Illustration: Olivia Fields
There’s a case to be made for Friday as the best day of the week. For 9-to-5 workers, it marks the end of a workweek, with all the fun, freedom, and limitless possibility of the weekend shining their way. There’s even a classic film franchise named in its honor. And for those of us on a biweekly payment schedule, Friday is the day when direct deposit hits your account — along with the bonus dopamine hit to your system.
But how would you feel knowing that every time you get paid, your partner is raking in three times as much? Would your ego be able to take it? Would Fridays still be so sweet?
Let’s flip it and reverse it: How would you feel if you were bringing in significantly more money than your partner? Would you encourage them to try to make more, simply hope they contributed in other ways — or do neither, and let it be?
Money issues are the number two cause of divorce, right after infidelity. It can be a form of real or perceived power in a relationship, and when that power isn’t equally distributed, the resulting imbalance can cause miscommunication, resentment, acting out, even depression.
I’ve been in relationships where I literally begged my partner not to look for a higher paying job because his time and presence at home was far more valuable than a little more money — which would inevitably have gone to cover added expenses like commuting and childcare.
If you’re not bringing home nearly equal slices of bacon — or if one person has a clearly defined nonprofessional role, like stay-at-home parent — things can get sticky. Here’s how to keep the difference in dollars from leaving your relationship with a negative balance.
1. Consider what each person contributes — outside of money
It’s important to understand how your household operates and what’s most important. If you make significantly less than your partner — and their financial contributions take care of your material needs — try to calculate your value in other ways, and find ways to make their life easier. That could mean domestic responsibilities like laundry and driving the kids to school, or it could mean stepping up to coordinate things both fun (date nights and vacations) and not (household budget).
This goes in both directions; partnership is partnership, and outdated ideas of who’s “supposed” to handle which relationship duties thankfully disappeared long ago. I’ve been in relationships where I literally begged my partner not to look for a higher paying job because his time and presence at home was far more valuable than a little more money — which would inevitably have gone to cover added expenses like commuting and childcare.
2. Have a frank conversation
Disclosing your salary with your partner can be a big step in the relationship. But at some point, it needs to happen (especially if you’re planning to shack up). That conversation can open the door to determining each person’s monetary contributions. The only way you can truly work as a team is if you’re both on the same page — which requires both parties knowing what’s on the page in the first place.
That doesn’t mean everything is smooth sailing. Significant financial decisions like buying a house or making a big investment become even more complicated when one person earns more — and thus contributes more. Big outlays come with big stress, and not being aligned only adds to that stress.
3. Make a plan and stick to it
If you’re out of work and your job hunt hasn’t been fruitful, talk to your partner about pausing the search, if possible. One or two months of building a better résumé, taking a class toward a certificate, and doing some additional training in your field could make the search less stressful — and likely work out better for your professional future in the long run.
4. Join forces
This one isn’t for everyone. But if you can pull it off, more power to you. If you and your partner are in similar fields, think about establishing an LLC or an S Corp and having all earnings combined. When a singular entity like a corporation is bringing in the money, it’s not as critical to itemize where it’s coming from. Again, it’s the rare couple that can pull this one off (*waves at fiancée*). Not only must the jobs be complementary, each person has to be ready (and qualified) to fully support the other in their projects. My partner is way more valuable for our company as a producer of three of our podcasts and three for other folks than he would be at a 10-to-6 job similar to mine.
5. Check your ego and chip in where you can
You know your partner is frustrated with carrying the load financially. And you know there’s pressure for you to contribute. Consider work that puts something on the table. Paying one bill consistently is better than paying no bills. If your partner truly doesn’t want you to, then don’t. But it’s worth a try. The effort has value, too.