Is Female Breadwinner a Thankless Job? This is Rachel’s Story

Is Female Breadwinner a Thankless Job?  This is Rachel’s Story

When you look at a heterosexual couple, social tradition tells you that the male before you is the provider of the greater income. Well for 1 in 4 of those couples in the new millennium, you would be utterly wrong. ‘Female Breadwinner’ describes the newest breed of American wife. Despite her increasing presence in American marriages, the female breadwinner remains a nameless and faceless figure within the American psyche.

Do you remember the television icon June Cleaver? She was America’s vision of the quintessential wife. As a dependable background character on endless television episodes of Leave It to Beaver, weekly images of June Cleaver graced television sets across America.  Donning a flowery apron, she became the archetype of “wife” and “mother” which would serve to shape the expectations of a generation. If we skip forward to the state of womanhood today, our observations will be vastly different from the days of June Cleaver. Over the past two centuries, American women have slowly but steadily gained an impressive foothold in institutions of higher education and in the American labor force. Women now comprise 54% of all college graduates and roughly 50% of American payroll distributions. No longer are our young women encouraged to obtain security by snagging a successful husband as her provider while settling into the lackluster life of a homemaker. On the contrary, adolescent girls and young women of today are groomed to be strong and independent, consistently advised against the evils of “depending on a man.” The most common trend for young American women entering adulthood is to set their sights high in education, career training, and workplace competency. So what happens when such a young woman finds the man of her dreams, enters into matrimony, and she makes more?

Relationships with the female as the higher-earner is a controversial conundrum plaguing rising numbers of modern American couples. Throughout the history of this country, women have overcome impressive odds in education and workplace discrimination. Women are now gaining more momentum than ever with regards to intellectual prowess and career competency. American women are realizing success in virtually every occupational arena. There are very few career fields in the American labor force that the female population has ignored. The female presence is recognized from Wall Street to the operating room, the courtroom bench, and the International Space Station! These extraordinary gains by women have culminated in greater incomes for females than ever before in American history.

As a result of this new independence of the American woman, more marriages and relationships are experiencing a new income hierarchy: Female Breadwinners. How do couples handle a relationship dynamic that seems opposite from the marital roles and expectations that have been ingrained in us since childhood? To describe this topic as intriguing is an understatement. It is time to begin investigating the newest trend defining American relationships and marriages. Female Breadwinners look just like you and me, they live in houses like ours, and they have jobs identical to our professions. But what do we really know about this new breed of wife? Breadwinner Rachel is a 40-year old mother of two who has been married for 15 years. And here is Rachel’s story:


1) When you entered into this relationship, did you know that you would be earning more? If so, what made you comfortable with that?  How did your mate feel about this dynamic?

Not really, I always thought we would make about the same amount.   When we first got married, he would do whatever it took to take care of the family. But it didn’t progress that way.  When I first started making a little more, he would say he didn’t care- as long as when he went to the ATM, the money was there, and our bills were paid. He said he was okay with it.  That’s how it was in the beginning.

There has been more of a problem as the income gap has widened over the years.  There has been a slow decline with his attitude.  It’s an underlying current that manifests itself in other ways in our marriage. I guess it’s a control thing as well. So I try to do other things to try not to emasculate him


2) How does this arrangement with you as the breadwinner make you feel?

I feel a little resentful. I have a full-time job and I have an extra job that I love. I arrange the schedule of my full-time job in time to drop off and pick up our children from school because that is important to me. Then I go home and do stay-at-home mom stuff, then I work from 7 to 11pm and he is just enjoying life. He is working, but I feel that if I am “hustling” then he should be “hustling”. He has the ability to earn what I am earning, so he should go and do that. If I feel that he is spending money frivolously out with his friends, it makes me think, ’Wow- I worked so hard to get that money and he is just spending it.’ I don’t say anything but I just feel kind of resentful about it.


3) Do you feel comfortable with your family and friends knowing that you earn more?  Why or why not?

I would say no. I have one good girlfriend that I confide in.  I don’t really talk about it.  I don’t want other people to think that he is not taking care of us. I don’t want people to think that I am in control, especially in my culture. So I don’t volunteer that information.  I just don’t disclose it.  He will sometimes make some edgy comments that are negative pertaining to how much I make.


4) What feelings do you hide about this relationship dynamic that you can never tell him?

I feel that he should have a little more of a “hustle”. He is making a conscious choice to not be a go-getter. He could have more drive.   He is content with just being average.  I see him as being a little bit lazy.  That is unattractive to me but I could not tell him that to his face.  I don’t think I should make all of the financial decisions, but I feel that he could be a little more conscious about how he spends money because even though it’s our money, I feel like it’s on my back.

