greatly over the years, depending upon the circumstances I find myself in and 2. have been pretty arbitrary, at times. The definition I like most right now is from Stephen Covey: Striving for and achieving your goals, and finding fulfillment in that process.

    Making sure that your partner has goals that you admire and a process of working towards achieving them that you respect is a good foundation for negotiating some of these incredibly fraught dynamics.

    • LAS

      I completely agree. The way you as a couple defines “success” is so important. In my relationship, we have had to recognize that we have different interests and passions. Unfortunately, not all passions are compensated equally, nor do they afford equivalent job security. Instead, success has come to mean unabashedly pursuing our passions and trying to secure work in fields we love. (And this has not been easy! We are talking months and months of marginal employment due to state slashing of education budgets and the elimination of music programming in schools.) While he may earn less as a music teacher than I do as a lawyer, when we both come home from jobs we love, no one is keeping track of who contributed more to the joint bank account.

    • http://nerdycare.blogspot.com/ SelkieKel

      Oh this post, Manya, and several other commenters absolutely nailed this. These kinds of disparities and the feelings derived therefrom are one of those gritty intangiables that often get swept under the rug because it’s often extremely difficult to verbalize.

      Like Manya, these undercurrents played a large role in my first marriage and its eventual dissolution. My then-husband made considerably less money than I did and attended a less prestigious school, which, unbeknownst to me, was an affront to his notion of what it meant to be a man. He didn’t commmunicate this and I, instead of seeking resolutions to the burgeoning tension between us, became resentful and distant.

      Though my present relationship with my fiance has superficial similarities (the Boy makes less than I do and has no designs for graduate school) the functionality couldn’t be more disparate. The inequalities betwixt our individual “successes” did, and still does, cause friction but we use those instances to help refine our roles in our relationship and air those often insidious little mindweasels.

      Now he’s ok with not being the breadwinner and I don’t resent him for not being a fellow type-A. We balance each other without judging the other party or ourselves.

      Also, the world is slowing coming to grips with the notion of reversing “traditional” heteronormative gender roles, at least in the economic sense:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/europe/01iht-letter.html?src=me&ref=world

      • Laura

        Ooh, I love the term (but hate the social construct of) “heteronormative gender roles.” May they be ever-shifting!

  • Jaya

    “Is one individual’s value in a relationship measured by more than the size of the paycheck they bring home, or the future prospects they have at that precise moment?”

    This is so important, even when it doesn’t have to do with careers. My partner has a full time job and makes more than me, but spends most of his nights working on his illustrating career, which he’s trying to get off the ground. This means I’m usually the one with the free time to clean, organize, cook, etc (and frankly, I’m better at it). I still struggle with resentment because it’s really easy to hold onto the idea that everything has to be equal. And then I remember that he helps out when he has time, and supports me in all my side projects, and brings so much more than doing the dishes half the time could ever mean.

  • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

    I kind of feel where you’re coming from. I’ve always been an achiever. My husband has always been satisfied with getting by (perhaps easier for a guy than a lady?). He finished undergrad with a (as we discovered) totally useless BS in Anthropology in 2007 (bad timing) with a passing but not grad-school worthy GPA. He was able to get a job at a paper supply company, and works wearing a dingy oversized warehouse polo while he works as a returns manager. Meanwhile, I graduated with a good GPA, and after graduating in December 2008 I was incredibly lucky enough to network to get a job in a library, where I dress in business casual and work in an academic environment. As the years went on, I decided to go to grad school. I continued to make more money than he did/does.

    At some point, I looked at our situation, and realized it was basically setting up to be that I had a career, and he would have a job, and not one with any sort of future. At least, not the right kind; I don’t think waiting for someone to retire so you can move up in a company as a singular way of moving up to be a good career outlook. ‘What if he gets laid off?’ I would ask myself. There are no jobs out there that pay enough for a person with an Anthropology degree. Nada. He can’t teach, he doesn’t have professional IT skills, he has a music minor but that’s not something to build a future on either…

    And so I started to, frankly, pressure him. It was HARD. It was incredibly hard to seriously pressure my academic-averse husband into going back to grad school, because I felt like I was the nag, that I was somehow buying into the idea that the man should be making the money, even though that wasn’t my mind-set (I was worried about our future, but I certainly wasn’t trying to make it seem like he wasn’t fulfilling his cultural side of the bargain). What’s worse is that a lot of his family members were on my side, so I think I kind of…bombarded him. A lot. And it made me feel like I was treating him like a child, talking with his mom about what I felt he needed to do. I tried to stop, but you can’t always steer the conversation.

    Can I be honest? It really sucks to have to be honest and say “You have no future, and no marketable money-making career skills because your degree just didn’t provide them to you.” Because it sounds so harsh. So mean. Even if it’s true. I agonized over pressuring him repeatedly. And what’s worse is that I kept having to shoot his other ideas down. He thought about political science. No, I said. Look at the job postings out there. We can’t live on that with added school debt you’d accrue. What about a higher Anthropology degree? No, I had to say again. I felt like the scolding parent in our marriage. (I was, for the record, pressuring him to do library and information science.)

    Just this past week he began his orientation for a library and information science program — the same one I just graduated from. He’ll have to take three years to finish the program instead of the two I took since he has to “level up” his GPA (I should note — he’s not dumb — he got MENSA-high numbers on his MAT; we DO view ourselves as equals even though we perform differently day-to-day.) And therein is the thing — I had to constantly dance the dance of “I don’t think you’re stupid — obviously you’re not, I know that — but the chocies you’re making career-wise don’t provide any stable future. You have to do something you don’t want to do.”

    I’ve struggled with our somewhat unequal ideas of ambition. I’m wondering how I would feel if he refused to consider grad school, if he said he was fine forever working in a warehouse with no real definite future, no promise of managing the place one day or something. Would I continue to argue, or at some point would I just accept it?

    I don’t know. So really, I got lucky — we were able to come to an agreement, and he’s following through, and ta-da. But if he adamantly didn’t want to? I don’t know. Obviously we’d have to make it work, and no, a person’s worth in a relationship isn’t set by their future prospects — but at the same time, a lack of future prospects and a refusal to work to create them…would be a difficult thing we’d have to work through, and I don’t know if I’d be willing to just accept that the person who’s my partner wants to take it in stride and NOT create any future when they’re capable of doing so, you know? I heart my husband. We are a REALLY good pair. But I think it’d be…almost a little unfair for me to work so hard for our future if he didn’t pony up too.

    So to make a longwinded comment short, these things are TOUGH.

    • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

      “You have to do something you don’t want to do.”

      Um.

      I don’t mean this in a catty way, but have you guys considered any counselling over this issue? It’s obvious that you have VERY different ideas of success, careers, goals, acceptable incomes, etc. Those kinds of things can end up being biiiiig problems sooner or later, and – while obviously I can’t speak for your partner – as a relatively unambitious person myself, I would not be super-happy with my partner pressuring me (your words) into going into a career that I didn’t want to do, if I was happy in my job.

      Anyways, sorry if that sounds harsh, but it might be worthwhile to have a neutral third party around while you guys have some discussions about what you really value in your lives…

      /unsolicited advice.

      • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

        Nah, you’re fine.

        As he said to me, it’s not that he didn’t want to secure a better future for us (because I grew up with a disabled parent and I know what can happen if something happens and only one person has the capabilities to be a breadwinner unexpectedly), but he’s largely just unmotivated because he finds school tedious. So our agreement was, I motivate and encourage him, and he’ll get through it okay. Basically, most of our discussions boiled down to him being on board with our long-term outlooks, just not liking the fact that he would have to go back to school to achieve them. So in short, we wanted the same ultimate things, he just was “ughhh” about helping to make them happen. Like, if he wants to someday own a farmhouse, I can’t be the only one making that goal happen. (Which we talked about.)

        We did definitely talk about my guilt over pressuring him — it’s definitely something we’ve hashed and rehashed and talked about.

        (As for the career path I pressured him about — it was largely due to the fact that it’s one of the few options that actively recruits people with backgrounds like his, was something he could do while working fulltime, and was affordable. So it wasn’t just me picking it out for him because I thought it was best for him. Logistically it was one of very, very few options available.)

        So in short…we’ve talked a lot about it & it’s okay. (It’s still tough to work through this stuff though.)

    • Taylor B

      I was really, really unhappy with my post-BA job but it allowed me to work directly with children and families and I could see the difference I was making and so I stayed, for years, and got promoted, and stayed a few more years. I heard from friends and family constantly that I should move on to something more challenging, that I should return to school, that I should just quit and walk out the door. I pushed them further and further away because it was so painful that they couldn’t understand how stuck I felt. (They were totally right about the “don’t complain if you’re going to stay” – I really was struggling at facing the decision, and I know I was grumpy and complainy for several years). When I articulated this pain to my partner, he was supportive and backed off. At that point it took only a few months to narrow down which programs I was interested in for grad school, bite the bullet on what my student loans would be, and jump into three years of full-time grad school with a 4 hour/day commute.

