For probably 2/3 of my relationship my income has clearly been more than my wife’s, both of us working in professional fields. For the last 1/3, we’ve jockeyed back and forth but have generally been fairly close in compensation. For me, I don’t really care about what I’m paid, and there have been many years where I don’t even know my salary…I simply have “enough” and feel I’m being compensated fairly. For my wife, despite her ascertation to the contrary, has strong feminist viewpoints, at least in some areas. And one of those largest areas is in pay between men and women. She carries that issue like a chip on her shoulder, is super competitive, and for her personally, uses it as a black and white scorecard on how she is valued as a person and employee. She agonizes and gets angry over that fact, and left her past job over the issue, despite making what I considered a fair salary. I’m not saying she is right or wrong, but this is how she is wired.
I didn’t really give too much thought to how salary or compensation or type of job impacts the dynamics of a marriage. I’m guessing for some families, it really doesn’t matter who makes more money, or how the chores are distributed, or who has more flexibility to deal with family obligations, as long as things get done for the betterment of the family. All income gets lumped in a pot, all chores and family stuff gets lumped in a pot, and everyone shares a part of that. But for the modern feminist professional type who defines their worth by a paycheck, it seems like things are different.
Let me illustrate with a brief story. A few years ago, my friend and his wife both agreed he would be a stay-at-home dad. He absolutely hated working, and she made some really nice coin, thus it was decided he’d stay at home with their toddler/pre-school kid. Well it became apparent she wasn’t happy with the situation. Answering the “What does your husband do?” question to other corporate climbers is embarrassing if he doesn’t at least have a stable trade job or something manly or professional. She lost respect for him, eventually cheating on him and getting divorced. Obviously, it’s more complex than that, but that was the start of the end. This happened with my brother too, when he lost his job and was unemployed or underemployed for a long period (among other issues), his wife felt the world on her shoulders as the primary source of family income and stability. They both didn’t feel their husband were adequately contributing to the family and it eventually came to a head.
So let it be said that your job does impact how your wife may look at you if she’s cut from a similar cloth, even if she’s a great mom, family orientated, and loves you. Part of it has to be biological – wanting the best provider for her, even if she’s an excellent provider herself (hypergamy). Can’t really fault her, but it can be a challenge for many men who marry women with higher earning potential. It’s challenging enough for men to be the Alpha-leader in the family without your wife making comments on how she should be able to spend frivolously because she makes more, devaluing your opinion and influence on the family or finances.
This has come to light in my own situation recently and is leaving me conflicted. As I’m evaluating jobs, some have been for the state Government which inevitably pay less (one job I’ll be interviewing for here shortly pays about 9% less overall compensation, even when counting the present value of the defined benefit plan- AKA pension) than the private sector, but the benefits are nice (twice as many paid days off, pension, flexible and set hours with no work from home, you know the drill). Another option is with a former company and a boss/mentor that wants to groom me as his replacement for his retirement in a few years. I met with him for lunch yesterday, and in my gut I just can’t get excited going back there (about 4 years later), at least right now (maybe I’ll come around to the idea if my other options have been exhausted, but they seem more like a backup plan right now in my heart of heart).
My wife, the corporate climber, has already expressed anxiety about this. When she was growing up, she had to help her divorced single mom pay the bills through jobs in high school, and felt a lot of pressure at the time, which is manifesting again today. So she’s, shall we say, less than excited that if I’m a Government dude I’d be making a large amount less than her ( we’re potentially talking $30k gross salary difference here- though about half that after factoring in the retirement stuff) so she’s feeling more pressure. Despite the fact I make less than her now, we’re within shouting distance, so it doesn’t seem to bother her. While this doesn’t surprise me, knowing what I know about relationship dynamics, it is still interesting and somewhat disheartening that what may be “best” for my own interests of job satisfaction may be a detriment to our family life or marriage, despite the fact that as a couple we have “enough” in my opinion. At least she’s being honest so we can broach this complex subject with awareness.
Nothing has even occurred yet (like interviews or hard salary discussions), but there may come a day in the near future when I may have to make a decision between more money (and stress) with the private side versus less money (and stress, but more security and possibly boredom) on the government side. My marital dynamics and family income and goals will play a part in this decision, as will life and job satisfaction. I’m not sure how the chips will fall yet, but at least I understand the dynamics and potential ramifications of not handling this with kid gloves. It will be an interesting month or three as we work through these things.
If anyone has any input or has dealt with anything similar (going from public to private or vice versa, or choosing a job that ends up paying less for the potential for additional satisfaction or stability), I’d appreciate it. If you don’t want to comment on this post, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.