Paying the rent is just one way of taking care of your spouse

Much fuss was made over the January release of a Pew Research Center study showing women’s incomes had grown much faster than men’s from 1970 to 2007.

Women increasingly have more education and make more money than their husbands, the headlines shouted.

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That’s the case in our marriage: I have a master’s degree while John has a bachelor’s, and I earn the lion’s share of our household income.

I am friends with enough smart, ambitious women that this arrangement doesn’t seem odd to me. It does break with some deeply held stereotypes. I’m not waiting for John in pearls and heels when he drops his briefcase by the door after a hard day at the office.

I know it does seem strange to some. It must, or we wouldn’t see so many “man bites dog” stories out of this research.

When John and I got engaged, my dad asked me, “Don’t you want to be with someone who can take care of you?” This so deeply offended me that we didn’t speak for weeks, maybe months.

I wasn’t offended by the implied dig at John’s earning potential as much as by the affront to me and my priorities. My father, a man of old-fashioned values, seemed to be implying that my job was just filling time until I could find a breadwinner mate.

I’d put myself through school and worked hard to build my career precisely because no, I did not want to be dependent on a man to provide for me.

I can bring home the (soy) bacon, fry it up in a pan ... in case the embedded video doesn't work for you, click here for a dose of '80s nostalgia from Enjoli

In the decade that’s passed, both my dad and I have come to realize that, in fact, I really do like having married someone who can take care of me, just not in the way he meant it.

John is my number one cheerleader. He also balances the checkbook, goes to the dry cleaner, coordinates with our accountant to get our taxes prepared – all the household details that I happen to be terrible at. He nags me to make my doctor’s appointments and take my vitamins, because I probably wouldn’t do either without him checking up on me.

In some ways, we’ve traded traditional marital roles, with me as the breadwinner and him tending to many of the details of running our home. But I love to cook, he’s building his art business and he retains the important guy duty of dispatching creepy crawly critters while I squeal. So it’s more a redefinition of roles than a direct trade.

Mostly it seems to work for us, though John is itching to find a day job outside the home and I sometimes long to have more time to pursue my creativity. Maybe someday we’ll make that switch, too.

I think the key to our arrangement – and hopefully the other couples studied by Pew – is communication. Regardless of who’s doing what in a marriage, it’s essential to be clear about what your needs are, for yourself and from your mate. John and I have gotten better about this with each year of marriage.

Are you in a couple where the wife earns more or has more education? How do you navigate what that means for traditional gender roles?

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Categories: career, home and family, lifestyle

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2 replies

  1. You’re so right about communication. It’s all about managing each others and your own expectations, no matter what the household set up is.

  2. A recent job change for my husband closed the income disparity between us, though I still out-earn him. Yet no matter what the paychecks say, we still both have 8-to-5 jobs, which means we have to work together to manage all the outside-the-office life stuff. Fortunately, both of us are committed to cooking, dishes, laundry — many of the activities that some people still think of as “woman’s work.” And neither of us are opposed to mowing the lawn, caulking, or cleaning the garage — what some people think of as “a husband’s job.”

    So just like you and Teebs, we have to work together to make sure everything gets done and that we’re both taking care of each others’ needs.

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