Love and Money
It wasn't the half-mile trip above the the Arenal volcano on a wire that made me question that zipline tour in Costa Rica with my then-boyfriend. It was the $84 price tag. I'd already footed the bill for our airline tickets, hotel and car rental and I was starting to feel panic about what my bank account would look like when we got back home.
We’d recently finished college and had been planning this holiday to celebrate for a while. But then I landed a full-time job fast, and he didn't, so we pushed off the adventure. When his search started taking longer than we expected, I suggested we take the trip anyway. I figured it would boost his mood and, besides, he'd eventually pay me back, right?
So, when the idea of flying on a cable at lightning speed came up, I didn't want to admit it was the cost that made me balk. Instead I told him it was a (newfound, ahem) fear of heights. We ended up spending the afternoon lying on a (free) beach instead. Six weeks later, back in NYC, he found a job--in San Francisco. Our relationship fizzled after that, but I had the bills to remind me of our vacation for months to come.
Those potentially fight-provoking feelings that arise from making more money than your man have become increasingly common in the years since (especially now that women are the primary or sole source of income for more than 40 percent of U.S. households). But they’re no less complicated. We asked relationship experts for advice on how to tackle 6 of the most common tension-causing scenarios.
Fight Topic: Scheduling
Your job is demanding and requires a lot of your time. Your partner feels like he doesn’t see you enough—and frankly he’s right. You work late into the night and sometimes on weekends, and then there are those work trips.
The Underlying Reason: “Perceived neglect” is a common source of conflict among couples in situations like this, says Keith Sanford, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University. “Couples are often not paying attention to which basic underlying concerns are really driving their [money] conflicts,” says Sanford, who’s also developed the Couple Conflict Consultant, a free interactive web-based program to help couples resolve their conflicts.
Peace Plan: Prioritize and make the time.
Truth is, if the shoe was on the other foot, you’d probably agree that your partner’s absence was hurting your relationship. In a recent study that Sanford published, spats of this kind were successfully smoothed over when partners didn’t fight back, but rather showed remorse for their overbooked schedule. “Do things to show more investment,” he advises. And what’s better than moving a work dinner to a breakfast meeting so you’re home for date night?
Fight Topic: Shopping Splurges
He claims it’s time to take your home entertainment system out of the 20th century. How to put this delicately: you couldn’t care less what the difference is between an LED, LCD or HDTV. All you know is that your partner is poised to make the purchase, drawing on your joint account, and you don’t think spending all that money on a new television--or any similarly pricey gadget--is the wisest expenditure right now.
The Underlying Reason: If one partner perceives that money is a factor for determining who gets to make decisions in the relationship, there's going to be tension, says Sanford.
Peace Plan: Pick your battles carefully.
Depending on your situation, it may be worth it in the grand scheme of your relationship to get the new TV (or whetever the item is)--as long as it won't break the bank. If you're concerned about the price, explain why--how, for example, buying that item will affect your ability as a couple to make other purchases or to save for common goals.
Fight Topic: Household chores
Speaking of perceived gender roles, when it comes to cleaning up around the house, women still get the short end of the stick. Studies have shown that domestic responsibilities, such as taking care of their households, typically don’t lessen for women who work outside the home, says Sherri Bourg Carter, Psy.D., psychologist and author of “High-Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout.”
The Underlying Reason: Unspoken expectations.
Peace Plan: Speak up and delegate.
The annual American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistic stats show women still do the brunt of the housework even if they’re the primary breadwinner. “High-achieving women are notoriously poor delegators,” explains Bourg Carter. “They want to do everything themselves when it could easily be done by someone else (maybe not as well, but it could certainly get done).” Or they assume it will be done, but don’t ask. So go on, ask your partner to do the laundry, or the dishes, or the bed-making, or... well, you get the idea.
Fight Topic: Vacations
One of the most romantic and adventurous things to do with a partner is go on vacation, right? Not necessarily, if your incomes don’t match up. Couples may end up bickering over costs--and who will be covering them--before they’ve even left the tarmac.
The Underlying Reason: With vacation planning, be aware of egos getting bruised from the perception that one partner is being too controlling over the itinerary, explains Sanford.
Peace Plan: Remember it’s not about control, but compromise.
Your beau is a foodie who is dying to dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant? Book lodging at a less expensive B&B to offset the cost of dinner. Or get takeout the next night.
Fight Topic: Social Gaffes
Whether it’s the annual holiday party or the occasional dinner at your boss’s house, sometimes your partner is expected to attend a work event with you. Sure, it’s not his fault that he doesn’t understand your workplace dynamics or the inside jokes you’ve cultivated with colleagues, but what if he makes cringe-worthy comments?
The Underlying Reason: “Husbands can sabotage a wife’s career because they are insecure with their partner earning more money or having a more prestigious career,” warns Bourg Carter. This manifests in a variety of ways, from immature behavior to getting drunk at work events. The wife, in turn, feels hurt that her partner doesn’t seem to support her, or respect her career.
Peace Plan: Show him it’s serious and communicate.
It’s time for an honest discussion about behavior modification. “Whether they are done knowingly or unknowingly, these types of behaviors need to be dealt with honestly and openly,” advises Bourg Carter. And quickly.
Fight Topic: Intimacy
When work stresses are high, it can be hard to think about romance. So it's probably not a surprise that, according to the Mayo Clinic, financial or work stress can lead to a lower sex drive in women.
The Underlying Reason: “High-achieving women don’t recognize the need to slow down. They just keep driving forward,” says Bourg Carter. And a high stress level translates to a low sex drive.
Peace Plan: Slow down.
Here’s where your partner can step up to help, she says. “He can encourage you to take some down time, even in small doses. A partner who recognizes this and schedules some relaxation time for just the two of you can strengthen their relationship.”