For years my husband Bear and I toiled away at low-paying non-profit jobs.
For the most part, our salaries were pretty comparable. With every raise or promotion, we’d leapfrog each other by small degrees. We both had side hustles, too: me as a freelance editor, him as a bouncer at a nightclub. (Which… sucked.)
Slowly, things changed.
My raises and promotions weren’t keeping up with his. He was outearning me, and able to quit his side hustle (which was great, because getting puked on is no fun). Whereas I had to freelance more to bring in even close to what he brought home. It was one of the first signs that I needed to quit my job at a non-profit publishing house. So I did. I left for a higher-paying job in the for-profit sector. And I was back on track, making a salary equal to my husband’s! All was well in the land of Equal Division of Labor!
But then things changed again.
I got a newer, better, cooler day job.My side business took off, too. And suddenly, I now make more money than my husband… by a lot. Which has given me a lot to think about what a truly equal marriage looks like.
Wealthy wives, unhappy husbands
Did you know that men, in general, don’t like it when their wives outearn them? Studies show that it stresses them the fuck out.
Some men feel threatened or ashamed when their wives make more money than they do. In fact, among different gender couples, wives outearning their husbands increases the rate of divorce by 33%. In such partnerships, both the low-earning men and high-earning women are substantially more likely to cheat on each other, indicating a degree of pretty extreme unhappiness.
I’ve never heard anything so ridiculously counterintuitive. One partner in a partnership making more money should be great news to the other, no matter their gender! It’s more money for the whole household! More money for the couple’s joint financial goals! We live in a country that worships at the Holy Church of Hustling. So what the hell kind of red-blooded Amurican husband wouldn’t celebrate his partner making more money?
I’m feigning ignorance, of course. I understand perfectly well why some men freak the fuck out when their wives outearn them. As with many gross, hateful, counterintuitive things in our society, I blame ~*~the patriarchy~*~.
The provider stereotype and patriarchal expectations in partnerships
Many men are still socialized from childhood to encapsulate the role of protector and provider. This deeply-ingrained stereotype is one example of how~*~the patriarchy~*~ also hurts men.
That expectation creates a miserable amount of pressure, which men are expected to bear stoically. Paradoxically, having a spouse or partner step up to help doesn’t necessarily feel any better. Because when that role of provider is subverted by, say, a female spouse making more money, that threatens the provider’s core identity.
If you’ve been socialized for decades to be a provider, a breadwinner, the one who takes care of things… then who are you when your wife takes on that role? Does that, in fact, make you the wife? Because as we all know, nothing is worse than being a woman!
Despite all the strides women have made in closing the education and employment gaps, gendered expectations on providing haven’t budged. They even influence same-sex couples, who tend to ascribe traditionally “masculine” expectations upon whichever parter displays moretraditionally “masculine” traits.
And yet they persist.
Miss me with all that heteronormative nonsense. Now that I make more money than my husband, I’m singlehandedly bringing down the entire patriarchy. You’re heckin’ welcome, America.
Why it feels good to make more money than my husband
Back to my wholesome feminist marriage.
Ever since the pandemic hit, we’ve started a new marital tradition. We begin and end each day together.
I generally get up first because I am a Morning Person™ and Bear patently Is Not™. The dog and I make a french press full of coffee and then the dog brings it to him in bed. (Technically I make and deliver the coffee, but the dog always goes prancing into the bedroom ahead of me to take credit for it. He won’t let me put it down on the nightstand until Bear pets him and tells him what a good job he did. We didn’t realize this was weird until Bear casually mentioned to some friends “When the dog brought me coffee yesterday…”)
Every evening, we end our day by sitting together in the backyard, watching the sun go down behind our massive tomato plants while the chickens range about eating weeds.
On one such evening, Bear broached the subject of switching jobs. He has an opportunity to interview for a job he isn’t entirely sold on, doing really difficult work. When I asked him why on earth he’d consider leaving his current fulfilling role to take on something that sounds miserable, he just shrugged and said “It’s more money.”
Two providers, half the stress
Once upon a time, that would have been that. Of course either of us would take a job for more money. We needed that bread!
