You and your boo may have a ton in common. Maybe you like eating the same food, renting the same movies, or watching the same poorly produced local car commercial. Similarities aside, you may be on totally different pages when it comes to money. And although you look cute AF together, your pay stubs and outgoing bills may look really different. If your partner makes more money than you or has less daily expenses than you, you may be wondering how to navigate the dollars and cents between all the love and affection.
Of course, money differences can cause difficulty in even the most solid partnerships, and if money is a stressor within your relationship, it's completely normal. In a study by Personal Capital in 2018 of more than 2,000 Americans, 45 percent of millennials reported money as the biggest source of stress in their relationship.
"Money is one of the top causes of friction and discord in a relationship," Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Elite Daily. "Money provides for opportunity for and is itself a pathway to miscommunication."
Of course, career path and salary ranges are often largely impacted by societal factors like racial and gender identity. According to a 2015 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, for every dollar that full-time American men earned, American women earned 80 cents.And in 2016 the Pew Research center found that women of all races make less money than white men do. Additionally, in a 2011 study published by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, 47 percent of trans people reported facing economic discrimination in their workplace related to promotions or job retention.
The wage gap, or the differing yearly salaries, for the same jobs — based on the worker's identities, can influence professional and personal relationships alike. The effects of the American wage gap can typically be felt within romantic relationships — especially if you and your boo have similar jobs but take home very different paychecks. From rent to bills to student loan debt to a new pair of shoes you just had to have, money stress can look differently for everyone, and can be understandably difficult to navigate with a partner.
You're not alone if discussing your income makes you uncomfortable. In fact, it's common to feel isolated or ashamed about the amount of money you make, especially if you make less or more than your partner. "The greatest challenge when couples make varying amounts of money is the ability to have extremely clear, transparent and specific conversation about expectations for everything," Dr. Klapow says. "These are conversations that need to happen in painstaking detail. Who is paying for what? If one is paying more because they make more, are there additional expectations? Open lines of specific communication about roles and responsibilities given earning amounts is absolutely critical."
Opening a dialogue about budgeting and what realistic spending looks like for you can be instrumental when finding financial common ground with your partner. Knowing what you are able to contribute and afford, as well as what you are comfortable sharing can take some of the stress away from daily decisions, like discussing who's picking up the check or even choosing where to eat.
Your partner making more money than you doesn't mean that they work harder than you, do more important work than you do, or are in any way "smarter" than you are. If money conversations become a source of who is doing "more," it's OK to redirect the conversation and stand up for yourself and your work. If your partner is making you feel like you're not working hard enough or that they are smarter or more important than you are based on their salary, it may be time for a serious check in. Establishing health boundaries like, "we are not judging the value of our jobs by our paychecks" can help you and your boo both feel secure.
"You and your partner are a team —nothing should be left that hasn’t been discussed and both parties must agree on the situation," Dr. Klapow says. "There should be no assumptions about what earning more results in. Everything must be discussed and negotiated. Earning more doesn’t entitle you to greater relationship control whatsoever. All should be discussed."
If you've started to expect that your partner will always pick up the tab because they make more money, but have never openly discussed it, it may be time to have the "money talk." Your partner making way more money than you do doesn't necessarily mean that they always want to be the one that's buying dinner, or always ordering the Uber. Opening conversation and establishing healthy boundaries like, "This is what I make, this is what I can afford, and this is what I'm happy and prepared to contribute," can provide clarity for all parties. Having direct and specific conversations with your boo about what you both are willing to contribute, and how you both feel comfortable navigating money can eliminate money expectations or budding resentment.
According to Dr. Klapow, when it comes to money in your relationship, nothing should be assumed or implied. If your partner can contribute more financially, it may make sense for your relationship for them to pay for dinner more or to split the cable bill 70/30 (or whatever divide works for you) Seeing where both you and your partner are at financially and discussing reasonable expectations for you both can create a sense of financial equity within your relationship.
Embracing financial equity within your relationship, rather than trying to force a literal 50/50 split, can help in creating space for you both to feel comfy and supported — instead of creating an expectation that you're both meant to share the same dollar amount. Maybe you're an awesome cook, or you provide constant comic relief or endless emotional labor — there are thousands of ways to contribute to a relationship that go beyond paying for things. That's why if your partner makes more money than you, it's totally OK — because there are plenty of ways contribute to a partnership.
If you feel like your partner is subconsciously or accidentally making you feel bad about making less money than them, talk to them about how you feel. If they can't seem to understand why you may feel diminished, it's OK to reconsider how this relationship is making you feel and redefine your expectations for the future.
"In the end, using money to control your partner, to limit their ability to function in the relationship, to restrict their autonomy or to make them dependent upon you is a recipe for a poor relationship," Dr. Klapow says. "If your partner is making you feel about making less money — be very specific about how they are making you feel bad. Are they saying you don’t contribute as much to the relationship? Are they trying to control your activity by managing the money? Are they setting up expectations that you feel are unreasonable given their greater earnings? All of these are unacceptable."
It's totally OK if you're making less money than your partner. That doesn't mean that you're contributing less to your relationship, that you shouldn't be able to enjoy yourself, or that you should be expected to "compensate" in other ways. Equitable contribution to a partnership is not an "eye for an eye" sense of compensation, with one partner pressuring the other because they make more money. Having specific discussions about what you are able and excited to contribute can help make space for your and your boo.
If your boo makes more money than you, and it's making you feel weird, try opening up a dialogue around your expectations. As Marie Kondo says, what doesn't bring you joy may no longer serve you. At the end of the day, money can't buy love, but open and honest communication can sure help it thrive.