Do Men Resent Female Breadwinners?
Dear Allison & David: I started an online business three years ago (that’s been a lot of work), and it’s recently taken off. I’m suddenly earning significantly more money than my husband, and I can tell it’s causing him resentment. There’s tension in our marriage that didn’t used to exist. What do I do? —Stressed for Success
Your husband’s resentment is likely masking an underlying insecurity. It’s easier for most men to turn to anger than to experience vulnerability. It sounds like you entered into this relationship on more-equal financial footing, or perhaps he was even the sole breadwinner. Either way, he’s now fallen victim to his ego. He’s lost the classic gender role of “the breadwinner” in your marriage, and no longer knows what part he’s supposed to play. He’s operating from a place of self-centered fear, which is clearly unhealthy—both for himself and your marriage.
First, here’s what not to do: Do not apologize for your success. Embrace it and allow yourself to stay in your power. It’s not your job as his partner to make him okay by playing down your success. That will only cause you to have your own unhealthy feelings of resentment later.
What you can do is open up a dialogue, starting by telling him how you feel. He may turn defensive, or try to put it back on you. Money is such a charged issue, so it’s also important that you lovingly detach from his reaction, and understand that it’s not about you. This may feel counterintuitive, but often when your partner is in a state of insecurity and projecting that back onto you, the best thing you can do is respond with love, which might be expressed simply by the energy and vibe you cast, or, perhaps by communicating gratitude for his own hard work and unwavering support (if that’s the case), or something else you’re grateful for that can open a positive dialogue.
“It’s not your job as his partner to make him okay by playing down your success.”
You can gently remind him that he is your “partner in crime.” It’s not a competition. If your marriage is solid and the foundation is there, he will come around to embrace this new normal, and maybe even discover something within himself that leads to something new. In the meantime, keep doing what you do because you’re an inspiration to all women who are trying to be the creator of their own lives.
Even as a young boy I had the sense that I’d one day be expected to become the primary breadwinner for my own future family. This was optimistic on several levels, making assumptions that, a) I’d actually grow up, b) I’d find a job, and c) I’d meet a woman willing to tolerate me.
My mother always worked, and had the same advanced degree as my father, but it was my dad who earned the lion share of our family’s income. Of course, I know there are all sorts of families, many of them headed by hard-working single parents. But it seems to me that only in the last few decades have we seen real growth in the phenomenon of women earning more money than their male partners. Frankly as a man, I sympathize with your husband. Like me, he was probably taught that your worth as a male is directly connected to—well—your worth. And despite decades of feminism and progressive thought, most men are still conditioned to want to be the ones to bash the sloth over the head and drag it back to the cave for dinner.
It sounds to me like your husband is experiencing a sort of cognitive dissonance: He thinks things should be one way, but reality is presenting him with something completely different. Again, I sympathize. I know women who have actually left men they loved and were wildly attracted to for these reasons. I’m not making judgements here—everyone is different. But as you two are married, I suggest having patience with your husband.
“It may be that sometimes he rows, sometimes you row—but you’re both in the boat. Gently tell him to forget whose oar is bigger.”
I get that it’s annoying to be “punished” for your success, but I imagine what’s really going on is more of an adjustment period for him. While more and more men are being faced with this scenario, it challenges centuries of conditioning. The good news is this isn’t a situation where you’re the only one earning money (which might work for some couples, but probably not for the majority). Your husband works, earns money, and probably even has ambitions for more. That’s a good thing. You’re a two-income family! Remind him of this.
There was a time (mostly when Allison was pregnant with our two children) that I was the only one working. On the one hand, it felt appropriate in a traditional sense. On the other hand, I kept thinking: It’ll be nice when she starts working again—we could use the money! Now there are times when Allison earns more money than I do (we’re both essentially freelancers), and I sometimes feel that little sting of inadequacy. But then I remember that when I make more money than she does, she doesn’t give me grief.
So tell your husband this: You two are partners, which is to say, you’re both in the boat. It may be that sometimes he rows, sometimes you row—but you’re both in the boat. Gently tell him to forget whose oar is bigger, and focus on all the places you can go when two people are rowing at the same time.