Whether you are newlyweds or you’ve been together for decades, money and how it’s handled can often play an important role in your overall happiness and satisfaction in the relationship. But when there’s income inequality brought into the picture, couples can experience an unexpected strain on their partnership.
If you make less, should you feel guilty about spending more? How should you handle paying the bills? While there’s no steadfast rule to handling income inequality, there are a few important takeaways you and your spouse can discuss to help level the playing field and make both parties comfortable in your financial situation.
Why Income Inequality Can Cause Issues
Money can get complicated, especially in a relationship. The levels of complexity only grow when you factor in things like student debt, job loss, raising a child and more. Below are a few reasons why income inequality can create a rift between you and your loved one.
It Can Become a Power Struggle
You’ve likely heard the quote “money is power,” and in some instances of income inequality, this can reign true. The spouse who makes more may feel more entitled to control the family dynamics. They might control how much the other is allowed to spend, how they spend their free time and where they go on vacation year after year.
Guilt & Resentment Occur
If you’re the spouse who is earning less, it’s not uncommon to feel guilty for spending your partner’s money. This can even go so far as to deny yourself the use of your family’s money and forgoing your own needs to ensure you’re not taking what you think isn’t yours to spend. On the flip side, the higher earner may find he or she is resenting their spouse for spending money they worked hard to earn. The higher earner may feel like they’re being taken advantage of, or that their spouse isn’t pulling enough of their own weight.
Overspending Feels Easier
If you’re earning more, you may not feel the need to budget or track your spending. This can quickly lead to one spouse overspending the couple’s money, leaving the other spouse with little to no income left for their discretionary spending. This may occur as a form of entitlement or power, as the higher earner feels that they have the right to spend their extra money however they please.
How to Handle Income Inequality
The good news is, there are a few things you and your spouse can do or discuss to help avoid these common money conflicts.
Start an Open Dialogue
Many people, especially those raised with more traditional or old-fashioned values, don’t like to discuss money - even (or especially) with their spouse. But if you’re facing an issue like income inequality, it simply won’t resolve itself. The first positive step forward is to start talking to one another about your concerns. Figure out each of your stances on the situation and the expectations you both have in regards to controlling money, extra spending, etc. Remember, you’re rooting for the same team - yourselves. No need to get accusatory or blameful.
Establish a Budget & Assess it Regularly
Make sure you’re putting your finances all on the same page by creating a budget for your family. Determine together how much extra income is left at the end of the day after covering expenses and setting aside some savings. This is where the open lines of communication come into play, as you can talk through what each partner should be spending of that discretionary income each month. This can provide a perfect opportunity to bring up concerns such as feelings of guilt or validation in spending. Come together once a week, once a month or as often as you agree upon to go over the budget and spending, making sure you’re staying on the same page.
Try to Equal Out the Work
Income inequality can stem from one partner feeling as though the other isn’t pulling their weight. As you maintain your open dialogue about money, it’s important to discuss these feelings. If you’re working 40 hours a week at a full-time job and your partner is working part-time 20 hours a week, maybe you both agree that the one working fewer hours takes on more responsibility at home. This, in turn, helps ensure they’re pulling their weight and meeting the expectations in the relationship. Whether you’re the higher earner or lesser earner in the relationship, it’s important to consider the effort needed to maintain a home and how that should play into your financial picture as a couple.
Even the most compatible couples can feel the tensions of income inequality. And while every couple is different, it’s important to remember to simply start with communicating your concerns to your partner. Doing so can help you both get on the same page and start developing a plan to reduce anxieties about money and strengthen your relationship.
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