What to do when you earn much less – or more – than your partner


If only money didn’t make the world go round, but unfortunately it often does. It would be great to think we could live off love alone, but in the real world, money is necessary. If there’s a big difference in the salaries you and your partner earn, it could become a sticking point in your relationship.

Perhaps it’s that the partner who earns more suggests eating out at expensive places all the time, and the partner with less money feels uncomfortable having to say they can’t afford it. Salaries determine what role each person takes in a relationship. The higher earner will spend less time worrying about money, and may be seen as having more power in the relationship. Whatever the issue, as your relationship progresses, it will need to be addressed.

Here are five steps towards making sure money doesn’t rule your relationship:

Talk about it
We’re not saying you should present each other with detailed spreadsheets of your incomings and outgoings, but if your differing salaries are becoming more apparent, and your relationship is becoming more serious, you need bring it out in the open.

Explain what money means to you – what you like to spend it on, etc. – and how you see it figuring in your relationship. If you’re planning on building a future with this person, but you don’t want to talk about your finances, then you need to just get over it. This problem isn’t going away.

Think about the past
How was money dealt with and talked about when you were younger? Maybe your parents’ financial problems in the past are making you hesitant about joining incomes with someone in your present. You and your partner need to figure out how you can work together, rather than against each other. By sharing information on your past history with money, you will be better equipped to deal with money as a couple.

Don’t become imbalanced
If you’re dating someone with a vastly different wage, compromises will have to be made. Unfortunately, if these compromises are that the partner who earns the most offers to pay (for dinner, holidays – whatever) all the time, and the partner who earns the least grudgingly agrees, then resentment will build. Eventually, this will come to a head in an argument – the high earner gets angry about paying all the time, the lower earner gets angry about being patronised – and things might get critical. The key – and yes, we’ve said this before, but it’s so true – is to talk. Establish your financial roles within your relationship and you should avoid big areas of conflict.

Establish your boundaries

Even if you’re planning on spending the rest of your life with someone, that doesn’t mean you should relinquish all your independence. Keep separate bank accounts so that when it comes to you treating yourself, you don’t need to explain away your withdrawal from your joint bank account. It’s totally acceptable – nay, very sensible – to have your own account nowadays, so don’t feel bad about suggesting it to your partner. It’s your money, and as long as you’re not spending badly needed rent money on designer gear, you can spend it on what you like.

Remember: it’s not really about the money
When it comes down to it, your relationship and making each other happy is what matters, not how much you earn.  Money might be able to ensure you can always take an annual holiday, but it won’t be what keeps you together as a couple – though you’ll have to be careful it doesn’t pull you apart. If you’re a banker and he’s a social worker, you’re never going to earn the same salary, so you might as well accept that fact and move on.

A relationship is a partnership; you’re in it together. All you need is a little honesty, understanding, and the acceptance that that pooling your resources is far preferable to sitting on a huge pile of money alone.

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