      If he had pushed or nagged, like some family members did, I would still resent him. And I’m not sure we would have made it. His support (emotional, logistic, financial) these last three years has meant to the world to me, and I’m proud of what we have accomplished.

      During most of those early years while I was unhappy, my partner’s mom encouraged us both to return to school. My partner was nowhere near ready, and her insistence did considerable damage to their relationship. For me, it was an important reminder to be on his side, always, because I trust him and I admire him and I know he will take care of himself and of our relationship. Just like he stuck by me while I struggled to find my way.

      • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

        I think the important thing is that the person has to be ready, as you point out. When I initially broached the subject of going back to school several years ago, he didn’t want to, period, so I *did* back off at that point. However, after holding the same position with no promotional opportunities in sight (not counting if someone above him *dies*), I started again on the topic, and while I was still pressuring, he was also in a slightly more receptive place, and we were able to actually put the topic on the table in a way we didn’t several years earlier (2009ish). He still didn’t *want* to, but then, he also didn’t *want* to get himself stuck for years.

        I think there’s a difference between pushing people in an unwanted unsolicited way to do something they want nothing to do with, and pushing people to do things you know they’re capable of *when they’ve articulated that they DO want the end result* (more life stability, more options to, say, have money to travel, etc). If my husband has said, nope, I’m happy with us living exactly the way we are now, forever, assuming you’re always able to work at the level you are now and nothing bad happens, then okay. But the thing is, if we have shared goals, then we also have to work to meet those goals *together* — even if it involves pressure the other person might not want.

        Of course, your milage may vary from relationship to relationship.

    • KC

      I agree that sometimes you need to do things you don’t want to do. Totally agree. And sometimes you need to tell your partner that something they don’t want to do is, in fact, important to you that they do!

      But ideally, in relationships, we try to reduce misery for each other (without being doormats!), in all sorts of areas (like housework; work; social obligations).

      I’ve found that questions like:
      1. what is the minimum needed from each person’s perspective? (money; vacuuming; Christmas cards, whatever the issue is that is causing “things you don’t want to do”)
      2. how do we negotiate to end up with an agreed-upon minimum?
      3. are there parts of the work to cover that minimum that inspire actual terror in one partner? dislike? meh-not-my-favorite-thing-but-it’s-fine?
      4. how can we cover that minimum with the least resentment and least “things each person doesn’t want to do” possible?

      Obviously, sometimes perspective changes in the middle of it – something you thought you would entirely hate becomes something that has really good parts, or something that you thought would be the best thing ever turns out to be pretty miserable in actuality. And people do sometimes need a “your proposed solution is statistically unlikely to work” kick-in-the-pants sometimes.

      But ideally, you want to a) both be pulling toward the same family goal (what life would ideally look like), b) keep communication lines open, and c) minimize resentment along the way. You want to avoid: “I hate my job and I don’t see why I have to do all this when all we want to do is live in a cheap studio apartment in the industrial district and really live life!” “What? But living life means a nice house that we can have people over in, and we want to be able to travel the world, and that’s what makes all the not-fun parts worthwhile!” or something similar. This is definitely not to say that you’re currently steering towards An Endless Sea of Mutual Resentment (probably not!) – just that getting lifestyle requirements and contribution expectations out on the table may make some things much clearer and a lot of things more palatable. Teamwork!

      • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

        “getting lifestyle requirements and contribution expectations out on the table may make some things much clearer and a lot of things more palatable. Teamwork!”

        Yep! I think I made it sound like these weren’t things we discussed in the midst of my pressuring, but my pressure was couched within these discussions about the goals we’d set, and the mutual ways we were going to contribute to making them happen in addition to importantly securing some viable future for us as a unit (because it’s not just about one of us when it comes to careers — if I got a job offer in, say, the West Coast, I would have to turn it down unless it made enough money to cover both salaries if I knew he wouldn’t likely be able to get a job as-is. Or else move without him — not a choice we’d want). So I guess my thing is, I pressured him, but it was pressure couched within a set of discussions. Bombarded discussions? Yes, if you factor in his mom pressuring him too. Necessary discussions? Also yes. Necessary if we wanted to reach the goals we have as a couple.

        I think in part I harp on the pressuring part so much because I’m normally not a stick in the mud at all — I’m not the person who’s taking charge of things. So for me to actively say Hey, we have these goals, and right now, they won’t be met if we continue on this path because your prospects aren’t very good…it was really hard as a quiet introvert to say that to the extrovert.

        If we had totally different outlooks on what future we wanted for ourselves, then it’d be a different matter. But I feel like once you create your Team Goals, then as a team, you’re both to a certain extent obligated to work for them to happen, if it’s possible for both Team members to do so (huge caveat there! IF it’s possible — obviously there are tons of instances where it’s not possible, or not desireable for the team unit, etc). (Are goals vows? No. But I do think if they’re created together, people should treat them with a certain amount of import. Even if it means approaching with some pressure.)

        (Okay, I will stop reiterating myself!) :) I just wanted to clarify that we really are Okay.

        • KC

          I’m so glad to hear it! And sorry to indicate that perhaps you weren’t Okay – getting on the same page with goals and with the amount of misery necessary to reach those goals is something a lot of people skip. And then regret. (and I am so sad whenever I see that level of cumulative misunderstanding and resentment happen, so that is why I wrote the comment, just in case you or some random reader was in the “my partner just needs to step up and do the things they don’t want to do” space without having previously teamed up with their partner re: priorities and necessities)

          But it sounds like you guys are headed to the same goals, just took time and effort to get there. :-) Yay!

          • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

            You’re fine! That’s what Team Practical is all about — making sure people are Okay, and tackling stuff. (Among other things.)

            Goal-wise we’re good — it just took some pants-kicking to get us on the same track to achieving them.

        • Marina

          “But I feel like once you create your Team Goals, then as a team, you’re both to a certain extent obligated to work for them to happen, if it’s possible for both Team members to do so”

          So smart. So, so smart.

    • Elizabeth

      I can’t believe you suggested someone go to Library/Information Science school! I graduated with a MSI and specialization in Archives and Records Management in 2009 from one of the top iSchools and it is VERY, VERY, VERY difficult to get a job. I am super, super lucky and got one as an archivist, but most of my friends are not that lucky and do unpaid internships or have just left the field entirely. I just hope you didn’t sell the job prospects too high, because the job prospects are dismal.

      Good luck though…

      • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

        Huh. Around here, it’s actually not that bad. It’s competitive, but it’s definitely not impossible. I’m part of the Virginia Library Association and of the members, there are plenty of people from the cohort prior to mine who were able to land jobs. (It also helps that where we live now is at a triangle between several drivable counties and we live in a city with several university systems and museums. Competitive, yes. But I haven’t met any people in my networking around who have given up due to defeat. So, it could be regional?)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Exactly, Hayley. The original post asked rhetorically about whether the success/income levels won’t likely be reversed in the future, but it shouldn’t be a rhetorical question. Sometimes, the foreseeable future shows no likely reversal. Then you have to decide whether the two of you are OK with that.

      And if you’re not, working through that is tough. When we were kids, and we wanted a new bike, our parents might say, “If you mow lawns every Saturday for 3 months, you’ll have enough money to buy the bike.” But telling a partner, “If we’re going to have a baby, we need jobs with insurance and enough in savings to cover my maternity leave” can be similarly paternal, especially when the partner has no savings, debt, and a job without insurance, and we don’t like being paternal to our partners, but sometimes one partner grasps these things before the other does.

      I’ve posted about this before, but another source of resentment can be lack of expression of gratitude. I watched a high school club soccer game Monday, and, of course, every good play was cheered. Every player got a high-5. If you’re the objectively stronger player, advancing your mutual goals for your marriage, while your partner is struggling, you need those high-5s, maybe literally, though “Thank you” can involve unnecessary shame.

      • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

        “Sometimes, the foreseeable future shows no likely reversal.”

        Exactly. It is at those sorts of crossroads that you have to sometimes have talks, and take action (painful, uncomfortable, “parental” action, even), because the metaphorical bike we want will not will itself to be bought on magical thinking alone. Reality bites sometimes.

  • http://laorencha.blogspot.com channamasala

    Just two things.

    Ithaca is not a “frozen wasteland”. I suppose you either went to Ithaca College (more likely) or Cornell – both are pretty well-respected (Cornell moreso than Ithaca but Ithaca’s not bad). It gets cold in winter but it’s otherwise a lovely little college town amidst gorgeous New York State scenery.

    “As the man, he felt he should be contributing more” and “I still make more money, a fact he is acutely aware of” – OK, I’m not the thought police. He can think what he likes, and everyone can have the relationship dynamic that they like and it’s all cool. You do you.

