Tips for Couples with Income Inequality
Have you ever met a couple in which both partners earn exactly the same amount of money?
It’s certainly possible, but it’s pretty rare. In most cases, couples have some disparity in their earnings. The reasons for such inequality vary: in some cases, it’s the wage disparity between men and women that’s the culprit. In others, differences in industries, job roles, and companies are the reasons for the difference in paychecks. Perhaps one partner went back to school to increase earning power, while the other didn't and thus has less earnings potential.
Regardless of the cause, though, in many relationships, the effect is the same. Couples that have extreme income inequality, such as those in which one partner works while the other stays home with the children, income inequality can lead to resentment and anger — and is often the source of heated arguments.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With communication and compromise, “my money” and “your money” can become “our money” and the uncomfortable conversations and fights can be avoided. Before you can reach that point, though, you need to address a few key issues.
1. Who Does the Laundry?
In many couples, the division of labor is often determined by income, with the person who earns more each pay period often relying on the other person to take on the lion’s share of household chores. In some cases, this makes sense. When one partner work full time (or more) while the other works fewer hours or is home with the children, the fact that the lower earning partner takes on most of the household chores can help level the playing field. However, problems arise when both partners work equal hours, but one earns more than the other does. In many cases, the lower earning partner — usually the woman — still performs most of the household chores. This usually ends up breeding resentment, since the lower earner may feel as if she is being penalized for not making more money. The solution, then, is to divide the labor equally. Both partners should tackle household chores, and not use their income disparity as a point of contention or a bargaining chip to avoid pitching in.
2. Make Decisions Together
Income inequality often leads to an imbalance of power.In some relationships, the higher earner feels that entitles them to have more control over decisions relating to the money. That could manifest as a need to make all decisions regarding how the money is spent, or it could mean that the he or she doesn’t feel the need to consult with the other person before making major purchases. The higher earning partner may have an attitude of “It’s my money, I can do what I want with it,” which can then spark feelings of resentment, guilt, or lowered self-worth in the other person. To avoid creating hard feelings in your relationship, it’s important to make money decisions together. What are your shared goals as a couple? How should your income be spent or saved each month? When you sit down and create a budget together, and set ground rules for spending (such as neither partner can make a purchase over a certain amount without checking in with the other), then money management becomes a team effort, and you are less likely to have negative emotions creeping in to your relationship.
3. Spend Money Together
Some financial experts recommend that couples maintain a joint checking account with BB&T, even if it’s just for covering the household bills. They say that when couples each have their own account, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “my money” and “your money.” With one account, all of the bills are paid from a single fund, and it can psychologically create a greater sense of “our money.” The sense of “our money” also grows stronger when you spend money together. Use your combined resources to go on vacation, purchase big-ticket items for the home, or cover expenses for the family, like holiday and back-to-school shopping. When you are both involved in the purchase process and have an equal amount of input, the inequality shrinks and there is a greater sense of being in it together. Even when you take steps to avoid the problems causes by income inequality, issues can still arise. One partner may overspend, for example, or make decisions without checking with the other person. In those cases, clear communication and a willingness to compromise is the key to getting back on track. There is no reason that income inequality should irreparably harm your relationship — you just need to change your perspective and get both partners on the same page.