By: Dr. Shane Perrault and Dr. Dawn DeLavallade
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 40% of American households containing children have a woman as the higher earner (and the number of female breadwinners is 60% in the African American community). Female breadwinners are defined as single mothers and married women who earn more than their partners or husbands.
This global revolution in male/female relationships has been steadily growing over the last four decades. Additionally, with more women than ever before attaining college education and settling into high-paying careers, this shift most likely represents a new era as opposed to a trend.
But how does this new era in cultural norms where women are more likely to be represented in the boardroom impact your romantic relationships, or satisfaction level in the bedroom? There certainly is no straightforward, or one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, when a woman is in a relationship with a man who earns less money, there are a few tell-tale signs that their relationship’s stock might be falling and at risk of becoming emotionally bankrupt.
1. Your Relationship Feels Competitive
More often than you are comfortable with, you may feel an air of jealousy, or notice frequent displays of pettiness, envy or even aggression on the part of your mate. If so, you may be dealing with a man who is having a hard time adjusting to being with a woman who earns more. In contrast, he may feel that you don’t respect him, or somehow look down on him.
2. One or Both of You Have Lost Your Authenticity – with Each Other or Yourself
Perhaps it’s gotten to the point where you feel like you just can’t be you around your mate. For example, you may find yourself hiding your job promotions or other accomplishments, or “dummying down” to make him feel smarter and more in charge. Alternatively, you may be acting meeker or more submissive because traditionally, wives are second-in-command. Letting the man take the lead as the head of household may seem like a way to even the playing field. Conversely, you may notice that your man seems to be losing his mojo or sense of self-worth because he isn’t measuring up on this indicator of success. I caution both of you against losing yourself in the process of trying to please or accommodate each other.
3. You Suffer in Silence
Some of the most consistent feedback I hear from women who earn more is that they have a real catch-22 on their hands. They are damned if they don’t discuss the tension stemming from their higher income and success, and damned if they do. They may feel as if disclosing this secret to someone outside of the marriage constitutes betrayal. This challenge frequently intensifies feelings of isolation, when actuality 40-60% of their counterparts may be sharing a similar experience. Also, women must realize that their partner may be suffering in silence too.
4. You’re Not Your Best Self When He’s Around
Stress can arise from many sources in relationships where women earn more. For example, are there financial woes stemming from your partner’s inability to contribute at an acceptable level, leaving you to pay the lion’s share of bills? Is there inequity in the household chores when you are both fatigued from working, but you are expected to now work the “2nd Shift” to do “women’s work” when you get home. (This phenomenon was popularized by the book, The Second Shift). Consequently, you may become short tempered, overwhelmed and feel unappreciated, while he may be feeling emasculated because he is being asked to take on chores that he finds humiliating. You both need to ask yourself if there are ways you might be unwittingly impacting each other’s comfort level when you are together.
5. You’ve Isolated Yourself From Friends and/or Family
To minimize the tension caused by him feeling uncomfortable, you may forego participation in professional functions with your colleagues, outings with friends, and you may only rarely attend family events. For example, I once had a client that stopped appearing at her college alumni events because her spouse didn’t feel comfortable around her “uppity college friends.” Similarly, he may be going through a rough patch, and has isolated himself from friends and family because he feels like less than a man.
6. Your Romance, Sex Life, & Intimate Connection Has Been Significantly Shutdown
Sometimes, it can be difficult for both you and your partner to be in these non-traditional roles, and this awkwardness trickles over into your bedroom. Perhaps it is hard for you to be turned on by a man whom you give an allowance. On the other hand, maybe his attraction towards you has waned because he has come to see you as a mother figure because he must ask you for money. Accordingly, playing the stereotypical wife or husband role has become difficult or impossible for you both.
7. You No Longer Feel Your Partner Will “Man-Up”
That is, you feel that if you don’t bring home the bacon, your family won’t eat. You may feel that he lacks either the know-how, drive, or ability to put your family’s needs on his shoulders. Additionally, you are struggling to find other ways that he adds value to you or your family that offset the income disparity. As a couple, you both may have to come to terms with the reality that some professions just pay more than others, and to have a successful partnership or marriage you will have to learn to leverage other strengths to transcend that reality.
If these telltale signs feel familiar to you – relax for a moment. Take a deep breath. Your relationship is not necessarily doomed to emotional bankruptcy, although there is certainly room for improvement.
As a society, we are all on a steep learning curve when it comes to gender roles being blurred and redefined. Couples could benefit greatly from trying to lean more on each other, having candid, non-defensive conversations, and remaining open to getting professional help. No matter what challenges you face, know that divorce rates can drop as much as 30% with an appropriate intervention. It’s never too late to live your happily ever after!
About the Authors:
Dr. Shane Perrault, PhD is a Marital Psychologist and Author of The Black MANual. You can catch him online at www.AskDrShane.com. Dr. Dawn DeLavallade, MD is the Author of She Makes More and can be found online at www.MeetDrDawn.com. Both can be found at www.SheMakesTheMoney.com.