    But to me, that’s honestly a dealbreaker. I am totally OK with a guy making less than me (in fact, I kind of like being the breadwinner – it suits me), and I’d be OK with a guy making more. I would not, however, be OK with the “I’m the guy so I should contribute more/pay for more/make more” attitude. For me – and yes, this is just me, not a proclamation of What Is Right – that’s grounds for breaking up.

    • http://blog.halfacregoods.com Erin

      I think the grounds for breaking up would depend on how he deals with it. We all are predisposed to the attitudes we’ve grown up with and sometimes it takes really looking at those attitudes as adults to figure out why we see things that way. My husband also has the concept of needing to be the bread winner engrained in his subconscious, and it was something we had to address during the time that he was unemployed and I was carrying our family unit. He never acted in a way during that time period that devalued what I was doing for our family, just discussed that it upset him that he couldn’t fulfill a role that he felt he should be. I feel the same way as he did, I feel that I should be providing for my family and contributing my half as a team and would probably be bummed out if I was unemployed not by choice and unable to contribute. My view just isn’t the “societal standard”. As with anything, it’s really how we deal with these attitudes leftover from our youth that speaks to who we are people.

    • Lynn

      The dealbreaker part is rough for me. My husband is a Southern Man, ™, mixed in with Traditional, Conservative, Christian Man ™. His cultural narrative involves being the Provider.

      It has been a blow to his ego for it to not be that way for him, and it has been incredibly difficult for him to adjust to. To be honest, it’s been difficult for me too. He’s working on it. We’re both working on it. Because there’s so much more to him than what he makes and his attitude about money and being the breadwinner.

      • LAS

        Yes. Let’s not forget that the cultural narrative of Men as Provider is very strong.

        When speaking with my boyfriend about the conversations we have here about reclaiming the word “wife,” he stopped my in my tracks with his comments about the societal expectations around the word husband. In our relationship, I earn more, and our plans for the future most likely involve my boyfriend taking on the role of the more “at home” parent. We are both happy and with this arrangement and think it is what will be best for our family. However, he noted that while I am thinking through what it means to be a wife, he also has to confront the cultural noise about what it means to by a husband. What does it mean to be a provider? Is providing limited to money? Can’t it also mean care and support. Grappling with these issues is tough, and I think men need a safe space (like we have here) to work through these questions. And they need our support in challenging these expectations.

    • ItsyBitsy

      On one hand, I hear where you’re coming from in terms of taking issue with the “being a man means…” feelings. I often come into conversations about gender roles with that idea that if someone still has these rigid ideals they are coming from a misguided place. It can be very frustrating and drives me nutty.

      On the other hand, I have found in my own relationship (as well as in the world at large) that there is a difference between knowing how things should be in an abstract way and still having these leftover feelings from how you were raised. Does that make sense?

      For example, I consider my boyfriend to be pretty feminist in the big picture and he doesn’t think that he should be making more money because he’s the man in our relationship. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that he has still lived his entire life in a world that still force-feeds the idea that man=breadwinner. I have been digesting feminist ideals since I was 12; it’s just who I am. For him, he hasn’t had to think about these things in depth and challenge these thoughts until now, and it’s hard. He still has days when he gets frustrated and says things like, “I’m supposed to be supporting us!” or feels like a “loser” for his freelance job. Hours later we can laugh about it but in the moment he genuinely feels like he’s somehow letting us both down. Everyone feels guilty about things that don’t actually matter sometimes.

      I guess to sum this up, I think that very forward-thinking people still have moments where they fall back into stereotyped gender roles because it’s been really embedded in our minds. I used to (okay… still do) get very frustrated when it happened and worry that it meant that they were secretly über-conservative in ways that I am not. But I’ve come to realize that this is not always the case. Sometimes that person just has some further digging and self-examining to do.

      I’m not trying to say that you are wrong for this being a deal breaker. You know yourself and that’s okay for you. I just wanted to point out that it doesn’t always mean what people tend to think it means.

    • Sarah

      I would feel the same way as you about this ‘guy should make more’ attitude if it was directed against the woman (as in, you shouldn’t do this or work this job because then you will make more than me). But my husband definitely feels that he should contribute more, and I’m fine with that–I actually view it as a sign of how much he cares for me. The reason it’s OK with us is that it’s a self-directed feeling–he encourages me to advance and supports my career, but he also uses the feeling that he should contribute more as a motivation for him to advance his career. He would NEVER tell me not to do something that would increase my salary above his–but if I got a raise, he would probably work harder at getting a promotion himself. Some of the specific ways this plays out for us are:
      1) He feels like he should contribute financially because he knows being very financially stable and paying off debt is important to me (also to him, but I have MUCH more student loan debt than he does)–and he wants to help me meet those goals, not leave it up to my salary to do it.
      2) I came into this relationship assuming things that were preexisting ‘me’ expenses–my car, my student loans, etc–would remain my responsibility to pay off–and he was the one who said, no, I want to help with these EVEN THOUGH I make less $ than you do.
      3) I also do a lot of the day to day decision making and planning in our lives (because I’m very type A) and so I think to him, supporting those decisions financially is how it evens out (ie I do more planning, he contributes more to make it a reality).
      4) And, he knows that, left to my own devices, I drive myself to the point of burnout. Being able to treat me–either by going out or getting me something I want (ie getting a bottle of wine or ice cream on the way home from work) is part of how he takes care of me and helps me avoid burnout–and frankly, that stuff takes money!
      We do live in the South, and that does influence some of the cultural narrative. But more important is that he thinks the moon of me and wants to be able to do anything/get me anything/be best husband ever–and for those of us in the lower middle class, that takes $$$$. And for him to say, I feel like I need to make more money (than I am now, and probably closer to what you make or more) to support us, is not imposing anything on me–it’s showing that he wants to be my partner in every part of our lives, not just emotionally but also financially.

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      I’m an Ithaca alum, too. At this point in my life, I would LOVE to go back (to the town; I’m finished with my education), and think I would truly thrive there. But while I was attending college there I was miserable, hated it, and “frozen wasteland” would have been putting it mildly (and I’m from Boston and currently live in Minnesota. Winter is no stranger to me). It had much more to do with my mental and emotional health at the time, and less to do with Ithaca, itself. But it can be a very tough place to live (as can any place on earth, if it’s not the place you need). I see both sides of the coin, but my heart goes out to anyone who has a harsh time there.

      • Sarah

        I also refer to Ohio as a frozen tundra whenever I go home for the holidays–but that’s largely because I’m there for one week, during the coldest time of the year! Often college students don’t get to see the warm side of a cold place, because they’re only there for fall/winter/spring.

    • Marina

      For my guy, his narrative seems to be less “I’m the guy so I should make more” and more “I’m the guy so I’ve had cultural pressures telling me my whole life that my identity and sense of self-worth should be tied to how much I make.” I mean, my husband is the one of the least macho or misogynistic guy on the planet, but he still stresses out about not contributing equal money, I think in a different way than I would.

    • Laura

      Ithaca fistbump! Frozen? Yes, often. But wasteland? Hardly. Or it could just be South Hill.

      But also… I concur we the general sentiment in above replies that the provider role mentality is very deeply ingrained in many dudes, and I don’t think it’s a problem unless it also involves undervaluing the woman’s goals.

    • IMP

      I think that the problem is that sometimes it is more complicated than the guy thinking one way or the other. Coming out of law school, my boyfriend was unemployed for much longer than I was. As a result, I supported us financially for many months. He was by no means a non-contributor to the household at that time – with him taking on basically all of the homemaking and budgeting responsibilities, I was able to work the long hours needed to support us without going crazy. This arrangement did not theoretically bother him – we had spoken many times about him taking time off later in our relationship to stay home and be with kids. However, it was still a really rough time for him, and he explained the sources of his depression as very layered. First, there was the fact that his unemployment wasn’t a choice in this case – he wasn’t meeting his own expectations of success. We also both had to make adjustments to our concepts of what it meant to be on the same team. We had always been friendly rivals through law school, and in that context this was a healthy and motivating element of our relationship, and what “teamwork” looked like in our relationship definitely dramatically changed after graduation. It was not a change either of us were necessarily opposed to – it just took some time and effort to navigate through that new dynamic, and compounded the difficulty of an already depressing situation for him, because we very much used to comparing our markers of success. Further compounding these problems was definitely the gender-role factor. BF was annoyed by what he described as the irrational voices in his head telling him he should be taking care of me instead of the other way around. This is a view he doesn’t believe in at all, as he often describes himself as a feminist, but he said it was surprising how difficult it was to escape this socially hard-wired idea in the darkest moments when those little voices seem to be finding every possible way to make you feel worse. So, he felt a little guilty for not being the “man” in the relationship, and even more guilty for even thinking that for a second. Ay.

