How To Deal When One Partner Makes Way More Money Than the Other
28 Sep 2021 •5 min read
Money matters in a relationship. Sure, in an ideal world, financial issues would stay far away from your love life. But we don’t live in that world, and the two are intertwined. Your financial standing impacts all areas of your lifestyle from where you can afford to live to how you manage your budget. So, when there’s a financial gap between you and your partner, it can cause some serious problems.
"Arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce," said Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of personal financial planning at Kansas State University in a recent paper. "It's not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It's money—for both men and women."
Worse news: Should you find yourself already bickering about your cash flow situation early on in your marriage, it could mean a divorce is on the horizon. Britt led a study called “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce,” which suggested that couples who argue about their finances early on are more likely to separate.
"You can measure people's money arguments when they are very first married," continued Britt. "When they were first together and already arguing about money, there is a good chance they are going to have poor relationship satisfaction."
If all of the above sounds familiar, it’s time to do something about it. When either you or your partner make significantly more than the other, it can be a tricky topic. However, dealing with the issue head-on is the way to go. Here are some tips to try for yourself.
Talk openly about the issue.
First things first, the elephant in the room. You’re going to need to talk about money. Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. It simply means that it’s harder to speak about finances in the long run. The longer you ignore the difference in what you earn, the harder the conversation will feel when you need to have it. (And you will need to!)
Of course, there’s time and a place for this chat. You should make sure that you both have the time for a proper talk, i.e. don’t try to grab your partner on their lunch break or between Zoom meetings. Make sure that you’re both relaxed and open to the conversation.
When you start talking about money, focus on the positives. Avoid accusing your partner of not making enough or, on the other side of that, spending too much. Instead, talk about how you can both feel more comfortable with money. Work together to make that happen.
Make a budget—that works for you both!
Do you budget right now? If the answer is no, you may need to change your ways. Failing to have a budget means that neither one of you know how much things will cost. While that’s no big deal for the primary earner, the partner who makes less may find it stressful. Take the hassle out of this issue by working out how much things cost each month.
For instance, if you live together, you should figure out how much the rent or mortgage is, the average cost of bills, and any additional charges. Add the total sum together and then divide it by two or by your income ratio. That’s a starting point. It will give you both an idea of how much your monthly outgoings are and what you need to put aside at the start of the month.
Why stop there? When you have your main household budget down, you can take things a step further. You can also create a “date night” budget or an “eating out” budget. Having a grasp on how much you can both spend on these things could be a real game-changer. When the time comes to head out for a date or meal, you’ve already got the cost covered.
Open up a joint checking account.
There’s nothing wrong with having separate checking accounts. When one of you makes significantly more in a relationship, chances are they won’t want to share all of their earnings all of the time. And that’s perfectly okay. However, when it comes to paying for shared responsibilities, getting a joint checking account is the way to go to keep it all together.
It may seem like a small thing, but having this third account means that you’re not continuously splitting bills. Plus, when you each have your own account too, it means that you have the financial freedom we all need. You can spend your own money on the things that you want. Decide how much money you need to put into your joint account each month and stick to it. That means there should be zero surprises or arguments about bills.
Compromise with each other.
Relationships are all about compromise. When one of you earns more money than the other, things are no different. Despite the gap in finances, you will spend a lot of your free time together. That may mean going out for dinner, heading on day trips, and going on vacation. While one of you may be rolling in cash, that doesn’t mean that you have to lead a lavish lifestyle. Doing so could make the other feel uncomfortable.
While the higher earner may want to treat their partner now and then, making this the norm could lead to resentment. Similarly, trying to split the cost of expensive dates when one of you earns less puts unwarranted stress on that person. The solution is to do things that you can both afford. For example, when date night rolls around, talk about things you could do that are within your shared budget. That way, neither one of you will feel put out and you can have a romantic evening without any tricky topics coming up.
Here's the top takeaway!
Let’s face it, conquering money issues is anything but easy. However, if you want your relationship to survive long-term (of course, you do!), you’re going to need to get over this hurdle together. There’s no shame in one partner making more than the other. That’s bound to happen! Luckily, finding a way to keep things in balance when it comes to your shared finances will help you keep your relationship on track.