Can Your Partner Earning More Money Than You Ruin Your Relationship?

Can Your Partner Earning More Money Than You Ruin Your Relationship? main image

The world revolves around money – whether we want to admit it or not. And although a lot of us feel that our partner’s salary doesn’t – and shouldn’t – matter, for some relationships severe cracks can start to show if your finances aren’t in sync.

When navigating a relationship, the last thing you’ll want to talk about is your financial situation. But avoiding the topic – no matter how difficult a discussion – will inevitably cause a real issue.

If there is a big pay disparity in your relationship, what can that mean for you or your partner? Could it be a ticking timebomb for the relationship’s demise?

We spoke with relationship experts, April Beyer – Dating Expert, CEO & Founder of LEVEL Connections™ – and Shula Melamed MA MPH – Relationship and Wellbeing Coach – to find out more.

Relationship dynamics

Melamed warned us that a substantial difference in salary might affect a relationship’s dynamic: “If one person is dependent on another and it makes them feel uncomfortable or controlled by the other, that is an unhealthy dynamic.

“If someone feels crippling insecurity or feels they are a less valued member of the couple or society that is not healthy. We all contribute in our own ways and if the couple cannot find a way to reconcile this it could be unhealthy.”

On a more focused level, Beyer said this unequal dynamic can be dependent on gender, with low-earning men likely to feel inadequate and possibly even be viewed as a less attractive potential partner by others.

“For example, most women are comfortable in a relationship where the man makes a higher salary, but not so inclined to date someone who makes less,” Beyer said.

“This can trigger a power struggle as well as creating feelings of inadequacy from a male perspective if his partner is far more successful.”

Considering social circles

Even if you are able to be at peace with your partner earning a lot more than you, you might still have issues when it’s time to socialize as a couple and with friends.

Melamed said: “The only place where it gets dicey is if the person with the higher income would like to have experiences that cost more money and the lower wage earner refuses to accept some financial help from the higher earner to join.

“It is also key for couples to be respectful of each other's social circles,” she added, highlighting the way different groups of people may be used to a different standard of experience. Slumming it down the local pub might be cheap, but you need to be understanding if your partner more normally hangs out with friends in exclusive wine bars and restaurants.

The importance of financial conversations

Talking about finances and your salary can be one of the hardest conversations to have in a relationship, particularly early on.

This is why Beyer feels discussion of finances should be off the table until a relationship is an established one: “Unless you're entering into an engagement or considering living together, financial conversations can be a slippery slope.

“Be honest, but also have awareness of the status of your relationship. If you're simply dating someone and getting to know them, their financial life is private and should be off-limits until a substantial relationship has been established.”

Melamed agrees with this notion to an extent: “Along with sex, finances can be one of the most difficult/taboo subject matters of conversation for even the most intimately bonded couple.”

But how can couple get around this? Melamed said: “How much of an issue this is or isn't really depends on the individuals in the relationship. If someone places importance on having had the same experiences and income levels it will be important.”

Compromise and sacrifice

Every successful relationship is built on an ability to compromise, but that doesn’t mean one of you has to give up your lucrative job or turn your back on pursuing your dreams in favor of a bigger paycheck.

Making such a big sacrifice can only be destabilizing, according to Beyer: “It depends on the quality of your relationship. You can't put a relationship ahead of your dreams because in doing so, you're sacrificing something that is equally important to your self-worth and happiness.

“If you're in the right relationship, your success will be supported and celebrated by your partner. In other words, you never have to choose between your career and your relationship if you CHOOSE well.”

If an income disparity in your relationship does become a problem, an open conversation will need to happen. Melamed said: “Recognize it can be a sensitive and emotional topic for some and very cut and dry for others. Try to understand each other’s perspective. It might be hard but once you get to the other side you can plan your life more freely, collaboratively and transparently.”

Ultimately though, Beyer told us no obstacle around money should really stand in the way of a successful relationship, providing both people can get on the same page: “There's a false expectation that singles should only date others who earn the same amount or more. But money should never be a driver in your love life because there can be an ebb and flow of salary and potential earnings along the way.

“Therefore, it's far better to strive for shared educational and work ethic values which put you in a target environment with someone who has the potential for growth in the areas that are most important to you.”

Niamh Ollerton, Deputy Head of Content at QS
Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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