QUESTION: My husband and I have been married for two years and are relatively happy. An issue is causing us trouble. I make a lot more money than my husband. This seems to come up in conversation more frequently (and with frustration on his part). I can’t help that I make more; I worked hard on my degree and love what I do. How do I keep this from coming between us?
ANSWER: Over many years in hundreds of marriages, I have witnessed this difficulty, though it seems the economy of the last few years exacerbates it.
It was not too long ago that many American families lived on farms, working the fields and raising animals. In that system, the physical strength of men gave them the edge in nearly every job other than domestic areas such as housework or cooking. That changed with the industrial revolution, slowly at first, but more rapidly as machines became smarter and computers became commonplace. Women moved into work positions where they could compete with men equally because modern jobs call more for brains than brawn.
Unfortunately, the male ego did not. At least it has not done so yet for most men.
The expectations that your husband brought into marriage came from what he learned from his own home and the homes of his friends. Very likely, he witnessed the man bringing home the bacon. If so, that is what he expected would happen in your marriage.
It did not happen that way. His ego is bruised.
In your question, you seem to imply that a possible solution – though you loathe the idea – is for you somehow to change what you do so that his ego will again be sated. If you were to do that, you would doom your marriage. Giving up what you love and what you prepared yourself to do for the sake of his ego would create a cancer that will destroy you and your relationship. Though it might sound like a noble gesture to some, it would be devastating in the long-term. Whatever you do, DO NOT do that!
At the same time, it would be a very bad move to tell your husband that the world has changed and he needs to accept that life is not going to be what he expected. When a person is hurting, he does not want to hear that he should just get over it. Saying or implying anything similar to that would give him the message that you do not value his emotions. If you plant that seed, you will not like what comes from it.
The solution is to demonstrate respect and acceptance.
Tell him that you understand that this situation frustrates him. Let him know it matters to you that it bothers him. Ask him to talk about his emotions, but do not in any way pressure him to do so. Allow him to open up at his own speed as he feels comfortable. If he shares emotions, NEVER say ridiculous things such as “you shouldn’t feel that way.” Even if he says things like “I’m not as smart as you” or “I’m a failure” do not tell him not to feel that. Validate his emotions. However, also validate him. Respond with words such as, “Honey, I hear what you’re saying but the man I know is brilliant (or a success, or whatever.) My making a higher paycheck in no way means I am smarter (more successful, whatever) than you. I love you and believe in you. Maybe today I make more. Maybe next year you do. It’s not a competition, sweetheart. We’re a team. Whatever you do in life, I’m a part of. Whatever I do, you’re a part of. I’m happy to be on the team with you. I’m thrilled with every good thing that comes to you. I hope you can be thrilled with every good thing that comes to me.”
You get the idea.
Validate his emotions, even ones you wish he did not feel. Validate him. Gently focus him on the fact that you love him and that you in no way feel superior to him. You are proud of him and you want him to be proud of you. Emphasize that you are a team. A great team.
This approach is not a magic bullet. It will not solve the frustration overnight. However, keep it up for a lifetime and you will experience life as partners who glory in each other’s successes.
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