Latest update: May 22nd, 2012
Question: A few years ago I was forced to go back to work when my husband lost his job. Baruch Hashem I have become very successful in my field, one that is largely male. While my husband is now working as well, it has become clear that my job is the priority – I make almost triple his salary and there’s potential for much more. I never intended to be away from my kids, but am not upset that I had to go to work. My husband is a hard worker and is doing well for his field. However, with my intense work schedule I need for him to be more involved in taking care of our home and family and to be there for me at job-related events – as I was for him all those years I was home and he worked. But he doesn’t help out like I did. He often doesn’t want to join me at job-related events and that bothers me. Plus, frankly, this job has taken me into a situation where on a regular basis I am speaking to and relating to powerful men and I find myself enjoying it and thinking about them afterward. In addition, now that my husband does pitch in somewhat more with the kids, he ends up spending time with other women who are home with their kids, many who are my friends, and I’m uncomfortable with that as well. I was thrilled to be able to make this kind of money. I felt like I saved my marriage and family. Now, I’m worried this is killing my marriage. What do I do? I can’t be the only woman facing these issues.
Your issue is not uncommon. In fact, a recent study by a Cornell graduate student showed that women who make more than their male partners are more likely to end up cheating and that men who make less money than their wives are more likely to stray as well. I believe there are a number of reasons why this happens.
Chances are that the wife who is earning a lot of money is involved in social circles where the men make more than her husband. When you say that you’re in a field that is largely male, this means that your husband is aware of the many men you are getting to know rather well who make a great deal more money than he does. This can make him feel quite inadequate – whether or not he should feel this way.
Added to that, the husband with the lower income job must be the one to make sacrifices to support his wife’s career. He may have to spend more time without his partner and pitch in a lot more at home. There’s nothing wrong with that set-up—its’ just that while women have commonly been raised with an attitude of personal sacrifice to support a man’s career; men have not. This makes him less emotionally prepared for the reverse situation and he may resent it and feel further inadequate.
Research I conducted while writing my book The Truth About Cheating indicated that men need to feel appreciated much more than they are willing to admit or even realize. Obviously, lack of appreciation is no excuse for inappropriate behavior, but I found that, nonetheless, men used this excuse to help themselves reduce the guilt of straying. Since the dawn of time a man’s role has been to support his family. If he feels he is failing or being out-earned by a female provider, he may feel unneeded. This leaves him more susceptible to another woman who admires him and gives him that feeling of being needed and wanted. The trap is set because that man who’s on his way to cheating may choose not to accept kindness from his wife because now he feels—more than ever– that he doesn’t deserve her love and that she’s much better than him.
For the higher earning woman, more money does often offer more chances to cheat. Late hours and travel may add up to temptation. Successful women, like all women, need to feel understood and appreciated by their husbands. Sadly, financially successful women can be a threat to husbands who may feel competitive with their wives. This reduces a husband’s willingness to appreciate and admire his wife’s success. Quite the opposite: this man tries to diminish his wife’s successes. This sets the stage for another, non-threatened man to be taken with her accomplishments and she may be drawn to his attentions.
The #1 antidote for income-gap couples is to stay close. An ideal way is to keep up shared hobbies and spend extracurricular time together as often as possible. Focus on the other pieces of your life – the ones you can share only with each other. Most important is to keep the avenues of communication open. Make sure you’re having a weekly date night – a minimum of two hours alone – outside the house and doing something fun. Simple rule: talk about anything but 3 things: work, money and kids. Most couples laugh at this and tell me that there’s nothing else to ever talk about with their spouse. That’s the problem. You didn’t fall in love by talking incessantly about the stresses of work, money and kids. It’s not what made you fall in love; it’s not what’s going to sustain your love either. Creating closeness through time spent together will go a long way to protect your marriage and remind you of why you got together in the first place.
Often, women who earn more expect their husbands to pitch in much more at home. But studies show that women still end up doing much more housework than their less-earning husbands. Stop fighting about it and get extra help in the house so that the two of you, as a couple, can create the pockets of uninterrupted time. Time set aside to create a romantic, caring, and appreciative space for this communication is like money in the bank.
About the Author: M. Gary Neuman is a psychotherapist, rabbi, and New York Times best-selling author. He is the creator of NeumanMethod.com video programs for marriages and parenting.
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