Do earnings impact relationships and marriage?

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Sabrina Almeida

The adage ‘when poverty walks in the door, love flies out the window’ is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago. Most couples will attest to the fact that financial stability is central to harmonious relations. Now a new study done by a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University puts the spotlight on income disparity, suggesting that couples earning similar salaries are more likely to stay together.

Patrick Ishizuka’s research on work, families, and social inequality showed that “equality appears to promote stability.” Does this mean that one person earning significantly more than their partner leads to troubled relationships? According to Ishizuka’s study the economically disadvantaged have more challenges. Psychologists also agree that income parity will likely promote equality in all other aspects of the relationship such as decision-making, child-rearing and housekeeping responsibilities.

Many couples I spoke with (separately of course) believe income disparity is likely to affect the power dynamics in a relationship. Meaning the person who earns significantly more dictates the terms… and has more privileges.

This can play out in different ways. To begin with, men with lower incomes than their female partners tend to feel inadequate and insecure. Traditional thinking that the man is breadwinner stokes feelings of inferiority resulting in submissiveness or aggression towards the spouse. Which type of behaviour an individual will manifest depends not only on the personalities of both partners but is also influenced by the relationship between their own parents. Those with fathers who were devoted to their wives fall more easily into submissive roles when compared to others who were schooled in ‘being the man of house’.

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Nevertheless, I’ve heard more than one husband say that he must toe the line because his wife earns more which is indicative of his discomfort with the situation. On the same note, others expressed the desire to earn at least $1 more, showcasing the strong connection between earnings and male self-esteem.

Naturally the position the female partner adopts plays a critical role in making or breaking the relationship. While some are happy to gain the upper hand, others may overcompensate to keep their spouse or partner from feeling inadequate. Either way, it creates an unhealthy imbalance with one person feeling their needs and wishes are being ignored.

Financial independence has always been linked to the freedom and empowerment of women. Many in the GTA are forced to endure abusive relationships because of their economic dependence.
One stay-at-home mom was fortunate to be able to turn her life around during a traumatic separation. Monetary freedom gave her the confidence to stand up to her cheating and abusive husband.
It is true that men and women typically view money differently. As a result, women may seem unaffected by the fact that they earn substantially more or less than their partners. Yet this cannot be taken for granted. Especially today when many young ladies earn more than their male counterparts.

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Aside from having partners who resent this, some career-oriented women leverage their earning potential to avoid all child-rearing and family responsibilities.

Relationship counsellors say that discussing how financial differences make partners feel is key. If it bothers you that your wife, partner or girlfriend earns more, talk about it. Don’t make money the elephant in your relationship.

When the one who brings home the bigger pay packet feels entitled to make all the decisions or underearner feels forced to compromise, it can derail the relationship. The breadwinner can also feel resentful and overwhelmed by their responsibilities as was the case with the husband of a recently-divorced friend. Similarly, the one who earns less may do more at home to compensate for the lower income and end up being overburdened. The frustration of wanting to contribute more but not being able to, can be demeaning, even self-destructive.

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Kate Levinson, a psychotherapist and the author of “Emotional Currency, says “Unfortunately, we don’t like to acknowledge that money influences our intimate relationships—it’s like a hidden operating system whose presence is undetected, but has the potential to influence everything.”

Ultimately communication is the simplest way to bridge the gap caused by fiscal disparity. -CINEWS

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