      Even when he was able to rationalize with his inner demons, it was surprisingly difficult to escape the man-as-breadwinner social pressures from outsiders. No one was ever mean or outright judgmental to him, but conversations about his unemployment with acquaintances and strangers were made all the more difficult by the fact that the subtext almost always assumed that he did or should feel bad about me taking the financial lead in our relationship. These situations were very difficult for him, and of course made him second-guess his own feelings at a time when he was already feeling depressed, and I was so glad that he felt like he could talk these problems out with me without feeling like I would get offended.

    • Jessica

      Try being from Buffalo. EVERYONE thinks that there’s 10 ft of snow 100% of the time.

      I agree with your point about the “as a man he felt he should be contributing more” quote. It just made me sad to read that. I’m definitely the breadwinner in my marriage (this year, I’m on track to make 2x as much as my husband- last year it was more like 3x as much) but I don’t think I could do it if my husband had an attitude like that. To me, that comes of as not being supportive of my career, something I would not be able to handle. It would also cause me to shut down communication- how would I be able to come home and tell my husband I want to start my MBA or apply for this awesome new job that pays $10k more (both of which happened in the past 6 months and which my husband fully supported) if there was already an undercurrent of unhappiness about my earnings/ career? Obviously Rachel makes it work with her fiancé, I just know personally, I couldn’t.

  • dysgrace

    Interestingly, here’s a tale from the flip side over at Learnvest: http://www.learnvest.com/2012/08/my-husband-makes-more-money-and-i-feel-guilty/

    Success, money and power in relationships can be such a gendered thing. How do y’all distinguish between gender-based factors (‘what a man should be/ do’) and personality (where one partner simply is more ambitious than another)?

    At the moment, I make more than my husband – I’m incredibly lucky to have a full-time journalism job at a daily newspaper, while he’s a research grunt in a lab. But he’s also doing a master’s degree part-time, and gunning for an eventual PhD. We might not have similar levels of success, but we do have similar levels of *ambition*, and that’s what’s important to me, anyway…

    • Kay

      That article depressed me. If my partner were to ever try to shut me down the way her husband does, by essentially saying that she has no right to make any complaints because he makes more money than her, I think that would be the end of the relationship. And then half the comments rip her to pieces for the same thing! Ugh, the world.

    • Erin

      I agree with you about ambition levels, but YUCK, that article felt awful to read. Their problem isn’t that they make different amounts of money, it’s that her husband’s being a jerk about it.

  • Moz

    Thanks so much for such a generous post. I’d love it if you came back and talked to us again in a year.

  • Meg

    Does anyone want to talk about external pressures to succeed? I’m in a situation like I think most of us are–I have a full-time, well-paying job, and basically support my fiance. He’s working part-time, out of the house, for a little above minimum wage, but he’s doing exactly what he wants to be (writing) and he’s really really good at it. And so far, we’re both perfectly happy with where we are. I like having him at home to make me a drink when I get back from work. He’s getting okay with me paying the bills, and he’s paying me back over time.

    But my family–every time I talk to my mom on the phone, it’s “Does Dave have a job yet? Has he sent out any applications? Maybe I know someone who can help him out…”

    Um. He DOES have a job. He IS working. He’s not working as much as me, but honestly: I am the ONLY person I know from our graduating class (we graduated from college this May) with a full-time job. He’s working 2-3 times as many hours as our next-most-gainfully-employed friend. I know that’s not the ideal, but it is something, and it is something to be proud of.

    And his parents aren’t any help. They’re facing a lot of money/IRS problems right now, and they’re determined to make sure he doesn’t have the same problems. So every time we talk to them, there’s a lot of “and are you saving money? Are you cutting down expenses? You know you really don’t need that new whatever, you should save your money.”

    But we’re doing what we can, and we’re doing fine. We have enough extra money every month to buy a couple bottles of nicer liquor, or to go to a movie now and then, or order pizza when we don’t want to cook.

    I think my main point is, an “uneven success dynamic” doesn’t have to be a problem in your relationship–but it can cause problems outside your relationship. I don’t think everyone understands that yeah, we’re not earning the same amount, and we have horrific amounts of student loans to pay off, and this wedding is not going to be cheap–but we’re fine with it and we’re dealing with it. And everyone else needs to deal with it too.

    • Granola

      I worked freelance for awhile after college as well and got the same constant questions about “are you looking for a job?” “How’s the job hunt going?” etc. I would say nicely “I have a job actually, I’m doing well and I like it.” Slowly, slowly, people started to get it. Really, I think it just came from their desire to see me happy and secure and they were just worried that I wasn’t.

      So perhaps if your families are seeing his current freelance work as more of as “he’s doing this for now because it’s the best worst option” then they’re more likely to push on that front. Is it possible, the next time it comes up to say “Actually we’re doing just fine thank you. [Fiance] is really happy doing XYZ and I’m so grateful that he’s found fulfilling work. So another type of job isn’t really on our radar right now.” ?

      You may have already tried this, but kind repetition can be the key to learning. And freelance/contract work is not often a type of arrangement our parents understand or are comfortable with.

      • Cleo

        THIS! Exactly!

        I went to law school and decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer a little over halfway through. During the time I finished law school (for various reasons), I set myself up to enter my chosen career path — a much less lucrative one, but one that makes my heart sing.

        While my other family members understood that I wasn’t going to be a lawyer (and understood my reasons) after a 5 minute conversation, my grandma just did NOT get it. Every time I spoke to her, she would ask me a question like, “Well, you are going to practice law, right?”

        A slough of polite, repeated nos along with the same short explanation (and me telling her about how awesome my job was) eventually got through to her. The stories were especially key, because they gave her something to brag to her friends about.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          “something to brag to her friends about” – which points to a layer where it gets even more complicated for over-achievers. We’re not just trying to please ourselves. We’re not just trying to please ourselves and our partners. We’re not just trying to please ourselves, our partners, and our friends and family. We’re looking at standards from friends-of-friends we don’t even know!

          Which, on a rational level, is ridiculous. But it’s not so crazy we think this way. Since grade school, it’s been, “If you do this well, the family/school/town/whatever will look good.”

          • KEA1

            OMG–you just hit on what may have been the most miserable aspect of my childhood (and a fair bit beyond as well). I’ve always been an overachiever, but it wasn’t until my 30s (I’m now 37) that I finally wised up and started actively speaking out against the notion that I somehow owe it to anyone else to succeed so that they can look good. Once I stopped trying to please other people and started owning up to my own ambitions, lo and behold, I started to achieve even more. This is a bit of an offshoot from the original post, obviously, but I think it really plays into relationships–two people committing to support each other and work toward common goals, regardless of who earns more or whatever, is *such* an improvement over the childhood bullshit of somehow having an obligation to overachieve on someone else’s behalf! %)

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Well, this doesn’t exactly relate directly to success, but I am working to shed the stereotype that how he’s dressed is a reflection on me. I actually have an old etiquette book that talks about husbands with wrinkled suits or poor table manners, and how wives should explain this reflects poorly on the wives, who were supposed to train their husbands better.

            Nope, he’s a grown-up. He can wear what he thinks is appropriate, with no prodding from me.

    • Marina

      Yes. Yes yes yes. My grandma still tells my husband he should go to medical school every time she sees him. (He HATES school.)

      Funnily enough, this is one area where the stress of wedding planning has come in handy! Just like when my family did the “You’re not having cake? The invitation wording isn’t traditional? Don’t you want fancier tablecloths?” runaround, I am RELENTLESSLY CHEERFUL in response. So in your case in response to “Does Dave have a job yet?” I might say, “Oh, yeah, remember last time we talked I told you about that really interesting article he was working on? He’s really enjoying the research and the editor has been so supportive! We both feel so lucky that he can do this for pay.” It’s a lot harder to be a Negative Nelly to someone who appears so damn happy about their life they don’t even bother to get defensive. ;)

      • Meg

        Kill them with kindness, like I do the mean lady at the Post Office! (I have no idea why she’s so mean.) Can do!

      • KC

        YES! Of course, this works best for things you really are happy about. But it does work awfully well for those.

        We used to have a station wagon (purchased with a fantastic dent and scratches). Whenever people commented on its dents or its age or (lack of) features, I tended to involuntarily start gushing about how nice it was to be able to just toss a friend’s wet bicycle in the trunk without worrying about dirt or scratches, and how I loved it when I didn’t have to freak out because someone dinged our car with a grocery cart. One more scratch or splotch of dirt or bit of gravel? No problem! We could loan it out without worrying. So nice. When it finally gave up on us after years of faithful service, I wanted a car that came with a scratch again, just for that scratches-don’t-matter peace of mind.

