If you want his income to go up, yours needs to come down

In my last coaching session, I spoke with a thirty-something wife who desperately wants her husband to be more ambitious. If I had a dime for every woman who’s told me the same thing, I’d be rich.

I told that wife what I tell every woman who’s in this same boat (and there a lot of them today): If you want your husband’s or your potential husband’s income to go up, yours needs to come down.

This is not a popular sentiment. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Unlike in our mothers’ and grandmothers’ day, modern women aren’t encouraged to look at a man’s financial prospects or work ethic when they’re dating. After all, men and women are “equal” now: women are supposed to be their own providers and protectors!

It isn’t until a woman has been married for some time that she realizes she wishes she had paid attention to her husband’s career goals. And the reason why is simple. Her priorities changed.

When women are young, they have careers on their minds. When they’re older, family takes center stage. Once kids are added to the equation, a woman’s desire to be her own provider almost always vanishes. It is then when she realizes she has a problem.

The social narrative that women and girls should become leaders in the marketplace is all well and good. But there’s a difference between being a leader in the marketplace and being a leader at home, and almost no one warns women about this.

At home, most women want a man on whom they can depend—emotionally, of course, but financially as well. This desire is in a woman’s blood; she couldn’t shake it off if she tried. Few women want to leave their babies once they have them, yet so many today feel they have to because they do not have a man on whom they can depend.

And here’s the uncomfortable truth: As long as women out-earn men, men will flounder. The way to motivate the man you love is to support him, not to compete with him.

As long as women out-earn men, men will flounder. Click To Tweet

This competition between the sexes isn’t good for women either. Women have a fraction of the amount of testosterone men do, so they are easily overwhelmed when they take on the traditional male role. Haven’t you noticed how unhappy women have become since this entire experiment began?

Men, by contrast, are emboldened as providers and protectors. They don’t become angry and resentful as a result. On the contrary, they thrive on it.

Men aren’t cut out to compete with the woman they love. So when their wives become the main provider, many men will fail to produce. He will sit back and let her do it—not because he’s lazy but because there can only be one pilot, and he assumes she wants that role.

But she doesn’t. When wives earn considerably more than their husbands, both partners are miserable. The only answer, then, is for women to earn less.

That’s a win-win because for most women, by the time they reach their thirties they want to earn less. A whopping 67% of married mothers prefer to work part-time or not at all when they have kids at home. Sixty-seven percent!

Unfortunately, many women are unable to do this due to the shortage of marriageable men and/or gainfully employed husbands. But we’re only in this conundrum because we groomed women to be lifelong earners and forgot to tell them they’ll be miserable once they are.

Are there some men who struggle to find their way professionally regardless of what women do? Yes. But they’re the exception, not the rule. Most men are emboldened by earning on behalf of their families. So if your husband isn’t doing that, chances are it’s because you’ve been doing it for him.

When there’s a gross imbalance in their salaries—when the wife makes a lot of money and her husband doesn’t—the dynamic shifts. The husband loses his drive to achieve, and his wife resents being the achiever. She may want to work, but she doesn’t want to have to. And therein lies the rub.

It’s just very hard for a woman to feel safe with a man who’s less industrious than she. This sexual dynamic may be the new norm, but it’s tearing marriages and relationships apart.

Full-time, year-round breadwinning was supposed to empower women. Instead it disempowered them, and it brought men down in the process.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, columnist and relationship coach committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.
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