Money and Relationships

How Money Inequality Is Hurting Your Relationship Right Now

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Money inequality is a big point of contention for a lot of couples. When one person earns more than the other, it can feel uncomfortable. It’s a cause of financial stress.

Someone buys a video game or a new pair of shoes and it starts a fight. Or the couple is comprised of one spender and one saver. The spender is always angry at what they consider the miserliness of the saver and the saver is angry at what they consider the profligate behavior of the spender. We all know couples like those and have probably been part of one at some point in our lives.

Does Money Affect Your Relationships

However, money inequality is something different. When one partner makes way more money than the other and basically subsidizes the other person.  And for the most part, does so happily because the gulf is so vast, the higher-earning partner doesn’t really notice and certainly doesn’t mind.

And for the lesser earning partner, this seems great at the start. Dinners out, concert tickets, an apartment overlooking Central Park, European vacations! What on earth is there to complain about?

There is nothing to complain about, or rather you feel you have no right to complain. About anything. And this is where the problems start. And to be clear I’m not talking about Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommies.  Those couples seem to have made their deal with the devil and both seem to understand the rules better than what I’m talking about.

In my scenario, both people are of comparable age, education, backgrounds, and levels of attractiveness. So neither side had ulterior motives entering into the relationship. They loved each other and loved being together.

couple holding hands

The Beginnings of Financial Stress

But when you are the lower earner in the scenario, the money inequality starts to niggle. You don’t work the crazy hours the higher earner does so a lot of the mundane tasks of day to day life fall to you to take care of.

The laundry, the cleaning, the food planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning. If you’re the lower-earning partner, your time is always less valuable.

You have more time because you aren’t in the office until midnight so you pick up the dry cleaning, you stay home waiting for the Time Warner tech to show up, you buy, wrap, and ship the Christmas presents for his family (and your own), you find them a doctor and schedule (and reschedule) the appointments.

Planning all social activities is your job too and you quickly learn to keep your feelings to yourself when your carefully laid plans are canceled at the last minute because of your partner’s work commitments. Even vacations that you’ve arranged time off from your job to go on are not immune.

It’s not their fault, it’s beyond their control but it still stings. And if you are in fact human and not a robot and show any glimmer of disappointment, you will quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a lecture about how your reaction has made them feel guilty about something that they cannot help.

So you learn to swallow your feelings, and your constant refrain is, “It’s ok, it doesn’t matter. Another time.” No matter how long you had been planning something and no matter how much you and they had been looking forward to it. It is what it is.

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Keep It To Yourself

And let me tell you, this is not a recipe for a happy relationship. Constantly swallowing your feelings and objections to the point of gagging makes you resentful.

And when your partner has outside interests, as all of us do, it’s even worse.  They want to play soccer twice a week. And you know it’s good for them.  Physical activity is a stress reliever, and they are under near-constant stress.

And the beers with the teammates afterward is an excellent networking opportunity. But you start to wonder how they can carve out time for that but not time for you.

Then you feel guilty for being so selfish.

Work events are always fraught too. To be honest, when you are in a room full of lawyers and they ask what you do, you feel embarrassed when you aren’t something so high flying.

Lawyers aren’t exactly known for letting their hair down no matter how many drinks they have and if you want to dance at the office Christmas party, no one will join you on the dance floor.

So you just sort of stand in a corner hoping everyone will ignore you. And mostly they do. They all stand around in little groups talking about anti-trust issues and patent law and no matter how much you know about art, history, and literature, no one is interested because they are all just talking shop which is all Greek to you.

Not Complaining Means Not Communicating

And now we come back to the lack of complaining which at its core is a lack of communication. You feel like you can’t complain and so you don’t until things are so irrevocably broken that the relationship falls apart. You watch your life together fall apart via Smart Phone.

It’s so hard to complain when you feel like you have nothing to complain about. Who dares complain when they have everything that they ever wanted? And you are scared that if you complain, the other person will say, “You don’t like it? Take your stuff and get out. Anyone would give their left arm to be where you are now.”

But your partner won’t say that unless they are a complete jerk and then you have a problem that is not addressed in this article. I can do another one for that if there is any demand.

How Do You Deal with Money Inequality?

All relationships are give and take but we are conditioned to believe the one “taking” money just has to suck it up because money is the greatest thing, the thing anyone would choose over anything else. But you know that isn’t the truth. And a partner that really loves you would be devastated to find out you feel this way.

If you are in this situation, sit down and have a frank discussion with your partner. There are some things people can’t control; long hours and tight deadlines. But there are ways to compromise, to work around those things.

The alternative is that you finally snap and decide to leave or your partner can’t take any more of your simmering resentment that you have not been hiding as successfully as you thought you had been and asks you to leave.  Don’t wait until it gets to this point. Money should never feel like power in a loving relationship.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.
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