What’s mine is yours? Pitfalls to avoid when one partner earns more than the other

Pitfalls to avoid when one partner earns more than the otherIt’s a common occurrence in relationships. One person in a couple earns more money than the other and tension boils to the surface.

The possibilities are endless, but there are four common issues that arise when one partner takes home a higher salary than the other:

  1. The higher earner unilaterally makes the financial decisions because, as the primary breadwinner, she feels entitled to do so.
  2. The lower earner does all of the house work (or close to it) and feels that her contributions are unappreciated. (This issue is particularly problematic when one partner handles all of the household chores despite working the same hours as her partner.)
  3. The higher earner pays for everything (or close to it) and starts to feel overwhelmed and resentful that the other person isn’t carrying her weight.
  4. The lower earner feels lesser for bringing home less bacon and guilty for spending money on herself.

These four issues often overlap and many couples experience them in combination. But regardless of how the tension manifests itself, here are five strategies for minimizing the stress on your relationship.

1. Split money management responsibilities

Even if one partner earns more than the other, couples should make a conscious effort to split money management responsibilities, like paying bills on time, planning for big purchases, and keeping a budget. When one partner handles joint finances alone, it’s easier for her to make unilateral decisions that create an unhealthy power dynamic. It’s also more likely that she will feel exclusively responsible for both of their finances, which can be overwhelming and create resentment.

2. Share household duties

Pay disparity — by itself — should not change who does what around the house. Just because you earn more than your partner doesn’t mean that you are automatically exempt from vacuuming and cooking duties. Of course, chores don’t have to be split down the middle. But both partners should handle a reasonable amount of household duties based on their other time commitments, not their level of income.

3. Consider paying for joint expenses proportionally

Couples who have not completely combined their finances should consider splitting joint expenses in proportion to their respective earnings. So, if you earn $100,000/year and your partner earns $50,000/year, you would pay twice as much for costs like rent and utilities. To some people, this arrangement is a simple and fair way to split shared expenses. It’s especially appealing to couples in which the higher earner wants to spend more money than the lower earner on expenses like rent and eating out.

4. Don’t forget about hybrid approaches

Don’t forget that there are alternatives besides using the single joint account to pay for everything. Many couples have a joint account for household finances and separate accounts for individual expenses. Others use an “allowance” system, in which both partners deposit their entire paychecks into a joint account but move set amounts (e.g., $200) into separate accounts each month for individual expenses. These hybrid approaches can help minimize the tension of managing money with another person by balancing teamwork and independence.

5. Communicate

Shocker. Like many things with money, communication is key. If you start feeling tension relating to the difference in salaries between you and your partner, don’t let it fester.

Start by organizing your thoughts. That may mean taking some quiet time, writing in your journal, or talking to a friend or therapist. Whatever you do, try to gain a general sense of what’s bothering you and why. Next, talk to your partner about it. To avoid a shouting match, try to make it a conversation, not a confrontation. It may be helpful to focus on explaining how you feel, accepting responsibility for what you may have done to contribute to the issue, and exploring what you both can do to resolve the problem.

Whatever you do, always try to remember that you’re on the same team. That will go a long way.

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Jon Cagey
Jon Cagey
7 years ago

These are some great tips!


[…] how much you will each contribute. For some, equal contributions makes sense. For others, like when one partner significantly outearns the other, each person might contribute a percentage of their income, instead of the same total […]

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