Ours has always been a marriage of equals. We were classmates at college. We both were top of our classes at University. Both got similar executive-level jobs after finishing studies and got married three years after working in those jobs. But what happens when wife earns more? I came face-to-face with this reality after a few years of marriage.
They tell you that married life settles down after a while and it’s true. The honeymoon phase lasts for a year if you’re lucky. After which you find your rhythm co-habitating with your partner. There are however things that cause ups and downs in married life. For us, it was my promotion. A simple enough thing, that caused a tectonic shift in our relationship. Can a marriage survive if wife makes more money? Let me tell you our story.
(As told to Unmesh Uttara Nandkumar)
Initially we celebrated my promotion together
We both had made the same amount of money since we started working. We were saving together, sharing the expenses evenly and even did our taxes together. However, when I got promoted at my job, a move that came with a considerable raise, I never thought it would be anything than just a few more rupees for both of us. So did my husband initially. He was so happy. He brought home a cake just to celebrate it. We took a holiday which we had been planning but couldn’t afford before. All seemed well. Then our relatives found out.
In Indian households, we rarely discuss the salary amount but our parents and best friends tend to find these things out. And they found out that the wife is earning more than the husband and the ordeal started.
Then the pointed remarks started
Gradually my husband started hearing jokes about how I wore the pants in the relationship because I made more money. The humour seemed harmless at first. A pointed remark about how my husband should do all the chores at home now that I was bringing home more bacon. Or a joke about how I was my husband’s sugar-daddy now that I was making more money. Or that one time when an old friend complimented (well sort of) my husband for marrying me and said that he must’ve seen the future and known that I’d be making a lot of money. We laughed at the jokes and were even happy initially. My promotion and the financial perks that came with it seemed like an achievement for both of us as a team. And the jokes, well, they seemed like a crass yet welcome appreciation. I had no idea that people were actually incapable of accepting relationships where women made more money.
The promotion became a bone of contention
Eventually the jokes became a little old though. We stopped laughing and started to react with a mere smirk. To be honest, I started to become tense every time this fact that my salary was more than my husband’s came up in a conversation. Eventually we both noticed it affecting our conversations about money.
We’d go to a restaurant and he’d insist on paying. He started buying me expensive gifts – a new phone, some jewellery- things that were sweet but seemed unlike him. We always discussed major purchases before we did them. Suddenly money became a topic we couldn’t discuss freely anymore. We started arguing about spending money and one day it all came out.
Then we had the ugly fight
The argument started as something simple and grew into something ugly. I had been eyeing this new coffee table at a shop near my office. I knew exactly where it would go in our living room and after going by the display a few times on my way to work, I went ahead and bought it.
It never occurred to me to ask my husband. It was a coffee table after all. Not a car, or a house or something extravagant. My husband seemed to think otherwise. When he said we already had a coffee table I was taken aback. ‘But I like this one.’ He just shook his head and went back to his chai. I shifted awkwardly and asked him if he didn’t like the table? He sighed and said ‘I just wish you had asked me!’ his irritation colouring the words.
I pointed out that he had bought things without asking me in the last few weeks and that triggered him. I don’t remember much of the senseless arguing that went on.
I was shocked into silence
A lot of harsh words were exchanged, but when he said ‘Just because you can afford to buy more things now, doesn’t mean I don’t get a say in it.’ I remember being shocked into silence. I was blindsided by the admission. All the signs were there of course, but I think I just ignored them or didn’t want to admit they were leading to this conversation. I was furious and wanted to fight back but I don’t know why I didn’t. I just said ‘I can’t do this right now,’ and left the room. I just couldn’t imagine that our relationship could come to this because I earned more than my husband.
Communication and planning are key
It was after three whole days of awkward silence, that we talked about it again. It wasn’t easy, because I remember feeling furious that my otherwise woke husband, had bought into the whole male ego thing that we used to make fun of together. It wasn’t easy for him too, because he knew that he had bought into the bullshit.
At the same time, he also felt like we weren’t a team anymore. That the balance of everything had shifted and he felt left out. When he told me through tears that he felt lonely, not because of the salary difference, but because all the people talking around us, made him feel like he was somehow less than enough. He thought he was losing me.
I held him in my arms that day and told him that he was worried about nothing. However, we also realised that our roles had indeed changed because of the difference in salary so we decided to sit down and plan our lives, once more.
The silver lining
Something wonderful happened because of the planning though. We were forced to look at our differences and write down things we never had to, regarding our finances. However, we found ourselves back together, as a team. Unlike the way, people around us kept saying how the salary difference was going to tear us apart. Talking about it, planning our finances actually brought us closer than ever before. So a woman earning more than a husband actually did not lead to a relationship disaster as people all around would have predicted.
Later I realised that this promotion could have actually wrecked our marriage had we not been mature and sensible to handle it. It’s strange in the way society reacts to things and drills negativity into your head that creates problems in a marriage. But with love and communication it is possible to rise above the pettiness.