Like it or not, money is a sensitive subject for most folks. In our society, it can be easy to equate salary with self-worth. Most people don’t feel bad for making less money than Jeff Bezos, but comparing yourself to someone close to you is a different story. Especially if that person makes it harder on you than it needs to be.
When things are sunshine and roses in your relationship, you can’t fathom that a salary difference could ever be an issue. But when things get tough and one partner gets tired of picking up the bill, things can change.
If you’re in a committed relationship in which you make more money than your partner, do your relationship a favor and avoid these destructive behaviors well before they’re an actual issue. Ignoring them will only spell disaster for your relationship.
Even if it’s been a difficult conversation to have in the past, the most important thing you can do is get your feelings about money out in the open.
Talk about what your triggers are and set guidelines you can both feel good about.
“When we are able to openly discuss our need to have our contributions valued, then even massive disparity in incomes can be accepted and dealt with in genuine collaboration,” psychologist and psychoanalyst Mark Borg Jr. said.
The more your lives are intertwined, the more impossible it becomes to hide how much money you make from your partner. They’re going to notice eventually, and addressing any discrepancies as soon as you can will smooth things over for both of you. If you’re married, this conversation is especially vital.
Paying all the bills and funding the vacations is a big responsibility—but don’t forget that there are other things that make a relationship work that money can’t buy. Things like doing chores, handling the majority of child care, sending the best good morning texts and even being the one who always pulls the other into a hug in the middle of a fight can be worth more than a paycheck.
“Don’t think that money is everything if your partner who earns less is doing most of the emotional labor in the relationship,” said Sam Jahara of Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy.
When you reduce your partner’s relationship contributions to a dollar amount, it puts you in a selfish, ruthless mindset where you forget about why you fell in love with them in the first place.
Divorce lawyer Russell D. Knight warned about the dangers he’s seen that stem from focusing on salary discrepancy.
“The bigger earner should focus on what they like about the lesser earner and not just think of each other as two numbers,” he said.
Odds are the numbers will never line up the way you hope them to, so don’t let that become the bedrock of your relationship.
Just because you make most of the money doesn’t mean you should decide where all of it goes.
“Always make any financial decisions—especially major ones—as a team,” financial expert Jacob Lunduski said. “This ensures that both sides of the relationship has an understanding of where the money is being spent.”
Feeling like you have no say or control in your relationship and life just because you make less money is a sure recipe for resentment. But bringing your partner into these conversations can be especially difficult to do if you feel financial obligations fall solely on your shoulders.
No matter how tempting it may be to handle it all on your own, turn to your partner before you make a decision.
No matter how angry you might feel in the moment, never use how much money you make as leverage. Just because you make more money doesn’t mean you’re right in every argument or should be allowed to splurge on whatever strikes your fancy without any accountability.
It also doesn’t excuse you from checking out from every other aspect of the relationship simply because you’ve “done your part.”
Unfair behavior like this will make your higher salary feel like a power play, wreaking havoc on your partner’s confidence, sense of worth and sense of control.
“Even if you make more than your partner, it is important to see them and treat them as your equal, not lesser than,” therapist Katie Ziskind said. “Just because someone makes more money doesn’t mean they get to be egotistic or rude.”
Making more money than your partner can be difficult terrain to navigate, but it doesn’t have to be an issue if you focus on the right things. Keep your priorities straight, and you’ll be fine.
“Remember that your relationship comes first and finances are secondary,” said Brian Meiggs of My Millenial Guide. “Just remember that you two are in this together and can easily overcome money issues to make it work.”
Cara Haynes is an editor and freelance writer who thinks words are probably the most important thing we have. She spends too much time thinking about them, whether that means reading the labels on her shampoo bottles or sending novel-length texts to her husband. When she’s not doing word work, she enjoys doing leg work in the mountains with her goldendoodle, Dobby. You can find her wherever there is chocolate-chip cookie dough within walking distance.