        Straight-up cheerfulness and “isn’t this great?!” does seem to work best, but I will admit that I am not above occasionally giving snarky hints regarding some of the implications in questions/comments.
        Them: (with the “oh, you poor deprived creature” voice) “Oh, you still haven’t updated your living room?”
        Me: (glowing) “Yes, I think it’s so wonderful that our friends here are mostly concerned with the conversation and the community when they come over and don’t seem to resent my lack of home decorating skills and our choice to spend our money elsewhere, as long as they have somewhere comfy to sit. We’re so fortunate that our community here doesn’t require me to be someone I’m not!”

        • Marina

          HAHAHAHA. Awesome.

    • Sara

      I taught abroad briefly and when I came back, the only job I could find was as a temp. The title ‘temp’ at this company was basically just code for ‘work full time, we’ll never let you go but no benefits/paid vacay for you’. They had hundreds of ‘temps’ working in the building. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing necessarily, but I needed time to get back to a normal office routine so it worked perfectly for me. My parents CONSTANTLY asked when I was getting a ‘real job’ – as if my 40+ hour a week job wasn’t good enough.

      Even better, I currently work at a pretty good full time administrative position with full benefits but my mother wants me to get a second job ‘for fun’ because my social life is ‘lame’ according to her (I’m just low key, and she’s a social butterfly). My brothers and I half-joke that our family motto is ‘its never good enough’.

      So really, those pressures never go away. Its sad, because people push when they want the best for you and it can just backfire spectacularily. As long as you have a friend in that storm though (in my case, my brothers are there to lend an ear if need be), I think it helps stave off the stress a bit.

      • Meg

        “Get a second job ‘for fun’”? That seems so backwards to me… I guess she thought you could meet new people at another job?

        We’re lucky to still be across the street from the college we graduated from, so we’re close to all our friends who are still in school, because I do not want to be friends with the people I work with–we have very different ideas about everything that is important to me.

        • Sara

          Trust me, its backwards to me too. And I actually really like my friends, I have no problems playing board games instead of bar hopping.

          In her mind, getting a waitressing/bartending job would help me meet more new and interesting people, which will lead to me finding a boyfriend (yes, I’m single and love this website!) which will lead to me marrying/procreating/being happy forever. She means well, she’s just a little crazy. And really really stubborn, so she won’t admit its a terrible idea.

          We’ve also had recent arguments about how (i) my job isn’t challenging enough (ii) I’m getting complacent/stagnant (her biggest sin) (iii) My friends are boring (iv) I need to get out more (v) the average age at my work is too high, and that’s why I can’t find a boyfriend (?) (vi) Why I should be online dating (vii) my brother’s ability to find a job (which is neither of our businesses, but somehow is a fight we keep having).

          Apparently all of these will be solved by me getting a second job. Oh and I’m only 25. And I volunteer at the Humane Society and a community theater. Hence the ‘its never good enough’ chorus within our household.

          • Meg

            (internet hugs)

            Who needs a significant other when you can hang out with sweet animals at the Humane Society FOR FREE?

  • Hlockhart

    Very brave post. I think this discussion connects with the excellent post on long-distance marriage we saw a while back. Sometimes (especially, of course, in this economy), both partners aren’t able to succeed in the very same environment. My husband and I were long distance for several years while he worked in a job that required him to travel constantly, but where he was able to have interesting experiencs, learn, push himself, and enjoy a good salary and benefits. When he was depressed and unemployed but at home, our relationship was far worse than when he was far away but doing work that challenged him. Obviously, the long-distance thing is NOT always a solution, but I do think it is something to consider when one partner is having difficulty finding meaningful work (however defined).

  • Class of 1980

    I read this quite a while ago and saved the text because it was so eloquent. It’s a comment from a man on a NEW YORK TIMES article about women getting more degrees than men and it’s affect on marriage. It gives some insight to the way a man might feel.
    __________________________

    “As a 41-year-old man, my chief reason for not previously entertaining the thought of marriage was that I felt I had an acute lack of skills and resources.

    The meaning of my father’s abandonment of our family when I was 13 was hard to decipher at that age but left its indelible marks on me none-the-less. He had virtually no social skills and contributed nothing to the family unit except money; all but our financial situation improved upon his departure. I swore that I would never repeat his selfish mistakes.

    Unfortunately this manifested itself in later years as an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. Despite being well liked and intelligent, I never completed high school. I drifted between jobs and remained distant from my many wonderful and illuminating partners. I was in no position to even consider a family of my own, as I was sure I would let them down eventually. I stubbornly refused to enter into a situation that could potentially parallel my own upbringing, as I understood far too well the consequences of such a failure. I had great difficulty articulating this even to myself for a long time.

    I recently returned to school, earning a diploma in environmental planning. My ensuing successes swept away many, if not all, of my previous concerns and paved the way for my present happiness. I met an incredible woman with five children of her own; the joy that I experience with them and the contributions that I have been able to make to their lives did not seem within my grasp until now. The devotion that I feel towards them seems like the final chapter in my quest to be part of a loving family.

    I give you my back-story to highlight the plight that many men are experiencing today. I have a sense that some do not truly understand how important it is for men to fulfill what is quaintly, and frequently derisively, referred to as a ‘traditional’ role.

    We are not exclusively, or even primarily, about sex and leadership. We are mostly about doing what we perceive as right in the face of a tumultuous world, a world that has restricted our ability to provide what both our biological and societal imperatives demand.

    In the absence of viable options the ensuing internal conflicts can and do lead to narcissistically destructive behavior. A man in trouble will frequently retreat within himself instead of looking for external support, as I did for the first 30 years of my life. The danger in being perceived as emotionally weak is both biological and social, and fear of it is therefore deeply ingrained in the male hierarchical system.

    Men, especially the young and inexperienced, will often avoid displaying and discussing it at all costs leading the inability to form intimate bonds and subsequent isolation. As a result, men are seemingly pushed further to the margins in the debate over how to meaningfully resolve our differences and the rifts that they have caused.

    Due to our muted voice in this particular discourse, we are the section of society whose inherent shortcomings and peculiarities can still be openly mocked and demeaned with impunity. While these devices are usually aimed at the collective, the belittling influence is keenly felt at the individual level.

    Young men need to be able to feel as though they have achieved on their own terms. They must be given the opportunity to explore individually and collectively, artistically and productively, actively and freely. The energies that young men exude often do not coincide well with today’s educational methods.

    To have a sense of purpose is absolutely crucial to the psychological well being of men. In its absence we sometimes cannibalize a host of otherwise beneficial situations in misconstrued attempts at realization; consumption and conquest may substitute temporarily, but remain an ultimately unsatisfying proxy for many.

    Due to the limitations of gender I can imagine, but never innately understand, what a woman’s sense of purpose is. However, I feel that we must recognize that how that ‘purpose’ is perceived and defined may well differ between the sexes. If we continue to ignore that apparent difference, we face the real possibility of increasing disenchantment and polarization, and the ills that they continually produce.

    I feel it necessary at this point to emphatically state that the disenfranchisement felt by men and women alike is certainly not a direct result of the ascendancy of women. Rather, it is a product of our failure to recognize and appropriately deal with the exponential rates of change in the structure and underpinnings of our society crashing headlong into the literally glacial pace of biological evolution.

    While this has resulted in many unforeseen difficulties for women, I implore that some sympathy also be shown to the legions of men who have lost their sense of direction in this brave new world.”

    • Granola

      Wow, what a thoughtful, eloquent comment. Thank you.

  • GreenBeans

    I was just drafting a letter to team practical about a very similar situation. I’ve been secretly engaged since December, when I visited my fiance during his MA program on Christmas break my senior year of undergrad. I was afraid to talk to my parents about it because 1) how young we are and 2)his career aspirations. I knew that they wouldn’t be impressed with his aspirations to get a PhD and become a professor, even though he’d already graduated from our well-regarded liberal arts school and was doing his MA work in only one year and had been given full funding to pursue his doctorate.

    When he came to stay with me during my summer fellowship, we discussed his desire to not pursue any further degree at this time. He was unhappy with academia and knew that a career for a post-doc in philosophy was far from guaranteed. I support him in this decision, but my parents have made it clear to me that they think this is a mistake and I feel pressure from them to either “make” him do something they’ll approve of or leave him. I don’t agree with them and am a little upset that it’s expected that my parents are trying to dictate the terms of my adult relationships.

    I just landed a very good job in my field that would take good enough care of both of us. He’s applying everywhere, and we are completely comfortable with me being ambitious and successful. He also knows that I will support his search for fulfilling work and I know that he will find work to contribute to our little unit. But I am getting a lot of the traditional Man as Provider expectations from external sources. Does anyone have experience or advice for dealing with this sort of thing?

    • Jashshea

      No advice on the situation in particular, but I can offer this tidbit: If your parents are anything like mine, you need to draw a line in the sand on what is and is not their beeswax. If they cross the line, remind them firmly of the line.

    • Cleo

      Me! Me! Me!

