Money Imbalance and Financial Inequality in Relationships

Financial inequality occurs when one partner earns significantly more than another. Money imbalances in relationships aren’t unusual. It’s rare for two working partners to make the same amount of money each month, but this imbalance can wreak havoc on your relationship.

Ten years ago, I walked away from my high-paying career to become a stay-at-home mom. Although I was thrilled to spend time with my newborn son, I mourned the loss of my paycheck. Without money, I felt a deep-seated loss of self-worth and significant income inequality for the first time in my marriage.

In my case, my husband didn’t just earn significantly more than I did. He made all the money for our household!

Financial Inequality in Relationships

Without a paycheck, I began to feel guilty for spending money I didn’t make. I’ve always been stingy with money but quitting my job amplified my natural tendencies. 

I stopped spending money on myself and felt guilty every time I pulled out my wallet. If I didn’t earn money, was it mine to spend? It didn’t feel like it should be.

Money Imbalance in Relationships

This guilt was more powerful than I imagined. I placed my husband’s wages above all of the work and effort I put into our household. I couldn’t get over the feeling that I didn’t deserve the money in our bank accounts. Keep in mind that half of the money in those accounts came from my previous job!

Did caring for my son equate to holding down a job? Were my tasks equivalent to my husband’s? Were my chores just as essential? I tried to convince myself we were on equal footing, but outdated money blocks kept clouding my better judgment.

After a decade with dual incomes, my husband became the sole breadwinner. I worried, unnecessarily, that he would feel resentful if I spent his money.

Thankfully, my husband never felt that way. His weekly deposits rolled into our joint accounts. He labeled the money as ours, not his, and still does. 

Money Imbalance or Power Imbalance?

Yesterday, I received an email from a new mom. “I quit my job to stay home with my daughter,” it began, “but now my husband won’t give me money.” The letter is an emotionally charged plea for help.

Reading it made me thankful for my husband’s kindness and support. I could feel the pain this young woman felt. She is frustrated and trapped.

When defining the words give and take, a power imbalance can grow in a relationship. Monetary imbalances may exist in relationships, but power imbalances should not. 

A wife shouldn’t have to ask her husband for money. If the household earns enough to pay the bills, both parties should have constant access to the funds they need.

If you choose to become a stay-at-home parent, your husband isn’t giving you money. He’s sharing the money he earns.

Why does the terminology matter? Even in the best of marriages, resentment, guilt, and other negative emotions can arise when one partner feels less valued than another.

If money is required, it should be available for use. It doesn’t matter if a wife earns less money than her partner or stays home and doesn’t earn any money at all. Either way, she should be able to buy the items she needs when she needs them.

Power Imbalance in Relationships

Unfortunately, financial imbalances can quickly lead to power imbalances. Earning more money can make someone feel more powerful and important. 

This power trip can lead a selfish husband to control how a low-earner or non-earner spends money. In abusive situations, it can lead to a strict allowance or refusing to make money accessible for everyday needs.

If you don’t have money for extraneous expenses, it’s wise to create a budget. But it is not fair for a wife to follow a strict budget if her husband is not doing the same.

Money is Not the Equalizer

Not to mention, circumstances can change. What if your husband loses his job or decides to retire? What if he gets fed up with his current job and wishes to change?

Your future earning potential is unknown. When your children are grown, you may choose to create a company or forge a new career.

Unfortunate circumstances can also change your trajectories. What if your husband gets injured on the job or falls ill? Would he like to be given an allowance to spend?

Sharing Equally

Financial inequality and money imbalances don’t have to impact a marriage. Money can and should be shared equally by both partners. Sure, you can own separate bank accounts, but dividing everything usually doesn’t work.

Joint accounts can help balance the equation. Shared bank accounts can pay for household expenses. This includes all household bills, car payments, and children’s expenses. Everything goes into one bucket and comes out of one bucket.

The rules don’t change if one partner becomes a stay-at-home parent. It doesn’t change if one partner makes a whole lot less money, either.

Shared Money Management

It doesn’t matter who makes more money. Marriage is not a dictatorship, and both partners should be equally involved in money management. That means both partners need to know how to access the funds.

The high-income wage earner shouldn’t get to define the rules for the household. They shouldn’t decide how much money to give. Make sure both parties have a voice at the financial table. That means both partners can speak up openly and honestly to share their feelings.

