Two Spouses with Divergent Incomes – Avoiding the Pitfalls

Maybe your husband is a high-earning engineer and you work for a non-profit which pays a lower salary. Perhaps you’re the hot-shot executive and your husband prefers to work part-time while pursuing his education. There are plenty of couples whose incomes vary immensely. Managing to avoid conflict in the face of such income inequality is not always easy. Vastly different income levels may be an issue serious enough to weaken the bond between the two of you.

To circumvent conflict, it is best to address the situation head-on, and honestly discuss how an income inequality might be affecting your intimacy. Check out these four common issues that couples face when one is earning more money than the other.

  1. The higher earner makes the decisions.

Many couples make the mistake of thinking that whoever makes more money has complete authority over decision-making in the relationship. Truth be told, a gap in your income levels should never lead to this kind of disparity.

When the higher earner calls the shots on handling the money, the lower earner may feel disempowered or even resentful. Is your husband funding your big family vacation with his higher salary? Does he feel that the decision about the destination is his – and his alone – to make? Or are you the one using your higher income level as a manipulation tool? Take time to analyse how your thoughts about salary levels affect how you make decisions.

Once you recognise an issue, broach the subject with your husband in a non-threatening manner. At Money Sense, it’s suggested to avoid making large financial commitments without reaching consensus with your husband. Keep the honest but respectful communication going between the two of you, and share the decision-making.

  1. The higher earner pays for everything.

When there is a huge difference in your salaries, the higher earner may be forced to carry the burden of paying for all the household bills along with his personal expenses. The lower earner may sometimes feel that he or she does not have to pitch in on household expenses because the partner makes so much more money.

If this continues, the higher earner may feel resentful over the unfair division of financial responsibility, and the lower earner may feel unjustly entitled and may even try to hang on to his or her own salary for personal use. Are you letting your husband pay for all of your expenses? Do you deposit your entire paycheck into your individual account instead of your joint funds? Or is it the other way around? Be conscious of how money matters affect your personal dynamics as a couple.

To prevent animosity from seeping into your relationship, make sure to be open about how the two of you feel about your financial responsibilities. To give the lower earner a sense of responsibility, he or she can be put in charge of making the deposits and managing the bank accounts online.

Read: 5 Money Mistakes You Should Avoid in Your Marriage

  1. The lower earner pays for the inconsequential purchases.

On the other hand, the lower earner may feel insignificant and ashamed because of his or her minimal financial contributions. This unhappy feeling may be further magnified if his or her salary only goes to pay for small-scale supplies or purchases like monthly supply of toiletries or perhaps the occasional taxi fare.

As a remedy, try directing the smaller salary towards major financial goals that big European trip or your child’s education fund. By funnelling the smaller paychecks into the biggest expenses, you will be able to fulfill emotional needs as well as continue to work towards your common financial goals.

If you are the lower earner, talk to your husband about your concerns. Chances are he is not even slightly bothered about your lower income. Likewise, if your husband is the lower earner, be willing to talk to him about his emotions. Remind yourselves that you do not necessarily have to split your expenses 50-50 because the two of you have different careers and different salaries.

The lower earner can also compensate by pulling his or her weight in other ways. Keeping  the household running smoothly or taking charge of home renovation and vacation planning are time-consuming tasks that can take some of the pressure off the spouse.

  1. The higher earner neglects his or her other household duties.

While the lower earner may try to compensate for his or her reduced financial support by contributing to the family in other ways, the higher earner may neglect his or her other familial duties like childcare and household chores.

If your husband is guilty of shirking his family responsibilities, remind him gently. Likewise, if you are the higher earner, try not to fill your whole schedule with work-related matters. Remember to spend quality time with your husband and children. No matter what financial issue you and your spouse are facing, the bottom line is that you strive to keep your communication open and healthy. Talk about your feelings and work together towards solutions.

Related: When Women Earn More Than Men In a Marriage

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C.E.O @ The New Savvy
Anna Haotanto is passionate about finance, education, women empowerment and children’s issues. Anna has been featured in CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Business Insider, INC and The Peak Singapore. She was nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen). Anna has 10 years of experience in the financial sector and is currently a Director in Tera Capital. Her previous work experience includes positions at Citigroup, United Overseas Bank, a regional role in Business Monitor and a boutique private equity firm based in Shanghai. She graduated from Singapore Management University (Finance and Quantitative Finance).

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