There are typically four things that a man should be in a marriage –provider, protector, priest and prophet. They are the 4Ps of a man, especially a married man. Maybe, I’ll do an article on these 4Ps some other day, but this article is more centered on the first ‘P’.
A man’s identity is more wrapped around his ability to provide than a woman’s is. This is why a job-loss is generally a harder blow to take for a man than it is for a woman. When he is not able to provide the basic needs for his family, a man is not in good shape. The responsible one goes all out, restlessly seeking to make ends meet at all costs. The irresponsible one takes it out on his wife and even his children; proving to them that he’s still a man due to his ability to roar in the house and frighten its inhabitants.
The dynamic we are seeing more and more these days, is one where both spouses work, and earn an income. There are also cases –increasing in number –where the woman earns more than her husband. It would be self-deceit to deny that this dynamic does not bring special challenges to the marriage. Right or wrong, these challenges exist and are very real.
I have never been married, but before you disqualify my opinions, I would state that I have observed a few marriages very closely and have taken front row seats in some with this dynamic. From my observations, as well as studies, here are 3 broad steps I think should be taken when a wife earns more than her husband.
Discuss the Elephant in the Room
Sometimes, when the woman starts earning more than the man, it is never a topic of discussion that is brought up in the relationship. However, both parties know exactly what the financial situation is. It is like having a huge elephant in your living room and you both pretend it’s not there.
I would say the man should bring it up, as it shows his leadership ability. But when it’s dragging and still hasn’t been discussed, whoever brings it up does not matter; let it just be brought up!
The man needs to know that the woman does not see him as less capable of providing or handling the family finances. This is because when a man feels this way, he begins to play catch-up by all means. This is when he starts getting into different get-rich-quick schemes and investments that promise supernatural returns!
The not-so-real man, on the other hand, may take it out on his spouse or even go as far as looking for one for whom to provide out there –one who ‘needs’ his provision.
To avoid both scenarios, it is important that the matter is discussed, and the feelings of both parties are heard regarding the prospect of her bringing more money home than him. How does that make her feel and how does that make him feel? And how can they minimize the negative feelings?
Downplay the Elephant
It is normal for couples to argue and have disagreements. In fact, if both parties always agree on things and have the same point of view every time, then one of them is useless.
Now we know that women can be quick with their tongue and creative with their words. Men always have to play catch-up in this area, maybe because we are just not as smart –I don’t know. A problem with this is the tendency to stray away from the topic of disagreement onto personal attacks. This is when the woman now reminds him that “after all, I make more money than you”.
Remember that a man’s identity is quite wrapped around his ability to provide (or make money)? So you certainly cannot expect a mild or ‘rational’ response from him in this case. When you start reminding him of when you paid the kids’ school fees and when you were the one providing food for the whole house for three months, don’t expect an “I’m sorry” from him.
These are like opening deep wounds. It is like discussing the elephant in the room and afterwards, when she passes by the living room, she keeps asking him what the elephant is still doing there.
The wife should downplay the effect of her earning more; the man too. She should not throw it in his face whatever chance she gets, and he should not use up all their money in trying to make some stupendous returns from a get-rich-quick scheme, only to prove his provision-ability to her.
They should both discuss the income situation, its potential effects, and what not to do to get on each other’s nerves.
Combine the Elephant with the Mouse
Once upon a time, an elephant and a mouse, who were best friends, went for a walk. They admired the flowers and birds all along the way. Soon they came to a bridge. And as they crossed the brook, the bridge trembled and shook under the weight of the elephant. “Gosh,’ squeaked the mouse when they were on the other side of the stream, “Didn’t we make that bridge shake!”
The ideal marriage situation would be one where both parties have merged their finances and one person is in charge, usually the more prudent person. So when the matter of her earning more has been discussed by both parties, it is important that this arrangement does not change and that his input on how to use the household income is still as welcome as it was before.
If they never had joint finances (joint account) then that is probably something to consider having. Because, as Dave Ramsey would rightly say, “if the two of you aren’t in harmony with your finances, you aren’t in harmony at all”. What you would eventually have is two money-making robots living under one roof and drifting apart daily.
Yes, let them combine her ‘huge’ income with his ‘little’ one. Just like the elephant and the mouse, they would shake the bridges of life together, being on the same page –in harmony with their finances and with each other.
Don’t let a sudden surge in your income make you feel superior to the other party and you then begin to justify spending on things you “deserve” because you have the money. It has to be a joint decision, by the couple, what to do with the household income.
The challenges that come with a woman earning more than a man, especially in a marriage, are very real. And it takes a mature and realistic couple to realize that even enlightened, educated men are task-oriented and have egos.
This natural stress point may never be fully solved as long as she keeps earning more (especially if he practically has no way of catching up), but it can be managed by keeping communication lines open, being mature enough not to use it to score points in an argument, and remaining in harmony as a couple –which includes combining your finances, because, just like that mouse with the elephant, the insignificant sometimes feel important when in the presence of the great. And great people never become so by belittling others.
Both men and women have a unique weakness and a unique strength when it comes to how they handle and view money. But if they work together, then they can bring about good things. The issue then shifts from being about the amount of money one party brings in, compared to the other, to their ability to handle it well, together.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime| Robert Byron