It will not be a perfect balance. Sometimes you will spend more than a partner. Other times he will spend more than you. It’s not an ideal tit-for-tat, but it should be relatively even over the long haul.

How to Create Monetary Balance

How can you get on the same financial page about money? Begin by talking about it. Host a family financial meeting. Discuss your fears and phobias about money, so you can begin to understand your partner’s point of view.

Look at the figures together. Log in to your bank accounts to review your income and expenses. Review your paystubs, look over recent credit card transactions and learn to talk about your money in a way that doesn’t feel as if one partner is judging the other.

Create a list of rules for your relationship. How much money should each partner get to spend on individual purchases? Do you need to set money aside in separate bank accounts? Can you work out of a joint account together?

Are you financially compatible? If you aren’t compatible, find out how to talk about money without fighting about it.

Discuss Your Finances Together

If you are struggling to get on the same financial page, sit down and ask each other a list of money questions.

  • How do we feel about debt?
  • When should we discuss our finances?
  • What do we buy? How do those purchases make us feel?
  • How does our past impact our relationship with money?
  • Do we have financial fears?

These questions will open the door to more extensive conversations. They will help you uncover money blocks and long-held financial beliefs.

Discuss Your Income Inequality and Money Imbalance

While you are talking, address the elephant in the room. Talk about the perceived money imbalance within your relationship. Find a counselor or third party if you can’t express these feelings without assistance.

Try to talk openly about your emotions. Discuss guilt, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy if you feel them. When you speak, act kindly and respectfully. Listen carefully to your partner’s words and ask that they do the same.

Create a weekly meeting to discuss your needs and responsibilities. Agree to bring up financial concerns before they fester.

If you are a stay-at-home parent, now may be the time to revisit your choice to remain home with your children.

Review the financial aspects involved in being a stay-at-home parent, weigh your current situation, and decide if you want to return to work sooner than you expected.

Create New Goals Together

After you talk about these issues, think about the fun things that money can buy. What financial goals do you want to embark upon together? What do you want your life to look like five years from now? How can you save your money to fulfill your dreams?

Brainstorm small ideas alongside big ones. Maybe you want to save up for a new set of mountain bikes or splurge on couples massages. Or perhaps you want to upgrade your workspaces, build a gym in the basement, or take a week-long vacation.

Work together to create a new vision. Take the time to create a list of shared experiences so you can enjoy your money together.

Show Your Appreciation

Lastly, don’t permit a money imbalance to destroy your relationship. Show your appreciation for one another. Compliment each other for the work you put into your relationship, career, and household. Thanking one another alleviates the stress and anxiety of financial inequality and money imbalances. It shows you care about one another regardless of how much money you earn.

10 thoughts on “Money Imbalance and Financial Inequality in Relationships”

  1. These are some great thoughts! I make 6-figures, while my partner is disabled and unable to work. Like you say, it’s important to be open about finance, get and stay on the same page, ensure you have the same values and goals as your partner, and frequently express appreciation for whatever your partner brings to the table–whether monetary, time, or new ideas. At the end of the day, I think the right partner is one of the best financial decisions one can make!

    • I love everything about this comment, especially “frequently express appreciation for whatever your partner brings to the table.” A lot of us fail at this task, but it really is the most important!

  2. I agree with Erin, the right partner is one of the best financial decision one can make!

    When I saw this post in my inbox, I didn’t want to read it. It brought up plenty of uncomfortable feelings which is a good indicator that emotional work about finances needs to become a work in progress. ‍♀️

    • The older I get the more I realize money issues are never just about money. Our emotions are wrapped around financial topics. I’m glad you read this one even though you were hesitant to do so. And I agree with you! Finding the right partner is vital to a long-lasting, healthy relationship.

  3. Sometimes money is not the only contribution to relationship. I earn 3x what my husband’s pay check is,but being a mechanic he contributes so much like keeping all our vehicles in good condition,doing handyman jobs that most people pay for and because he works fewer hour,does the majority of the cleaning. I don’t care what his paycheck is.

    • Thank you for your comment. I love that you don’t care how large your spouse’s paycheck is each month. We should value each other for non-financial benefits as well as financial ones. We contribute to our families in so many different ways!


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