      When I started dating W, he was in the weeds financially. He had been laid off from the company he was working for and had also become disenchanted with the industry where he was working and wanted to find a job that would pay his bills and leave him enough time to start taking college classes again. Unfortunately, this was in 2008, when there were no jobs to be had — he applied for every available opening and nothing.

      He was on unemployment for the first year of our relationship and eventually had to sell his car to pay his rent. And we live in a city with terrible public transit (though it does exist).

      I would drive him to job interviews, take him to fill out applications, pay for our meals, and buy our movie tickets. And I, as someone who thinks birthdays are very important and enjoys more lavish celebrations, happily accepted his gift of a massage (by him) for my birthday.

      While I was anxious for him to find a job in town (there was talk of him moving in with his grandparents about 6 hours away), I was not phased by everything I did for him, and was sure that if the situations were reversed, that he would do the same for me.

      However, other people were. My roommate at the time told me she was worried that he was taking advantage of me and insinuated that he was only with me for my car. My parents tut-tutted every time I told them he was still unemployed and wasn’t going back to college. There were whispers, to me, when neither of us showed up at a dinner with friends, that he was controlling my social life (the truth was that neither of us could afford it).

      The worst part of this experience weren’t the glares and whispers and uncomfortable talks about how I deserved someone better, someone with a degree, a job and a car, someone who could take me out to a fancy dinner on my birthday and who had a similar level of ambition as me, someone with enough money to treat me like a princess (yes, I was told that), no. The worst part was that I was so bothered by these things and wished people could see the good in him and not focus on the bad that it became a point of stress in our relationship and I would try vehemently to convince people that W was great for me, which only concerned them further (I’m not one to talk about my relationship at the drop of a hat in real life)

      So after a few weeks of sputtering defensive replies or trying to change people’s minds, I took stock of myself and realized I was happy, that I knew that once he got a job, some of the dependency would change, and we worked well together.

      After that was done, the next time someone challenged my relationship. I thanked them for their concern, and then said that I was very happy in our relationship and that our dynamic works for us. End of discussion.

      It was very hard to come to terms with the fact that it was okay to close myself off to discussions with people who might not support a life decision that I know is right for me (I had the help of a wonderful therapist). At a certain point, ending that discussion is the healthiest thing possible for your relationship with your partner and for your relationship with whoever is worried for you.

  • Kirsten

    Money is such a hard topic. My fiance was unemployed for a while this year and it weighed heavily on him. It still does, a little, because there are some things he feels he needs to pay me back for, even though in my mind I was taking care of us. It’s odd for me to consider him paying me back for something when the money’s just going to go back into the house pot anyway, but I also recognize that his pride is in play and that it’s important to him to do this.

    • Meg

      This! My fiance’s paying me back for the bills I’m covering right now. It’s important to him to try to keep track of what he “owes” me and slowly pay it back, but to me it’s more important that he build up some savings or start paying down his college loans. Since he won’t not pay me back, I’m putting everything he gives me into the wedding fund. It’s going to both of us, and it’s working so far.

      • Not Sarah

        Meg! I really like that idea! I don’t know what I would do with the money someone was paying me back other than put it into savings anyways.

  • KT in KC

    Thank you so much for this post, and for all the incredible discussion. My fiance and I are in a similar state of inequality, financially and professionally. I’m an attorney with a great job, while (after years of struggling to maintain a decent job, much less build a career), my fiance is in school getting his associate’s degree in IT. He’s doing incredible, and he will be continuing to pursue his bachelor’s degree next spring when we get married. It doesn’t take a genius to realize who has paid for the bills, the mortgage, groceries, entertainment, etc. over the years of our relationship. At first, it didn’t bother me because I’d still have most of the same costs if I were alone. But over the course of this summer, after a few difficult struggles emerged, it started to bother me, and I started to feel ashamed. I started to realize that if I were sitting outside my relationship, I’d advise me to get the heck out because I deserved better – I deserved somebody to take care of me for a change. We’re paying for our wedding, which translates into I’M paying for our wedding, and this has led to I’M paying for MY wedding. That’s not at all a pretty thought I like to have floating around in my mind. Fortunately, my fiance and I have amazing communication (seriously – I’m not buttering this up), where we can sit down, talk honestly about how we feel, respect each other’s feelings and thoughts and opinions, and work through it together. Which is exactly what we did. Nothing has changed financially, but we worked through our (my) anxieties and brought the focus back on what really matters in our relationship, and in any relationship: each other. Finances and fortune come and go, but the person you’re with is what matters. It doesn’t matter how much of a paycheck you bring home after a long day at work; it matters who makes you laugh and smile at home after a long day at work. That’s priceless.

    • KB

      I just wanted to sympathize with the “I’m paying for our wedding = I’m paying for my wedding” situation. I’m the one who makes way more money AND I’m the one who wants the big wedding (caveat – he wants a big guest list, too, but neutral on the cost), so it makes sense that I would be contributing more towards our joint project. But I can’t help but have that niggling feeling of uneasiness when I do the math sometimes. I don’t have a solution, really, just kind of wanted to say ditto on that.

  • Emily

    My husband and I struggle with a similar issue. Technically, since graduating college, I have been the more traditionally “successful” one, in that I have had very little trouble finding jobs, have been promoted in those jobs, and given lots of responsibility in return for hard work. The problem is none of the work is in my chosen field, is low-paying, and often unsatisfying, even toxic. My husband has a difficult time finding work, but in the last two years has started and completed graduate school in a strong program at a good school, where he was able to build a strong portfolio of work and make contacts. Just out of school, he happened upon an internship that he landed right away, and the company has already recognized his talent and given him paid freelance projects. That usually leaves me with most of the responsibility to pay the bills. It’s hard to deal with pressures to be the breadwinner, especially when the work you are doing is not something you love. We have to think a lot with a team mentality to get past the jealousies that we both feel. Being an equal team is not defined by how much money we are able to contribute–there are other factors and money is just one.

    • Meg

      “Being an equal team is not defined by how much money we are able to contribute–there are other factors and money is just one.”

      Yes yes yes yes yes.

  • http://hodoeoporicon.blogspot.com Stacey

    This has been an issue, albeit a minor one, in my marriage as well. When my husband and I met, we were both students, but the dynamic was unequal even then. I was a graduate student with a few years of working full-time under my belt before grad school; he was an undergraduate figuring out what he wanted to do with his career/life. Now, I work 3 part-time jobs in my beloved chosen field, which makes a patchwork kind of full-time gig. I’m pretty happy and have been involved with young professional groups in my field, so I feel pretty good about my career right now. He is now in grad school and working part-time. HOWEVER, my field is notoriously underpaid, so even with that disparity, he’s making about the same as me. And he will eventually move on to a full-time salaried career after grad school, while I’m pondering taking a career break by working just part-time once we have kids. If you had to map all that on a graph by highs and lows, it would be a roller coaster.

    One thing that keeps us sane, though, is that the money is shared and has been since well before we were married. The chores (i.e. non-financial contributions) are split – I currently work more, so he does all the cooking and most of the laundry. We split the dishes and yard/housework pretty evenly. We’ll have to continue to figure it all out as we go, but I think we both recognize that the money is shared, the lives are shared, and what’s best for the whole family (us, dogs, future kids) is the end goal.

  • http://rhombusbomb.wordpress.com MegTAK

    For the first few years of our relationship, I made more money than my husband. Not a lot, mind you — we were both working in theater. Then, the economy did its thing and it was harder for me to find work, but he was still doing okay. We got married in the first of my extremely under-employed years, and I wrestled a lot with the fact that I wasn’t “pulling my weight”. I started this year with a decent full-time job, but ended up having to leave a lot sooner than we planned due to incompatibilities between pregnancy and 10 hour days with nowhere to sit and few breaks. So I’ve been at home, doing what I can around the house, while he’s out there earning just barely enough for us to get by.

    He keeps reminding me that we’re a team, and that just because the income dynamic is slanted this way now, doesn’t mean it always will be. And he reminds me that earning money for the family is just another household chore. We share responsibility for all the chores, so if right now, he’s taking on more of the outside-the-house chores, that means I take more inside-the-house chores. When I was earning more and working longer hours, he was the one taking care of the house. Now it’s my turn.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard. Growing up, my mom always had a higher income than my dad. I want to be able to contribute financially as well. But until we get back to a point where I can, he keeps reminding me that earning money for the family is just another chore, and we’ve got decades in which it’ll all even itself out somehow.

