Buying a new sofa took faster than Tintin* expected. She made her choice soon after she entered the store, paid with cash, and it was delivered on the same day! She was excited to surprise her family, who have all complained about the one in their living room, which admittedly was older than any of her three children.
But the surprise didn’t please her husband Dave*. He sulked for days and stopped speaking to Tintin. When she forced a conversation, he admitted that the new sofa was a constant reminder to him that she was now making more money. Worse, he did not like that he was not consulted over the expensive purchase, which in the past they would decide together.
Tintin quickly realized that she hurt not just his feelings but also bruised his ego when what she simply wanted was to share the perks of her higher income with her family. “He was right when he said we used to discuss purchases worth Php5,000 or more. I felt bad that I crossed the line, but I was not happy that he was more concerned about his feelings than mine. I deserved thank-yous from my family because that sofa will take a bite out of my income, and not made to feel like I did something horribly wrong,” she lamented.
While we still have a long way to go before we can see income equality — that is women getting the same pay as men for doing the same job — there is an increasing number of Tintins today, where the wives who work are enjoying a higher salary than their husbands. There are also growing number of families where the women’s career success meant the husbands no longer need to work and so they take on the role of the stay-at-home spouse.
With no available research on Filipino couples, let’s look to the U.S. where a 2015 Census study showed about 38% of working women making more money than their husbands. This is more than double the 18% tracked in 1987, about 30 years earlier. But the news did not really come as a surprise to the researchers who explained that with more women than men going to college, better jobs with better pay have become available to them, so the shift was bound to happen.
Considering the centuries of women oppression around the world, this should be a good thing, right? Unfortunately, the same study showed the reversal in salary fortunes led to some undesirable results. Some of these are: one, the men threatened with their wives’ higher salary would cheat; two, the women would take on more housework (on top of their full workload) so the husband will feel less threatened; three, both spouses suffer depression for failing to communicate their issues; or four, the marriage breaks down and ends in divorce.
5 ways these women make their marriage work when they earn more than their husbands
How to avoid these pitfalls? Consider these pieces of advice from Filipino moms that earn more yet have found a way to enjoy the love and support of their husbands.
1. Don’t lie about the money.
That same U.S. research discovered that when women start making more money than their husbands, both lie about it. The wives would say they earn less, while the husbands will claim they make more.
In the case of Nina*, she learned that honesty was the best policy. She has been with her current employer for more than a decade, and in all that time, her salary was always higher compared to her husband’s take-home pay.
“He knows everything including the bonuses I get annually. There is no reason for me to hide it because he is my husband, and I feel he has the right to know. Plus, I believe by telling him he will work harder and push himself. He is a medical representative and has the potential to earn much more from commissions on top of his monthly salary,” Nina confessed.
Mylene* who has been a banker to the wealthy said her salary probably became a more significant account than her husband’s when she was promoted to a senior position in her 40s. “I did not tell him, but he saw it when we had to file our income tax together!” While she did not volunteer the information, she did not lie about it, so her husband was forgiving. Since then, Mylene has enjoyed the freedom to invest her money, travel, or buy jewelry without the need for her husband’s permission.
2. Money is a nice tool to have, but do not use it as a weapon.
With money, nearly everything can be a little bit easier. You can choose to live in a nicer home, enroll your children in better schools, drive a newer car model, take vacations frequently — the list is endless. In all these, money is a useful tool to have to raise your quality of life.
But when you start counting who makes more and spends more on family needs, money turns into a weapon that can hurt you and your spouse.
One of the things Nina realized early is not to bring attention to the fact that she makes more money, especially during arguments with her husband. “He knows it, and I know it, but we don’t have to bring it up all the time who is the top earner in the family,” she said
“Never nag your husband and belittle him just because you are earning more. Respect for your husband is very important, and we all need to remember that money isn't the be-all and end-all. Family is more important than anything else,” added Nina. Happily married for 24 years, Nina’s nugget of wisdom has definitely worked for her.
3. Set the right tone for your spouse, and children, too.
After the sofa episode, Tintin became more sensitive to her husband’s feelings. “When I started making more money, it seems every single one of our relatives knew. I could sense that they were looking to see if things will change, so I made sure to show that I treat my husband with the same respect and defer to him still on family matters.
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“And I saw that my children took my cue and that made me feel even better about my decision. Surprisingly, now it’s my husband that likes to tell people I am earning more and that he is proud of me,” related Tintin.
Spouses fight all the time, but the last thing you should do is bribe your way out of the argument. Tintin remembered confiding in one of her work colleagues about the sofa purchase and got this advice: ‘Buy your husband something he wants but will not buy for himself. Let your money do the talking.’
“I’m so glad that I did not follow that advice. Instead, we agreed to schedule money talks once a month to catch up on family priorities and make sure we are both on the same page when it comes to our finances,” Tintin said.
In the case of Nina, she admitted she does not consult her husband when it comes to her personal purchases, especially when buying luxury items. But that’s because they agreed on how to handle family finances early on, and as long as all the bills are paid, they are content.
The two found that keeping everything in a single pot works best for them. “I manage all our household expenses, so he gives me his salary and commissions too. Because of this, I need to be good in budgeting and tracking spending to make ends meet.”
“My husband is not competitive, and he does not mind at all that I make more,” said Nina. “And, I don’t mind too. After all, whatever we earn we share, and we always put family needs first.”
She went on to say that wives must also learn to accept the weaknesses of their husbands. “Not all men are a go-getter, and at times, some women are more aggressive.” By respecting your individual strengths and weaknesses too, you and your partner can both be winners here.
Mylene's advice? “Set common goals for expenses prioritization — whether it’s to purchase your home or ensure a high-quality education for the children. In this day of economic liberalization and gender equality, it will be all right to discuss which part of your salary you’re okay to put in the pot.”
It can be all, or a portion, or even nothing as the case with Mylene because fortunately for her, her husband and her father-in-law cover all their family expenses.
For Tintin, she reminds working moms to “always ensure you have something to keep for yourself!”
The good news is that Dave now sings a different tune and gets just as upset as Tintin when he finds out that there are men who work with her in the same positions and make more money. And he has learned to celebrate that he found an awesome, hard-working woman.