But now… our circumstances are different. So I told him, “Money doesn’t get to decide.”
And it’s true. We don’t need the money. I make enough now that we could scrape by on my salary alone. It’s an incredible privilege in more ways than one. So we can afford for Bear to pass up a higher-paying job opportunity, if it’s not what he wants to do.
Sure, it might mean we permanently miss out on the opportunity to fast-track our financial goals. Maybe we don’t retire so early. Maybe our emergency fund stays a little less padded. But we won’t suffer. We can pay the mortgage, afford groceries, and keep our clinically unintelligent chickens in sunflower seeds. And we can do all that on my salary alone.
Because I make more money than my husband, he has the freedom to make career decisions independent of financial necessity.
“As you wish.”
My husband was put on this earth to save the damn children. He has dedicated his entire career to working for nonprofits that serve under-privileged youth. And he’s really, really good at it. He takes his mission seriously. He believes in providing opportunities for kids no one else believes in. And his work has life-changing results.
If I can enable him to keep pursuing his life’s mission, to keep doing good for good’s sake… then I will. If I can make enough money that he doesn’t have to quit saving the world to help pay our mortgage, I will.
I want to do that for him. I want to give him that gift! Because I love how much he cares. I love how much making the world a better place matters to him. His fundamental mission in life, his reason for being, is part of why I love him. Why would I ever want him to sacrifice that?
I realized something, sitting there watching the sun go down and telling him we didn’t need him to give up his passion just for a bigger paycheck: It is incredibly motivating to me to give him a life where he can focus on his dream because I have the money part sorted.
It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know that he’ll never have to compromise his values in his work for something as asinine as money. And it makes me feel incredibly proud to be the reason for that. If the way to give him that gift is to make more money than my husband, then…
Financial abuse and the gender wage gap
There is nothing wrong with outearning your spouse, no matter your genders. There’s also no shame in earning less than them. Loving relationships come in many forms, but the important thing to remember is that equality in a relationship is an attitude and a behavior, not a dollar amount.
If you make more money than your partner… don’t be a dick about it. Don’t lord it over them. Money isn’t a tool to win arguments, weasel out of other forms of labor, or get your partner to do something they otherwise wouldn’t want to do. When taken to extremes, that becomes financial abuse.
Unequal incomes within a relationship can contribute to financial abuse escalating to other forms of violence. Far too many people stay in abusive relationships because they simply can’t afford to leave. They’re dependent on their abuser’s income for survival. And that’s heartbreaking. I’m horrified at the idea of using money to oppress someone you’re supposed to love and cherish.
Now that I make more money than my husband… I view it as a gift, not a weapon. It’s not a trump card in the poker game of our marriage. And it’s certainly not a tool to emasculate him.
The stereotypes I referenced above about “male providers” are positively old school. I cringe to think that anyone still subscribes to the mentality that a married man should make more than his wife. For one thing… The Gays can get married now! To each other! For another, this traditionalist mindset contributes more than a little to the gender wage gap.
Institutionalized unequal pay along gender lines in a relationship isn’t just bad for society at large. It’s bad for the relationship… and the health and safety of spouses of any gender.
We can do better
Here’s my last point: because I make more money than my husband, and because he’s cool with that, we are passively contributing to the dismantling of harmful social expectations around money within a family unit. (You thought I was joking with that whole “You’re welcome, America” thing above, didn’t you?)
Because contrary to what the Supreme Court has to say about it, we’re still a long way from true marriage equality in this country. Although same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, many other antiquated laws and social expectations persist that make truly equal life partnerships challenging. For example, the legal and financial penalties to disabled people seeking to marry are appalling and indefensible.
Those legal and social restrictions are built on prescriptive suppositions that there is one right way for a family to be structured, and any deviance must be punished. When we personally reject those expectations within our own partnerships, we make it easier to imagine and pursue a multitude of rewarding, satisfying alternatives.
And that’s pretty much why I decided to share my story. I want to be an example to other partnered couples of what it means to accept and embrace less traditional financial family structures. Because FUCK a traditional anything.
I am the provider in our marriage now. I’m providing him with the freedom to pursue his dream career. And that’s fucking great for our relationship.