If you’re a woman trying to deal with this new, uncharted territory, here are seven ways to navigate it:
1. Don’t apologize to your husband, or the world at large, for making more money than him. You should be proud of your accomplishments and accept that it’s fine to be the breadwinner.
A lot of women your age “really do feel OK with this,” says Olivia, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. Many boomer women were not raised with the expectation that they need someone who earns more than they do. In fact, they were raised to be the breadwinner in some cases.
Admittedly, adopting this attitude can be tricky — especially when you’re with friends.
Peggy Drexler, a psychology professor at Cornell’s Weill Medical College, writes in Forbes about one woman who got defensive when she felt her friends considered her husband a slacker because he earned less than her. Drexler said the woman often felt like she had to play down her own economic contributions to the household while offering her husband reassurances that she valued his masculinity.
2. Be honest with yourself regarding how you feel about the situation. You might genuinely abhor wearing the proverbial pants, because you’ve long felt that husbands should earn more than wives. Accepting this feeling will help keep your resentment from building.
3. If you’re angry or resentful, find a way to get to the bottom of it. You’ll want to figure out what’s behind your frustration. Is it that you think your husband should be doing more to find work or to get a higher-paying job? You’d like to work less feverishly but feel you have no choice because you and your spouse need the income? You believe your husband should do more to help out in other ways? You’re still harboring a grudge because you think he didn’t pull his weight on childcare duties when your kids were younger? Or might there be deeper marital issues at play?
Writing out your feelings in a letter to your husband but not showing it to him. Then, imagine the note he’d write back with his point of view and write that one, too.
Once you’ve pushed yourself to see things from his perspective, you’ll be more prepared to have a face-to-face talk with him.
4. Set aside time to talk about how things are going for both of you. Stay connected, Being heard without judgment or criticism can deepen your connection particularly during difficult times.
Appreciate that your husband may experience a period of grieving after a loss of a job and earnings that are connected to his identity, self-esteem and sense of success. Convey a positive attitude and sense of teamwork showing that ‘we’re in this together.
After this initial talk, you can segue into the “What’s next?” discussion. You might learn that your husband doesn’t want a high-powered job or a full-time position at all. The two of you may need to downsize to live on a reduced household income. Both of you may need to re-evaluate your lives.
5. Clarify expectations of each other. Maintaining respect for what both of you are doing and how you’re each contributing to the marriage will help you function as a team.
Otherwise it’s too easy for assumptions and resentments to infect the relationship.
Remember, there’s a lot more to a marriage than just financial support. Emotional support is essential, too.
Couples need to realize that “it doesn’t really matter in the end who makes more money,” Elaine Pofeldt wrote in a Forbes Post. “What’s important is working together to meet the needs of their families.”
6. Seek out role models. You might know other couples going through what you are. If so, look for ones who have navigated this situation happily and ask for advice on how they did it.
7. Break the tension by finding ways to have fun. Spending more time together doing the types of things you enjoy doing as a couple. Visit with friends and family; take a trip