Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dismaying Story #2: The Breadwinner Wars

Dear Andrew,

My wife makes more money than I do and it bothers me a lot. I don’t want her to quit her job -- we seem to need both our salaries and more -- and I know it would be unfair to criticize her for having a successful career. I just hate feeling like I’m not doing what a husband is supposed to do. My wife says it doesn’t matter to her and all of the money is “ours,” but she’s always telling people that she makes more than I do. It’s like she’s rubbing it in, which isn’t typical for her. She’s normally a really supportive person.

How can I stop feeling bad about this?

Signed: Trying Not to be Resentful

Dear Trying,

Census data shows that both parents now work in 60% of two-parent families. The old model where most men are the breadwinners and women tend to stay home? History, gone, no longer the case. Research also indicates the wife earns more than the husband in a quarter of those households. The bottom line: your situation is normal. That doesn’t solve your problem, though -- the drowning man doesn’t think he’s okay just because plenty of other people drowned this year too.

You have a raging case of what I call the Supposed To’s. The husband is supposed to take out the trash, he’s supposed to be the primary breadwinner, and so on. Some of these make sense. Trash cans can be heavy and the husband is often the one with the physical strength to deal with them most easily. Other Supposed To’s come from what society teaches us and can often be harmful. Take for example what society teaches teenage girls about being attractive. Not everyone can have a Hollywood figure and many girls end up feeling insecure for no good reason, some to the point of anorexia. Similarly, your reality is clashing with what you have learned about the husband’s “normal” role. Part of your solution will come when you realize you are normal. You need to give yourself permission to be part of the new reality in our society.

Finally, I suspect your wife is not trying to rub it in. The clue is when you said you could use even more income. In the old societal model, wives spent their husband’s money. She could be telling people about her earnings out of fear -- she doesn’t want people to think she spends all of “your” money. Ask her about this. You might be able to ease her mind . . . and she might be able to ease yours.

Sincerely, Andrew

How do you deal with this type of issue? Let us know by entering a comment below. And don’t forget to send an email with your own question or Dismaying Story.

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