  • http://seventhandw.wordpress.com Nora

    My boyfriend makes less than me and we’re more than ok with it. He went to community college, is almost done paying off his student loans, and loves his job. He’d like to make more money but I think we all would. He’s far handier, renovates the house, spares me from more car repairs, and is confident that even though I make more, he’s better in his own ways. Money doesn’t make the man and it makes me sad that either partner feels obligated to be “equal” even when we have different strengths. Making more salary doesn’t make me happier or more valuable. Maybe you’re a superstar and make more and do more, or maybe your partner just needs more recognition for the things they does do. Recognizing the non-monetary things really helps our relationship but I think my boyfriend is also confident in his own self worth. He doesn’t really think in those terms but subconsciously it makes a big difference.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    I’m a teacher and my fiance is a doctor, so the income disparity is huge. It was an issue especially at first since he didn’t have much of a concept of how limited my resources were for things like expensive dinners out and theater tickets. Now it’s more of an issue in my own head, reminding myself that I’m not inadequate when I’m surrounded by his doctor friends. What I do is important too.

    We have had to work though understanding each other’s definitions of success. He couldn’t understand that I don’t want to be a principal. In his world, you always want to move up to the next level. I had to explain to him that for me, success is in seeing my students succeed, not in awards or promotions. We’re getting there.

  • Laura

    My partner (male) has been struggling with stable employment since he followed me out to CA where I’m doing my PhD. This is the third time he is on the job hunt in just over two years, once due to his organization going bankrupt (unrelated to his work there) and twice because the only good work he has been able.to secure since then has been temporary or contract-based.

    This man has one of the strongest work ethics I have ever encountered -it is one of the many reasons I love him – and it is heartbreaking that his energy and potential are not being put to their best use. He is meanwhile going out of his mind with not enough to do during the day, even though he does literally all the housework while I spend late hours in lab.

    We are both just trying to keep our sh*t together right now, so the question of marriage is a somewhat distant notion. But I also have this feeling that, if he had a career he was secure with right now, we’d be hitched in the blink of an eye. I wouldn’t say our relationship is being held back, per se, but maybe our lives in general are kind of just treading water, and, if it weren’t for the job situation, I know we would both be ready for the next big stage.

    • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

      I think this is a huge block in the path of people in our generation. Delay, delay, delay, in the face of lack of jobs, even for the most dedicated and those with wonderful work ethics.

      • Laura

        Even though it directly (more or less negatively) impacts my life, I find this point really interesting.

        I work in an office/lab with 8? Yes, 8 others between the ages of 24 and 34. We are all at various stages of our early academic careers. And exactly zero of us currently have partners with full-time jobs. Granted, some of the +1s are full-time students (undergrad and law), but, still. Fascinating.

        Sometimes I think it might be a function of where we live – a small college town in CA, where there may not be as many opportunities for the non-academic set – but I get the sense this is an issue for city-dwellers as well. Am I right about this? Where do all you “exactly-ers” above live, and what have your employment experiences been like?

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Well, I’m in the Bay Area. I graduated from law school 4 years ago. My future husband is ten years older, with a MBA, but a few years ago, he started his own business, which proved unsuccessful. He’s been looking for work in a new field for over a year. The business brings in a tiny bit of money still.

          I graduated from college in 2005. My college (in Ventura County) encourages early marriages, so half my college friends are married. The first to marry have 3 kids and counting. The wives do not work outside the home.

          I have a good number of women friends from college sorting out how to be in their 30s and not be stay-at-home moms. They never expected to have careers.

          Among peer-friends in relationships heading towards marriage, for those who can’t afford to live away from their parents, work situations are delaying marriages. For others, because there’s just one rent payment, being poor and married is actually cheaper than being poor and unmarried. How they deal with the babies, I do not know.

        • Erin

          I’m in LA, and while my SO and I are both employed full-time (actually he works full-time and part-time, and I work full-time plus freelance!), I would say most of the couples I know have had one member unemployed for at least part of the last year. Oddly enough*, it’s always the man; the ladies I know kick so much ass that I don’t think that firing one of them ever crossed anyone’s mind.

          *Not odd because Men Should Have Jobs, odd that there’s such a trend in either direction

  • KB

    My mom always told me that marriage is never 50-50 – and anyone who says it is either hasn’t been married very long or is lying to you and possibly themselves. Sometimes it’s 70-30, other times it’s 20-80, but the trick she said is being willing to accept that, over the course of however many years or decades, the scale will balance out.

    Which also reminds me of advice to both partners for a happy marriage that I know I saw on here in another post, but can’t remember which – “Always do more than your fair share. And never keep score.”

    • Laura

      *Yes* – this quote from a previous post has resurfaced in how many comment threads now? And usually on the topic of partnership inequality. Can we please have an entire post on this topic – about keeping score versus not??

    • Class of 1980

      Your mom is right. It’s incredibly unrealistic to think any arrangement that’s 50/50 is going to stay that way forever. If anything, that’s a fleeting situation.

      LIFE doesn’t care about our preconceived ideas. As much as our lives change from year-to-year, with all the variables that implies, how could anyone possibly maintain a perfect 50/50 arrangement?

      Even in a marriage with one breadwinner, the person pulling the most weight will change. At some point the “powerful” one may get sick and rely on the other just to survive.

  • APWFan

    THANK YOU, thank you, for writing this. I also have the “more successful” career trajectory for now, and it’s the judgmental comments about my partner (from not only family and parents’ friends, but my friends, even if they don’t mean it) that are so hurtful. When I am with my significant other, we support and love each other and I don’t think of these comments. We talk about equal partnership and, we hope, equal (or even heavier hours on his part) parenting down the line. But Society continues to judge, and then I get resentful. The most frustrating thing is, if he were the one with the advanced degree, and I (female) were the creative freelancer/performer, no one would say a thing because it would fit the (albeit quickly changing) mainstream picture. “We have realized that women can do everything that men can do, but not that men can do everything women can do.” -Gloria Steinem

  • KateM

    Great post, and tough topic. I make twice as much as my husband, he is in school here and there, he hates school, and still has trouble accepting that without the degree he can’t get the job. He has 10 yrs of military experience and had a difficult time with rejection from jobs that he is qualified for, but can’t get because of the degree. After two years it is finally totally sunk in, but the resentment over the fact has not gone away.
    I have a good career, and a very stable one with a lot of flexibility. I can provide for both of us if he wants to eventually stay home with kids, which is something I think we are both leaning towards. But until that time, I want him to be happy in what he does. He doesn’t have a lot of ambition, and he is a laid back dude. That is why we work. He minded the gap in our incomes much more when we were dating. Now married, living together and combined finances, the gap has disappeared for the most part in both of our minds. I married someone who I knew well, someone who doesn’t have a lot of ambition, would work any job to make sure his family is provided for and happy, but since I am happy providing for the family, he doesn’t need to. I push him to finish his degree because I think it is an important contingency plan if anything should happen to me or my job, but I have to be really careful that I don’t project my own career expectations and goals onto him. We can have different career styles, levels of ambition and fulfillment in our jobs, and still want the same thing for our baby family and our future. But that was a hard lesson to learn.

  • Lauren

    Ugh, how timely! I cried about this last night. Our situation sometimes seems so complex (of course, it is not, but somehow, down in the mud, it always seems to be).

    C and I are both a few years out of undergrad (pre-engaged, not living together), each making less than 30 grand. I make a bit more but the difference is negligible. What really matters is that he’s working a job he loves, where I’m working one I can’t stand. That means that I horribly resent my employer and my crummy salary. He can get stressed about money too, but at least he loves his work.

    But in the longer term, I expect him to be far more monetarily successful than I, and I feel so inadequate because of that. When he tries to encourage me into a career I enjoy more, or that is more highly paid, but then gets disappointed because I think 60K is the most amount of money I will ever be qualified to make, I feel as though he is talking down to me. Maybe it’s his Business Leadership degree to my English one, or his CEO/entrepreneur aspirations to my “I don’t know, some kind of middle-of-the-road career” ones, but anything he says to me career-wise puts me immediately on the defensive.

    A lot of the fault here is mine: I interpret what he says through a screen of my own inadequacy. Even when he is trying to be encouraging and uplifting, I see it as talking down to me. I’ve been trying so hard to see myself as just as worthy and smart as he is, but I just don’t have the motivation or the drive, which makes me feel crappy.

    Ugh, this is a spiral. Everything makes me feel worse about my career, and nothing makes me feel better. At least I have someone on my team.

    • Class of 1980

      If everyone is supposed to be a leader, then there are really no leaders because there will be no followers.

      If business creators don’t have anyone to work for them, then they aren’t going far.

      The world needs all sorts or it won’t actually run.

    • Lauren

      Growing up where/how I did, 60K is a mind-blowing salary. In perspective, I’m a journalist and we start capping out at 50K with a starting salary of 20ish.

      My fiancé will also likely be more successful since he’s going into a research field. But even then, he’s unlikely to crack the 100-mark. We’re just not going to be wealthy, and that’s ok.

      I grew up lower-to-middle middle class and he was raised in an upper-middle to upper class home. I’d love to see a post about income disparity pre-engagement.

