Post written by Corey Allan. Follow me on Twitter.
During this economic downturn, families and marriages are feeling the strain. Many are having to cut back on expenses, plan for the future differently, or maybe even finding second or third jobs if possible, there likely are few marriages that have avoided the emotional hit of this stress.
But what about those couples who are “traditional” in nature? He works and is the major breadwinner of the family while she is either at home to care for the kids or has a job and is still the primary one responsible for home management.
What happens when either through loss of a job or cut-backs or through her getting a promotion and she makes more than him?
There are probably many people who read this and believe that it would be no big deal. You could easily handle the shift. While it may indeed be true, how do you know?
I was in this camp several years ago.
I started off in the ministry and my wife is a CPA so I knew it was likely only a matter of time before she made more than I could make in ministry. When this happened close to 11 years ago, at first it wasn’t a big deal. But after a couple of months, I noticed my spirits were down and my esteem hurt.
Our switch occurred when I left a job in order to head back to school so we made the choice to dramatically change our income. And even though I was in school working towards a new career, there was still a “status” hit to my ego.
It’s strange but our society has such an impact on our psyche that whenever normal roles are not followed there is an emotional hit to some degree. This hit was not limited to only me. My wife felt additional pressure as well.
As the years progressed and kids entered the picture, we’ve kept the same roles – she is the primary breadwinner and I’m the primary childcare provider. For us, it works. It plays into our strengths.
While the circumstances surrounding the reason she may make more than you may vary widely, there are a few things you can do that may help lessen the emotional turmoil. Editor’s Note: This topic can in no way be covered easily in one or even several posts and these ideas are not meant as platitudes, only seeds for further discussion.
- Communication must be respectful and considerate. It’s easy to take out your frustrations on your spouse rather than the situation. As tensions and frustrations rise, remember that you are in this together. If necessary, seek assistance through therapy or hire a coach to help create a plan of action.
- If she makes more than you due to a job loss, do what you can to find work. The best advice I’ve come across on this subject is treat finding a job like a job. Get up early, get dressed, take a lunch break. Also, don’t overlook the idea of finding a job to provide some support while still looking for a career job.
- Talk about role responsibilities. A great deal of resentment can build between partners during this time. He may not take care of the house the way she wants, the kids may not be dressed as cute, etc. She may have difficulty handling the added stress of providing financially for the family. Part of discussing these issues is the realization that in most instances there isn’t a right and wrong, only opinions and experiences.
- Be humble. Through times of transition and change, you each may provide something different. Perhaps rather than bringing in the money, he takes care of the house and kids while she brings in the money. Whatever is brought to the table needs to be brought humbly.
- Create a marriage and family plan. What helps us is knowing that I am working towards assuming the role from her in the future. It will help a great deal to have a plan, whether it’s a 1, 5, 9 or 20 year plan it doesn’t matter. Having something you are both working towards can help keep things in perspective.
- Live simply. During the beginning of our role reversal we lived on 30% of what were making the previous year. We discovered that we didn’t need near as much as we thought in order to live. Simplification has become our motto to this day.
- Be aware of the cultural influence on your identity. It can be a major ego hit when a man is a stay at home dad. He may be thought of as less-than by other men since he doesn’t “provide” for his family. For the woman, she may hear things like “What’s wrong with you, why don’t you love your children?” These are external expectations and influences, not law. If she has more earning potential or he’s a better home manager, play to your strengths. If she can find a job easier than him in order to cover the gap while he’s between jobs, it’s a temporary situation, treat it as such.
These are just a few ideas for a complex topic, what’s your thought and experience?