I think he has changed over the years. I think maybe it’s my fault because I have worked so hard over the years. Maybe he has decided that I will just handle everything, so there is no need for him to push so hard.  Maybe I should have stepped down a little bit and let him step up to handle things financially.  I wonder if it’s my fault that he feels that I will always take care of it.


5) What does “head of household” mean to you?  Who is the head of the household in your home?

Head of household is the person who sets the tone and the goals and the direction of the family—of the entire unit. It doesn’t have so much to do with money.  Honestly, I see myself as the head of the household but I would never tell him that. He probably knows that I think I’m the head and resents it.


6) Would you consider leaving your career behind if it was causing your relationship to suffer?

I have never thought of leaving my career behind.  But what I have done which is just as bad is refrain from discussing my career with him.  He could not tell you anything about what I do pertaining to my career advancements or much of anything about my job.  I just withhold that information.  I just don’t share my successes with him.   He sees making more money as obtaining more power. He probably thinks that I think I am running the show because I make more money.  But I could be poor and I would still be assertive and ambitious.  It’s just my personality.

I realized how much of a problem it was for him when we were playing Scrabble with some other people. In the middle of the game he just stopped playing, got up and left the room and said, ‘Just because you have the title you have and make the money you do, doesn’t make you smarter than me!’  I was shocked because I didn’t know he felt that way.  He had been keeping it all inside.  That was about two years ago.  Since that time I find myself tip-toeing around him, making sure I don’t come across like a Know-it-all.  I feel like I have to dumb myself down to appease him.


7) What are your overall expectations of a spouse in a relationship?  If those expectations have not been met, what do you think has prevented this?

I expect some mutual respect, some collaboration in the decision-making [process].  Not just me making decisions or just him making decisions, but working together to discuss and make decisions.   I just want to feel recognized and appreciated.  I wish that he could support [me] and be proud of me for what I do for a living.   I don’t care so much about the money, because I enjoy what I’m doing. But if I felt appreciated, I wouldn’t feel so resentful about the money.


8) How similar is your relationship to your parents’ relationship?   Is that acceptable to you?

In my relationship, I see him becoming more like my father and that is not acceptable to me.  My father was the dominant “alpha male”. My mother was nowhere near the breadwinner. In my parents household it always my father’s way or the highway—my father was always in control.

I see my husband trying to take on the dominant role with silly little things like—the car has to be parked in a certain way in the garage and it’s got to be that way or the refrigerator has to [be organized] a certain way.  I think this is his way of showing me who is “the man” in the house.  He has said to me, ‘There is only room for one man in this house—you need to act like the woman.’

I would like for him to take a strong role in the household but not in an aggressive way.   I want him to have a direction for the family but in a different way.  He seems to resent my input into discussions instead of having some collaboration.  He says things like ‘you’re not always right—it doesn’t always have to be your way’.  I think it’s the money difference.


9) Why did you get married?

I got married because culturally we [as women] couldn’t move out and live on our own. I met him and he had the right mix of culture and edginess. I thought I would never find that mix again.   Looking back I realize he had the same traits then but I just didn’t realize it because I was so young.  I wanted to get out of the house.  We [as Hindus] have a very conservative culture, men run the show, and marriage is the only way to go.

My dad said my marriage would not work [from the beginning].  He said I was a high-achiever and he didn’t see the same thing in [my husband]. He said my husband was not going to be able to handle me; he told my future husband the same thing.  My husband said he didn’t care about how much I made, he would be able to handle it.   I now understand what my father was talking about.


10) If you have children, what type of individual do you want them to marry?  Is it                     different from your relationship and why?

I would tell my sons not to marry someone if they could be not a provider for them.  If they want to marry a high-earner then they need to be high-achievers also.  I would not want them to marry someone who is going to out-earn them.    I want them to be able to be the primary wage earner for their household.  I want my daughter to be very independent.  I want her to go to school but… hmmm, I don’t [really] know what I want for her.  I also think being a high wage earner may limit her marriage potential.


11) Do you think that more people are satisfied or dissatisfied with this relationship dynamic and why?

I would say many women in our realm say they would rather live alone than be in that marriage dynamic.  We tend to outgrow our partner.  When the kids hit a certain age, they just call it quits in the marriage.

Sometimes my husband’s friends will make little digs to him about my position and salary. Then I will get the cold shoulder from my husband for a couple of days.  I blame him for putting that information out there.  I always try to play down my job title/salary.

When I recently told my husband I got a big promotion, my husband just said, ‘Oh ok’.   I got no praise or recognition from him so I called my father thinking [at least] he would be proud of me. He said. ‘You have to choose between family and career because a man can only take so much.’


12) Is trust, support, or responsibility a factor in your relationship?

