Serious relationships require serious compromise.
From which side of the bed you’ll sleep on to who is going to wash the dishes, each domestic act is a series of negotiations.
Sometimes negotiations are unspoken, like when you need a few minutes of quiet time after a long day of work.
Other times, they are explicitly stated, like the time he confessed his love of vacuuming and you secretly celebrated the fact that you’ll never have to touch the vacuum again.
Even though most couples excel at figuring out life together, there’s one issue that is hard to talk about: income disparities.
Because we live in a society that conflates self-worth with net worth, most couples struggle to create an open line of communication about money.
In fact, 70% of couples say that they fight about money more than anything else. And when unequal incomes are thrown into the mix, talks about money can become even more stressful. Often, this has to do with perceived power imbalances within the relationships, feelings of inadequacy, or even resentment.
Luckily, there’s good news. Whether you’re the partner earning more or the partner earning less, there are some specific things you can do to ensure that you have a financially equal relationship.
Make Financial Decisions Together
One of the biggest mistakes couples with different incomes make is allowing the partner with the higher income to make all the financial decisions.
Molly, a 29-year old from Austin explains, “When I got my first big raise, I was so excited to finally be earning more money that I started spending like crazy. I paid for the bill whenever my boyfriend and I went out to dinner and also planned (and paid for) a lot of weekend trips.
It wasn’t until nearly six months later that he finally told me that he was worried that we weren’t saving enough for our upcoming wedding and that he felt like I didn’t care about his opinion anymore.
We got in a big fight, but in the end it was actually really good because I finally understood that we were a team…in all things.”
Even though it can be tempting for the higher earner to call all the financial shots, it’s important that each individual feels respected and valued, regardless of income.
It’s also important to remember that you and your other half are more than your incomes. Your relationship is based upon more than the amount of money you earn—it’s about late night talks, hilarious misadventures and sharing the beautiful life that you’ve created together.
Related Reading: 4 Smart Money Rules for Couples Living On One Income
Talk About It
Money can be awkward. But the only way to get through the potential awkwardness of uneven earnings is to embrace it.
Instead of dancing around the issue, sit down with your boo and say, “I know it’s kind of awkward to talk about, but I want to talk about our incomes and make a plan.”
By addressing the fact that it’s awkward, you’re embracing the financial elephant in the room and allowing yourselves to move beyond it. In fact, chances are that your other half feels the exact same way!
Be honest about how you feel and what you want. But beyond that, truly listen to your partner’s opinions and be open to change so you can be financially equal.
Appreciate, Appreciate, Appreciate
Regardless of whether you earn more or less than your partner, be sure to pull your weight in the relationship.
If your partner is left with all of the housework as a result of your high income and long hours, take time to appreciate the work that is done around the house. The garbage bags don’t change themselves and no toilet remains clean without scrubbing.
If you’re the partner that earns less, be sure to take time to appreciate your partner’s motivation, skills and commitment.
The truth is that both of you bring unique experiences and talents to the relationship. Appreciate each other for the little things, the big things and everything in between.
Jake, a teacher in Los Angeles, had always appreciated his fiancee, but it wasn’t until he started telling her that he appreciated all of the hours she put in at her demanding engineering job that things got better.
“There was a lot of unspoken tension in our relationship. I felt like I took care of all the house chores and she felt like she was working long hours so we could one day afford a house. Both of us felt like the other person didn’t care about the work we were doing. But the truth is that I’m so proud of her and all she has accomplished in her career. I started making a conscious effort to tell her…she did the same for me and it’s been way better.”
The truth is that salaries and jobs can change in an instant. You and your partner will probably experience career changes, career breaks and job loss throughout your relationship.
The best way to prepare for the inevitably of change is to communicate openly and honestly with your other half…even when it’s hard or awkward.