  • Em_perk

    My husband and I struggle so much with this. He’s ten years my senior and when we met, I was about to finish my BFA and he had an established career with a well paying job, but it wasn’t what he wanted to be doing. I moved to his town after school and couldn’t find any work for just shy of a year. Then I was offered a job that paid as much as he was making, in another state. It wasn’t what I wanted to do either, but we both wanted out of that town, so I took it and he followed a few months later. Ever since then, he’s done a small amount of freelance work while he tries very hard to get his “dream job.” Unfortunately, it’s now been 2.5 years and the inequality just keeps growing. My job moved us to Hawaii a year ago, and it’s been an amazing experience but it’s so much more expensive here. Money has been tighter and finances more stressful. I insisted he get a part-time job doing anything to help contribute, but he feels like its a waste of his time. We had to become a one car family when we moved here for financial reasons, and there isn’t much public transportation here. I need the car for my job most of the time, so he rides his bike to his part time job, which further contributes to the feelings of inequality. We both get so frustrated sometimes because I know there are other ways to contribute than financially, and I encourage/gently remind/ occasionally nag him about it, but he feels like we’re so unequal that there’s no way he can measure up so why bother trying? It’s hard to be sensitive to his frustration and feelings of inadequacy while dealing with my own feelings of frustration that I’m “working harder” or sacrificing more because I don’t get to pursue my dream job right now because we need money. I know the key is to remember that our situation will change many times in our married life, and I remind him of that too. But it’s still hard!

  • Jasmine

    It seriously feels like APW is reading my mind sometimes. This post is so, so, relevant to my life and it helps a lot to read other people’s stories of similar issues.

    My fiance is currently unemployed and struggling with a Master’s in Political Science that seems to be working against him instead of helping him get a job. (I suggested he leave it off his resume, but that SUCKS when you’ve spent all that time and money/debt getting it!) It’s definitely a tough time to be a job-hunter, and it’s hard for him to see me not only employed, but thriving in a job and a field that I love. If our positions were reversed, I guarantee you I’d feel the same way.

    He’s told me that the best thing I can do is what I have been doing, to just be there for him to listen and cheer him on, but it’s hard to watch your partner so unhappy. This situation has definitely been full of lessons for both of us, and I’ve learned that I can’t fix things like this–sometimes you just have to sit back and let him do what he’s doing and trust that it will all work out.

  • Lois

    First, I would like to thank you for this blog, I happen to stumble across it on an Etsy feature. I love how practical this blog is to my life as being a “newlywed” of 2 years. You know I don’t like it when people say or infer that I am still a newlywed just because I only have been married for 2 years to my husband. In my opinion, we have left the “newlywed” phase after the first 6 months of my marriage. I felt that way because of topics like above and of my own expectations of the marriage were not met (which is something I have addressed with my husband).

    Moving onto the topic at hand…I have more education than my husband and a better paying job right now. I know that he really tries to not let it bother him (and it doesn’t help that sometimes I remind him that he doesn’t make as much as me right now because he took on a new job, albeit it is what he wants to do and I would rather have a husband who is happy with their occupation rather than a really unhappy/unfilled husband with their job).

    Reading through some of other people’s responses and this entry has really challenged me to think how I want to approach my husband about my career and balancing our relationship with our careers. I find that this to be one of the BIGGEST challenges of a new couple or young professionals, where reality is crashing with idealistic scenario of the couple staying happy in the same place, at the same time. I know there is no right or one-fits-all answer here, but I really appreciate the space to talk about such a crucial topic for us women who really try to take into consideration of everyone’s feelings without looking like a selfish bitch.

  • Joanna

    Oh, what nice timing to see this post, and doubly nice to read all of the commiserating comments. I was beating myself up, mentally, about this very thing this morning. Still in the thick of it, so don’t have any advice, just want to say I feel all of your pain!

  • Autumn

    I think this is beautiful but I feel as though the flip side is the constant under-valuing of what is traditionally women’s work. Does the lower wage earner contribute in other way? Do they have dinner ready when you get home? Do they clean, do laundry care for children, parents or other relatives? I don’t think it matters which partner is doing this work (hopefully it is both), but it does matter that we talk about these things as having as much implicit value as a career and income.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      Absolutely. I think that’s a huge thing. Traditional women’s work isn’t given nearly enough value or weight in comparison to financial and career success in society, and that drives me nuts.

      The difference I see in this post and many of the discussions is that the inequality isn’t so much about contributing around the home, or how that figures into a relationship’s dynamics, but the idea of where people want to go in life, and how they feel about the contributions that they make. It’s much easier, for example, to choose to be a stay at home parent than to be thrust into unemployment or unable to reach your career goals at the moment and feel inadequate about that. I’d think it’s pretty different from the partners’ point of view.

      • natalie

        Interesting point. I agree with you. A woman’s role as a ‘housewife’ isn’t seen as something of value today as much as it was even 25 years ago. A woman stays at home to raise children, and it’s seen as some kind of sell-out by some people. However, the cost of childcare in addition to what it would cost to eat take-out every night and have someone clean your house for you would be so high that it literally negates the financial benefits of a woman working outside the home, after she has children, in some ways. Women who stay at home do make a financial contribution because they save the collective family unit from having to spend more on childcare or expensive meals. Plus their contributions still add value to the family unit. On the flip side, it is a sacrifice for a woman to give up her professional career to raise children, and I totally get that, too.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      “Does the lower wage earner contribute in other way? Do they have dinner ready when you get home? Do they clean, do laundry care for children, parents or other relatives?”

      (I know I am late to the comments on this one, but…)

      Maybe I am reading this wrong (and though I agree that work done in a home is often undervalued in society), personally I don’t believe a lower wage earner should have to compensate for a smaller income by doing more work in the home. If one person regularly works less hours, then I do think it’s reasonable and fair that they do more work in the home because their schedule allows for that. (Even if the person with less hours were to make equal or more money than the full-time person.) But if both people work the same number of hours yet earn different amounts, I feel like the division work in the home should not be affected by that. Otherwise it seems like a sort of punishment for having chosen a less lucrative career path…

      Though my husband and I are in the same general arts field and though I have completed a higher level of formal education, I currently make less in our relationship. It is occasionally frustrating to me that my husband just fell into his successful arts career without trying to get there (he is not ambitious at all but ended up in a job some might strive for), and I have been working hard to establish myself in my particular arts track for years and years and have had less “success.” I work outside of my chosen field to be able to contribute financially, while I am also trying to figure out how to earn money in my arts field too. Thankfully, we do different jobs within the same arts field, so we don’t have a sense of competition in that way. And financially, our switch to a “one pot” approach has made our finances feel way less stressful because we both now see everything as “our money.” It really surprised me how much it influenced our perspective about finances and our overall sense of teamwork.

  • tirzahrene

    Some of these comments have been hard to read because of things they brought up from my first marriage. I guess I would say that my ex has always looked for the easy button in life, and those values and the finances surrounding that was a big factor in our ultimate divorce.

    This time around I want someone who cares about the same things I do and is also willing to do the hard work to get them. Not to be miserable, but because some things are worth working for and working is the only way we’re going to get them.

    And if that means sometimes leaning on each other, fine, me and my pride will sort that out when that time comes, right? But that’s different than when I was the main breadwinner for a family because I was the only one of us who could manage to suck it up and work at a job that wasn’t maybe the best thing since sliced bread.

  • natalie

    Thank you so much for posting this. I really needed to hear this today.

    My husband and I have been married and living together for 2 months. Last year, I finished my Master’s and have been trying desperately to find a full-time job as a librarian. It has been pure, pure hell on top of the humiliation I feel for the fact that I am not living like a 27 year-old woman should: saving money, planning to purchase a home with her spouse, or thinking about having a baby. I feel like I am 19 again. (nothing against 19 year-olds. enjoy it, will ya?!;)

    My husband, who happens to be a self-employed lawyer, is trying to get his business going and get as many clients as possible. In the eyes of my friends, I am eventually going to be some spoiled housewife whose husband makes piles of money as an attorney. truth be told: it’s not as easy or as profitable as it sounds, and I’m not feeling sorry for myself; I’m just pointing out that people have misconceptions about what it means to be a professional. Especially in the current state of our economy.

    He will always make more than me, which is completely to be expected because of our respective professional fields, and I am ok with that. I was aware of it 4 years ago and I’m aware of it now.

    The problem is that we are surrounded by all of these other ‘measures’ and ‘criteria’ for success. Buying a home: is it the end-all, be-all of a serious relationship? NO. Having a baby: do we need to do that now, or can my eggs wait a few more years? How do we measure success as married / engaged people? It’s not all about money, but it gets to be hard when friends start making more money, having babies, and buying homes. I see it happening to them and I want it, too.

    But, all in good time. As you said in your article, it is sometimes easy to feel ‘left behind.’ There’s a plan for all of us; we make our own journeys and we just have to keep on walking and believe that things can change for the better.

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