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Editorial
How To Address The Marital Tension Of Being The Breadwinner
Adobe Stock / inesbazdar
Nancy Halpern
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A Fairygodboss member recently posed a discussion board question: “Just to be totally honest: I am the breadwinner in my marriage. I feel like sometimes it causes a lot of friction. I also feel resentful because my husband still wants to be the main decision maker about family/household issues. Does anyone else have the same issues?” We hope this advice helps:

It’s a growing trend. In 2001, women were the primary breadwinner in almost one third of American households. Fourteen years later, in 2015, Reuters reported that the number was 40% and still growing. 

When tradition is turned upside-down in a marriage or a romantic partnership, it isn’t unusual for there to be some bumps and friction. That can be made worse if your partner is a stay-at-home dad who feels isolated, or if he’s in a field where his accomplishments don’t seem to be recognized as much as yours are. It’s easy for resentment to grow, which makes it even tougher to sit down and have the tough yet loving conversations you need to have.

The first thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and that many couples struggle with this issue. Having said that, there are some things you can do to ease the tension and make this better for both of you.

Let it go. If your husband wants to make more decisions about the family and household, maybe you should let him. You’re already working crazy hours and feel overwhelmed – maybe ceding some of this authority to him would be good for both of you.

Negotiate and Compromise. Are there things that matter more to you than him? And vice versa? Try to figure out the two or three things that are derailing you rather than focusing on a long list that includes every slight or point of contention.

Focus on teamwork, not “me” work. You’re one family. Are there things you can do jointly, or take turns doing, or even hire out if you can afford it? Be sure to talk about your mutually shared goals as a way of remembering that you’re in this together.

He’s feeling his way. Not being the breadwinner might be a lot harder for him than you thought it would be. Be open to hearing about the difficulty of that without personalizing it as either complaints or a criticism of you.

Don’t forget to have fun. Be sure to keep including the activities that brought you together in the first place. Nurturing that bond can go far in getting you over the rough patches.

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Nancy Halpern is an executive coach with a proven track record in helping senior leaders and their teams reach their full potential. She's been quoted in The Financial Times, The New York Times and other publications, as well as appearing on both NPR and the PBS NewsHour.

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