Today, one in four young working women supports her family's financial needs. It's a satisfying rebalance of expectations, but as a recent study has found, many of these women feel a greater sense of responsibility and are more stressed than bacon-bringing men. Here, Charlotte Biering, a management consultant at Ernst and Young, who never set out to be a female breadwinner, guides the Step Up Club along the bumpy path to financial readjustment. It hasn’t always been like this. In the nine years that we’ve been together, my husband and I have had several types of financial arrangements. There have been times that I have been financially reliant on him, times when we’ve contributed equally and as is the case now, times when I have been the primary earner. I love my career, and I love that I make enough money to be able to support my husband while he establishes himself as a composer. I would never choose a man based on his bank balance - talent and passion are much more important to me and my husband has those by the bucket load. But it isn’t easy. If you had asked me about potential challenges, I would have probably said, based on past relationships with Italians, that the man would feel emasculated. I am embarrassed to say that in fact, the biggest challenge has actually been my attitudes towards money. I can’t help but tally up who does what and I often challenge my husband on how he has spent his day and whether it has been productive enough. Inevitably, this ends in conflict. Despite the arguments, being a female breadwinner has been a valuable experience; it has strengthened our relationship as we are working together towards a happy status quo. Being open about our situation has led to meaningful conversations with friends, colleagues and even my employer and with some hard work, we’ve made my status as the breadwinner a win-win situation for everyone involved. While I don’t suggest that my husband and I have things completely figured out, here is what I’ve learnt along the way.
- COMMUNICATION: If you begin to resent your partner, perhaps because of how they spend the family money or use their time while you’re at work, then tell them. Don’t wait until you’re quietly fuming, then it will turn into an unnecessary row. Remember, your partner might be dealing with his own issues and insecurities. Assuming that they are being reckless or lazy isn’t going to help.
- UNDERSTANDING: I have never been self-employed, but I have been unemployed and I frequently remind myself how terrible I was at self-motivation. It taught me that I’m shockingly unproductive without structure and even with the benefit of hindsight, I’d probably behave in the same way again. Yes, there have been times when I’ve come home after a full-on day in the office to find my husband watching House of Cards with a beer in his hand. But trying to understand his frustrations makes me grateful to work in a company that provides a clear career path and a monthly pay check.
- BE A TEAM: Yes, money makes the world go around, but it’s only one component of a functioning relationship. You need to decide how to divide other responsibilities. I do laundry, anything that involves logistics and nagging, while my husband cooks, cleans, pays bills and sorts the technology. He sometimes worries that he doesn’t provide for his family, but without his non-financial contributions, everything else would come crumbling down.
- MONEY MONEY MONEY: I hate talking about money and I avoid looking at bank statements, but I know this is one of the main causes of arguments in our relationship. Here's our working solution: we consider all the money I earn as ‘our money’, the majority of what he earns goes back into his business, the rest is a bonus, and we consult each other before spending any significant sum. Having said all of that, I still can’t shake the feeling that I have a right to question his spending. I remain a work in progress on this front.
- GRATITUDE: It’s too easy to get tied up in our busy lives and not take a step back and realise how lucky we are. Instead of criticising the small things, we say thank you for everyday tasks and as we’ve also recently become parents, I admire the fact that he is a brilliant father. I am so thankful that he is engaged and helpful, which I tell him almost daily. I think by recognising and appreciating his contribution, he feels more valued as a partner and this helps evens out our financial imbalance balance.