Even for couples who get along very well, money can be a point of contention.
Sometimes one person spends more than the other; in other cases, there are disagreements as to how money should be spent. Perhaps one member of the couple believes in saving and caution, while the other leans toward instant gratification.
All of those issues can be solved via communication and negotiation. It can be harder, however, for couples to deal with issues of income disparity. If one person starts making a lot more than the other, it can cause resentment and lead to problems that are harder to talk about.
If you end up being the person in the relationship making more money, there are ways you can head off any problems. But doing so requires discipline and the self-awareness to never pull out the "I make more money than you" card in a fight. Slip up even once on that, and you'll have a recurring problem it's very hard to move past.
Know your financial plan
Both during times when my wife had a higher income and now, when I make more, we always had clear rules on spending. We put our paychecks and other earnings in a joint bank account and agreed on a general understanding of our budget.
At times, such as right after buying a house, we've both understood that spending needed to be kept to essentials. At other times, when we lived below our means and had money left over after recurring bills, we've had a more open approach to spending.
Through financial ups and downs, no matter how much each of us contributed, we enjoyed equal financial freedom. Sometimes that means we can buy a new TV or piece of furniture without consulting the other. During leaner periods, perhaps that freedom only extended to books or meals out with friends.
No matter where our bank-account balance stood, we communicated about the broad issues. That put both of us in a position to feel comfortable. And it has enhanced the teamwork aspect, because we accept that no matter who earns what, we both contribute equally.
Have a non-work plan
If you make more money than your spouse, you might feel entitled to contribute less work to the household, especially if the reason you make more money is that your significant other spends fewer hours in an office. However, he or she may be spending less time at an office job in order to care for your child or children, which can be a full-time job in itself. Ultimately, a couple should jointly make any decisions on who stays home part- or full-time and have complete respect for the various ways in which each person contributes.
In other cases, where both members of the couple work for pay, but one makes more money, it's important to have a negotiated division of household tasks. In my case, because I work from home, I handle most of the cooking and many of the various work-hours things that come up.
My wife, who works 9 to 5 (more like 8:30 to 6 most days) in the nonprofit world, tends to do more of the household cleaning and the bulk of the grocery shopping. She does more of our son's laundry, along with her own, while I mostly do mine.
There are times when we trade tasks because one of us needs to work more, but there is never a time where I ask her to do something because I make more money. Sometimes she works at night or on the weekends, and I support that; when I work off-hours, she gives me the same support.
I'm always careful not to make my work needs more important than hers just because my job pays better. That's sometimes a challenge because I get paid based on production while she gets a salary, so extra work by me directly pads our bank account.
Despite that, it's important to value what your partner does. In my case, that's easy because her work helps people in need. But even if she had a less noble profession, as a partner I'd have to support my significant other's pursuits.
Be open and honest
Valuing what my wife does and keeping open financial communication do not mean always pretending everything is equal. She understands that more time I spend working means more money for both of us. She also understands that I have my limits and need to not work sometimes.
For us, that has meant her taking on a little more at home when I have the opportunity and the desire to bring in more money. The same has been true in reverse when she's been offered freelance projects that would bring in extra cash.
As the higher earner in a couple, it's important to remember that your significant other also contributes to your success. If you view your income, his or her income, and his or her successes as joint accomplishments, it can keep both parties from feeling resentment or a lack of appreciation.
Communicate your needs and desires. If I want to buy something and plan to take on extra work in order to do it, I discuss that with my wife, because the impact on our life may go deeper than our bank balance. It's about communication, partnership, and mutual understanding. Those are not always easy, but they're essential if you don't want financial success to undermine your relationship.
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