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Dealing with Disproportionate Salaries

With money at the core of some people’s perception of their self-worth, success and status, it’s no wonder that the almighty dollar tends to make love even more complicated. Sure, we’ve heard the clichés: money can’t buy you love; all you need is love, etc., and there’s something to those hackneyed phrases—something very true—but only when you don’t have to actually deal with money.

Your salary determines—to some degree—your role in a relationship. When one person has access to a lot of cash and the other doesn’t there is an imbalance of power. The person who earns significantly more likely has more options, more freedom and less stress. Depending on their outlook, the person who earns less may feel inadequate, or even ashamed in comparison. To compensate, he or she may spend money they don’t have in order to “keep up.”

Delving into finances is never fun, but dealing with it up front rather than brushing it aside could save your relationship, especially when the two of you have disproportionate salaries.

Talk It Out

How you feel about your earnings and how you spend them is critical business, and is something that should be addressed if you are getting serious. When the time is right, set time aside to discuss your finances. We aren’t talking about handing over a detailed list of assets here. Rather, we suggest you talk about how you feel about money in relation to your life and your partner. Discuss what you think money represents, what it means to you, and what you like to spend it on and what you don’t.

If you have a problem discussing finances with someone you may spend the rest of your life with, you need to get over it. This is the sort of issue that doesn’t just “go away.” Keeping mum, especially when there’s a problem, only breeds resentment.

Reflect on your Past

Think about the way you were raised and how money was handled between your parents. Often how we deal with money and our roles as wage-earners (or not) are a product of our childhood experiences. For instance, a child who has watched his parents fight about money may not want to combine incomes as an adult. It’s this sort of information that needs to be shared with your partner so you can be a financial team rather than be at odds with each other.

When your Tastes Collide

Because imbalanced incomes are just that—imbalanced—couples need to adjust their lifestyle when they begin dating someone in a different tax bracket. This is where people run into trouble.

Take this example: The high-wage earner likes to eat at expensive restaurants, travel internationally, and otherwise participate in activities that his or her salary affords. The lower-income party is not able to do the same, so the high-income mate offers to pay the difference. Lower-income agrees, begrudgingly, and everything is seemingly okay.

Only things are not okay. Because if you haven’t discussed your financial roles within the relationship resentment can build. Eventually there’s a fight and lower-income is accused of being an ingrate while conversely, high-income is a profligate.

It sounds ugly, and it is. But by keeping the conversation open you’ll be less likely to suffer a big blowout.

Keep it Separate

Imbalanced incomes or not, it’s a good idea to have different bank accounts. This way, you leave room for the spa day you’ve been aching for or the new set of golf clubs to be purchased without questions or judgment.

Regarding separate accounts as “greedy” or “selfish” is a thing of the past. Keeping an “our money” account and a separate “my money” account allows you to make the bigger financial decisions together while also giving each of you some space for incidentals.

Live Richly

While a lot of cash may equal financial security, keep in mind what really matters is the security of your relationship. If you are a social worker and he is a doctor, you are both going to have to get used to the fact that you will always have disproportionate salaries.

Up there with sex, money is the biggest points of contention in a relationship, and the two of you are in charge of how you handle it. In balanced relationships, less power is given to the person with the high earning power and the emphasis is placed on pooling resources together, both financial and otherwise.