Money is one of the most difficult things to discuss in a relationship, so it's no surprise that finances are often a leading cause of stress for most couples. Issues pertaining to dollar signs can drive a wedge between even the happiest couples, and those money talks can become even more complicated when the female is the primary breadwinner. Of course, it's the 21st century and women are more equal to men than ever before, but when societal gender roles are reversed, it can sometimes throw relationship dynamics out of whack. "Difficulties may arise surrounding expectations and ultimately end up causing an enduring power struggle," explains Marissa Nelson, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
How do you keep the romance and harmony alive and kicking in your relationship when you make more dough than your partner? We asked therapists to share their best tactics.
Have open lines of communication.
This is an important aspect in every facet of your relationship, but especially when it comes down to dollars. "Couples should talk about money and attempt to get on the same page about how it should be handled and spent within the relationship," says Rachel Needle, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. "Open communication can increase understanding and empathy and decrease resentment in a relationship." She also notes that talking about your feelings can go a long way. When having these conversations, however, it's important to choose your language carefully. "Use inclusive language, as you are a team!" Dr. Needle suggests. "If you use terms like 'my money,' it can push your partner away and lead to disconnection and decreased self-esteem."
Establish a wish list of wants and needs.
While you should certainly create this wish list in terms of money, you should also create one for your emotional needs. "Couples should write down their top three budget priorities and have a discussion about what meaning it holds to spend money on those items," suggests Nelson. "No criticizing the other person for what is important or getting defensive either. The goal is to bridge the gap to find solutions that work for each partner's vision of their special day and beyond."
Show acknowledgment and appreciation often.
"It's important for couples to stay vigilant about not letting money and finances define their partner's worth in the relationship," says Nelson. She suggests carving out time each day to share some things you appreciate your partner doing to make you feel loved or make life easier for you. "Many times, our contributions can be lost in the routine of life, so it's important to pour affection and give gratitude to all the ways each person shows up every day."
Hold financial meetings regularly.
Schedule regular meetings to discuss finances as a team. Since your finances may change over time, both for better and for worse, it's important to have regular conversations that allow you to touch base on your situation. "This allows both partners to be in the know of what is brought in, being spent, plan for things you want, discuss spending, or express feelings regarding finances," says Dr. Needle.
Be equal in total work and responsibility.
Regardless of who is making more money, total work should be split evenly. "Just because one person makes more money than the other, doesn't mean they don't have to attend to housework or children," explains Dr. Needle. "However, each couple is different in how they want to manage responsibility and work in a relationship, so talk about that and get on the same page."
Notice when you are actually enabling your spouse to depend on you.
This may be something you do subconsciously or out of a need to feel in control, but it's important to be aware of it. "Notice if you're paying a credit card credit bill and then 'holding it against him,'" says Lisa Bahar, a marriage and family therapist. While there's nothing wrong with being the sole breadwinner and source of money for your family, Bahar notes that this position could set you up for being viewed as the bank. In other words, it may make you feel like your only usefulness is your income. "Nurture yourself, be open to saying no to requests, notice if you are using money to feel love or acceptance."