The number one reason why couples in long-term relationships argue is money. Whether one person is spending too much, not earning enough, or they’re both in disagreement about what major purchases to put their money towards, money is a problematic issue which arises time and time again.
While those who are newly dating may not have to worry about the prospect of splitting the cost of assets for a while, major differences in salary will always become apparent in the early stages of a relationship. If one half of the couple is earning twice as much or even more than the other, it can create uncomfortable situations and spark arguments. It can also lead the higher-earning partner into thinking that their significant other is only with them for their bank account.
Remind yourself that the situation is completely normal. It is very rare that both parties in a couple will earn the exact same amount of money, so this is an issue that almost every couple will have to deal with at one time or another.
The partner who earns less may be more inclined to pinch pennies, while the higher-earning half of the couple may think nothing of blowing large sums of money on a whim. The partner who is less well-off may feel pressured to reciprocate fancy dinners and lavish gifts, which can create conflict and, if communication is not kept open, lead to the complete breakdown of the relationship.
Here is how you should handle a wage gap in your relationship.
1. Openly Talk About Your Financial Position
If there is a large income disparity between you and your partner, ignoring it will eventually erode your bond. Whether you want to admit it or not, money will affect the dynamic of your relationship if you do not communicate effectively.
Although it can be tempting to lie about how much money you earn and how much debt you have, the truth will eventually reveal itself and so it’s best to be honest about your finances from the beginning. Do not hide your purchases or lie about your spending habits – the only thing worse than overspending is lying about it. If you lie, you will likely feel guilty and stressed, and the other person will be hurt when they discover the truth. It is responsible to know what financial position your partner is in to ensure that, if things go belly up, you can retain some financial independence.
Whatever issue you have, remember that your partner is not a mind reader and you will have to talk to them about it. If you feel guilty for spending their money, tell them about it. If you feel like they are spending their money irresponsibly, carefully broach the topic. Keep the conversation open and respectful, and do not attack your partner.
The number one reason for divorce is communication issues, followed closely by money. If you can control these two issues, you should have a happy relationship for many years to come.
2. Create a Budget Together
If you are living with your partner or sharing a bank account, it is important to sit down together and draw up a budget of your joint spending. List all of your incoming revenue and outgoing expenses, and then determine how much discretionary income you each have. You will then know exactly how much spending money you have each month, and there will be no need to feel guilty about making purchases within that budget.
3. Split Costs Evenly as a Percentage of Overall Income
Not all couples favor this proportional approach, especially if your lifestyle together is modest and within both of your means. However, it can help to improve your financial health as a couple and relieve any tension. Not splitting costs fairly can breed resentment.
Rather than splitting your rent or mortgage costs and other household expenses evenly down the middle, base your contributions on a percentage of your earnings. For example, both spouses should contribute about 25 to 35 per cent of their income towards rent.
Always keep in mind that your salaries are a reflection of your economic worth and not your own personal worth, and so the higher earner is not a better person simply for making more money. The primary earner may feel burdened with the responsibility of keeping the entire union afloat, while the lesser earner may feel as though they do not need to pitch in as much.
4. Consider "At Home" Work
This point is particularly relevant for stay-at-home parents, or those who are in the beginning stages of self-employment. When one partner stays home to look after the house and the children, it is normal for them to feel guilty when they spend money which they have not earned themselves. That person should remind themselves of all the “invisible” unpaid work they do at home, which is just as valuable. That said, in order to prevent the higher-earning spouse feeling resentful, purchases should not be frivolous or beyond what is reasonable.
Use your work hours to determine how many hours of housework each spouse should complete. If one partner works 50 hours a week and the other just 25, the latter should contribute to 50 per cent more of the housework. Nothing will tear a relationship apart faster than someone who works a highly stressful job with a large number of contact hours while being expected to take care of all the housework as well.
That said, if you are both working 40 hour weeks but earning different amounts of money, the higher-earning partner should not penalize the other for their salary and housework should therefore be divided 50/50.
5. Accept That You Will Have Different Opinions
Just because you are open with your financial position and have created a budget together does not mean that you will always agree about every single transaction. Perhaps one partner is used to regularly dining out at expensive restaurants, taking luxurious holidays, and treating themselves to regular trips to the day spa. If they expect their partner to take part in similar activities, they must accept that they will have to contribute more towards these costs. To offset the cost, the other partner might choose to contribute more towards the organizational side of these events.
6. Balance Power Evenly
It is easy for the primary income earner to take up the position of control over their partner and to be the one who makes all of the decisions, not just the financial ones. The person with less money can feel as though their wants and needs are less important. Again, by keeping communication lines open, this situation can be avoided.
7. Battle of the Sexes
Women are increasingly earning more than their male partners, which can sometimes create tension if the man feels emasculated. But this is the 21 century, and men no longer have to be the primary breadwinner in a relationship. Just as with the reverse situation, neither partner should attempt to hold power over the other. If either partner is struggling to keep up, they shouldn’t feel proud about admitting it to the other.
8. Discuss Finances Regularly
While it is all well and good to create a budget, unless you regularly discuss the implementation of that budget, the task was largely pointless. You should talk about finances somewhere between once a week and once a month. Identify how well you have adhered to the budget, and if there are any noticeable areas for improvement.
9. Accept That the Situation May Change in the Future
No financial position is guaranteed forever. Most people have gone through periods in their lives where they have been able to splash out on shopping and holidays with abandon, while at other times they have had to scrape together their coins to buy groceries. It is natural to have ups and downs in your finances over the course of your life, and there is no guarantee that the primary income earner in your relationship will always retain that title. By creating an open and understanding financial situation with your partner, you will be able to cope much better if the roles one day reverse.
Financial issues are an inevitable part of any relationship. However, you can work as a team to prevent these issues from destroying your bond. By discussing any income inequality in advance and devising strategies of budgeting and spending, you will have a much stronger and happier relationship.
Have you ever been in a relationship where one partner earned more than the other? How did you handle things? Let us know in the comments section below!