As more women become the primary family breadwinners, the societal expectations and discussions about relationship dynamics haven't keep up, says personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi.
"The reality is that we're holding the wallet and that's quite a powerful and status-changing place to be," she writes in her new book, "When She Makes More."
Torabi joined The Daily Circuit to talk about the stresses that visit couples in such situations. Highlights from the conversation:
She feels alone; he feels emasculated
"Society's moving faster than our lower brains. The issue is not that women are making more. The issue is that men and women still hold onto pretty antiquated ideals and expectations about what it means to be in heterosexual relationship, and what money means in that relationship. And that's ultimately causing friction to the point where you look at the statistics: 50 percent more chance for divorce, when she makes more; a higher chance for infidelity. And in my own survey of a thousand women nationwide, women who were in committed relationships, split between women who make more and women who make less than their male partners, you find that when she makes more she is struggling to make it all work in terms of her career, her relationship, her relationship not just with her partner but also with her family and friends, and housework and childcare. It can be very stressful for her. She's sometimes feeling resentful, in that she feels very alone in this role. And on his side, he may feel isolated, questioning his identity as a man, and the feeling of emasculation is not uncommon."
The bigger the paycheck, the greater the power
"For many of us, still, money equals power. And whoever's holding the bigger paycheck is believed to be the one with the most power ... having the veto power in the relationship, the one's going to call the shots and be the last to say yes or no to certain decisions, money and other decisions. This is new territory. I think ultimately, in an ideal relationship, you don't want to look at money as a source of power; it's really just a means to an end."
How to make unequal incomes feel more equitable
"We can assume in most relationships it's not going to be 50/50. There's going to be some level of disparate income. ... I think you always want to strive for financial equality, at least in the sense of how you're contributing, so that everyone feels like an equal player. One tip for the person who's bringing home less money: attach that person's income to something or some things that are quite significant. ... It could be attached to a 401(k), as well as perhaps college savings. It could pay for the next vacation. A slower and steadier contribution from the person who's making less can make that person's money ultimately feel meaningful."
Gay neighbors set a good example
"Same-sex partnerships [are] exemplary when it comes to negotiating household responsibilities. If you're in a male-female relationship and you're really scratching your head over how to arrive at 50/50 when it comes to household chores and make the household domestic drudgery feel an equitable share, look at your gay neighbors. They're not stuck on, obviously, gender role expectations. They're not thinking, 'You should scrub the bathroom because you're the man or the woman.' That doesn't happen when they're trying to negotiate in their relationships. And that I think is something we can all learn from. ... They're a lot more equitable. They base their decisions on strengths and weaknesses, and what I want to do, versus what I don't want to do, and then they outsource the rest. It's very practical."
Set boundaries for parents and bosses
"As of last year, according to a Pew Research study, more Americans still believe it is the man's responsibility to be able to provide financially for a family before he gets married. We don't have the same level of expectation for women. ... Society is evolving; women are on the rise, but our expectations of what it means to be in a relationship have not caught up. There is this gap, and within that gap, friction evolves. ... You may have harmony in your relationship. You've figured it out. But what happens when your parents don't understand, because they were raised in a different generation? They expected a different setup for their daughter or their son. What happens when your boss doesn't understand that, as the female executive who's making more, why can't you have more time to spend on this project? Don't you have a stay-at-home dad? ... Some boundaries, I think that's ultimately what's going to get you through these awkward situations."
Women: If you are the main breadwinner in the household, what has that meant for your relationship? Men: If you're in a household where your female partner makes more, how does it work for your relationship? Leave your stories in the comments below.