Support is definitely as issue in my marriage.  Trust is also an issue. My husband has had an affair with someone who thought he was God’s gift.  We went to counseling and got over it.  He felt that I was always too busy—so he found someone whom he felt appreciated him.  However, I do trust him now because I don’t think he would do it again.


13) Would you encourage others to have the same relationship dynamic? Why or why not?

I would discourage people from getting into this type of relationship.  I would say date somebody who is equal to your income level. Otherwise it comes back to haunt you later.


14) What advice would you give to other women who may be entering a similar    arrangement?

I would consider going old school by putting all of the money into one account. Having separate accounts just makes the income disparity more apparent.    It has led to the slow destruction of our marriage.  Separating our money has not been good for us.  I think it’s better for the marriage to put all the money together.  Things were better for us when we both had our checks deposited into one account.  When you take ownership of the money then you are isolating the money.  This is good [only] if your partner is financially responsible.


15) Is there communication between the two of you regarding this topic or is it like the elephant in the room?

We don’t talk about it in a nice sort of way.  It will usually come out of some kind of problem.  He wanted to start a business.   I was hesitant but I thought maybe this is [his way] of trying to show initiative.  So I said ok.   We dumped a lot of money into the business because I wanted to support his business.  Eventually, he started letting the business drop and wasn’t so serious about it.  I called it to his attention and he said he didn’t want to do the business anymore because he did not want to hear my comments. He saw it as me trying to run or control the business.  Everything I try seems to come back to me in a negative way. So I try to avoid the money conversations.  I have told him I don’t want to be in charge of everything.


16) Do you feel that more money should equal more voice   in the marriage?

No. I don’t think it should but I think it does add to more of a voice.  It’s on my back. The older you get the more tired you are, the more you want to relax, and the more you don’t want the responsibility. I don’t want to have to do this.  I want to be able to take some time off. But I have a lot of financial pressure because of our lifestyle. So if I feel the pressure then I feel I have more power…I am the one who has to say, ‘we are not going to spend the money that way.’  I never say it’s because I made the money so we are going to spend it in a certain way. I always tie it into something else, like we need to save more money for certain things, kids college etc. It’s a lot of pressure and I don’t want the pressure.  I know he doesn’t perceive it that way. He doesn’t understand how I feel.


17) Do you ever feel the need to over-compensate for this difference in income- in what way? How does your mate respond to that gesture or behavior?

This is where I am conflicted.  I would like to see traditional marital roles. That’s what I would like. It should be a respectful union, I still feel that way. However, I do believe that the man should be the [leading] force in the house.  If I didn’t believe that I would have been divorced a long time ago. I think the children need that [balance].  I can be the most independent woman, making a million dollars but children need to see a strong man in their life.   I feel my children should see me caring for them and their father making the decisions. [Some may say] that’s very antiquated but I do believe that.


18) How has your current dynamic affected your expectations for your spouse and his “role” in the relationship?

I expect that my husband would not hide things from me. For example, he has been going on job interviews and has never shared that with me.   Why would he not share that with me?   I expect the same type of support  that I expected when we first got married.  Do I get it? NO. My needs are not financial.

I’m always trying to find ways to make him feel like he is in control.   I’m trying to always involve him in the children’s school meetings, etc.  I’ve started asking his permission when it comes to the children’s affairs like sleepovers, etc. He seems to appreciate it.  Sometimes I think he takes advantage of it. When he makes a decision, if I don’t agree with it then he feels that I should not question his decision.  So I try to step back and let him have the final say.    I‘ve been trying this approach for about six months now.  I‘ll see if it helps.  I don’t know if it will help though.


19) What do you need from your mate that you are not getting? What do you think your mate needs from you that he is not getting?

I want someone to share my life with.  I would like to be supported.  I used to be timid but now I can say I am smart.  I would like somebody to say, ‘Yes you are smart and I am proud of you for that.’  I just want to be able to be myself and not have to hide my abilities so as not to emasculate him. I have to hide the things about myself that I am most proud of.  I just want to be able to be myself.

He needs for me to be more submissive.  He wants me to allow him ”be the man“ and make every decision. This makes him feel more masculine and more in charge.  I don’t do that all the time because I have to work so much.  But I have to work all the time to maintain our lifestyle. If I didn’t have to work so hard, I would have more time to spend with him.  If I were to let some of the work go, our whole lifestyle would be different.


20) What can your mate do to smooth over some of the bumps in the road with regards to the salary difference in your marriage?

He could acknowledge my salary in a positive way and appreciate what I do.  If he would just say, ‘I realize you work hard for our family unit so that we can have a better life.’  If he would say to me… can I support you in any way?  Versus– I ‘m resentful and I don’t want to be a part of it.  Even if he would just say it one time that would be enough, but we haven’t gotten there yet.