Post No.: 0468
There’s far more to contributing to a relationship than who brings home the most money. Money is easy to quantify but housework, raising children and so forth (stuff that women traditionally do more of and is unpaid) counts for a lot too in family units hence should also be recognised. Not everything that adds value to society is measured in monetary terms. It can perhaps be converted into economic terms indirectly though (e.g. the benefits to the future workforce for raising healthy and able children, or the cost to the economy of neglected children who might turn to a life of drug abuse and/or crime as adults).
If both partners have full-time external jobs, then even though one partner might earn more money than the other, it doesn’t mean that this partner can get away with doing far less childcare or housework. Learning from lessons in negotiations, both people will actually have equal power to demand a more equitable share of the workload at home. What’s considered fair so that both partners will be personally happy will be up to each couple (e.g. one partner might actually like to cook and is a ‘control freak’ in the kitchen and the other might have skills that the first partner doesn’t have to fix things around the house). However, if such a satisfactory solution is not possible then perhaps they shouldn’t really be together i.e. there should be ‘no deal’ for a partnership, bluntly speaking. Why be together if one or both parties don’t need or want anything from the other?
The reason why there’s equal power is because if either party refuses to cooperate then the entire family unit will collapse and neither will gain from the benefits of having a cohesive family unit, for themselves, for each other or for the kids. So earning more money in a relationship doesn’t entitle one to more leisure or rest time. The unpaid labour keeps the ship afloat too – it’d sink without it – hence the power of those who do the unpaid work is equal to those who do the paid work in the relationship.
Put another way, if your partner refused to do any work at all and you’d feel the negative effects of this, then this would mean that they have power in the negotiation concerning a fairer division of labour because it’d mean that the work they do is important; and vice-versa. If you can instead shrug your shoulders and say, “So what?” if they refused to do any of the work they do (i.e. you can and will do those things by yourself if you had to, or can find or afford other arrangements you’re happy with, and you therefore don’t need them at all) then perhaps they don’t have any power – but you’re highly likely going to complain about their labour strike instead! This means that their contribution, at an emotional, physical and/or other level, is vital to you, and you shouldn’t take it for granted even if it earns less or nothing in monetary terms. Woof.
Could the breadwinner happily do his/her job if he/she had to look after the home and children alone? Could the homemaker and childminder happily look after the house and children alone if he/she had to get an external job that paid enough? ‘Splitting the pie’ according to ‘the principle of the divided cloth’ is also why couples – even if one partner earns all of the money and the other looks after the home and children – should arguably both equally split 50:50 what they both produce (technically above what each can get on their own but let’s keep it simpler and more romantically equal for an intimate relationship here) because neither could do what each one does and still achieve the same outcome, happily or comfortably, alone.
One way to improve how much you appreciate your partner is to therefore imagine if he/she suddenly disappeared – what differences would you notice and could he/she be easily replaced? (If this exercise backfires because you’ll genuinely feel happier then maybe again you’re not right for each other. But this could be hubris because imagining living without them might not be the same as if you actually did live without them!)
So share things so that, in total, everything is perceived to be equal by both parties, which usually means making sure your partner is supported with the childcare and housework. Make sure they have external family support. Make sure that if they’re working then they’re enjoying it and aren’t missing out on other parts of their life for doing so. Make sure no one blames themselves for not being able to give their best to both work and family. Make sure you each know you have control in your busy lives and the pressure to earn more than what’s truly needed is only optional. Make sure your partner is appreciated for his/her efforts at work and for the family. And make sure they know they are better than what they may think they are – that your partner can be confident in him/herself.
Do watch out for people who try to demonstrate early on that they’re rubbish at things like cooking or cleaning though, in the hope that they won’t ever be asked or relied upon to cook or clean again(!) You may start to think that you might as well do it all to avoid the fuss or substandard work. Laziness can be rewarded when it’s pandered to. (It’s like when English people generally expect foreigners to speak English when they’re in the UK, yet don’t always expect themselves to speak the local language when they’re in a foreign country, even if they work and live there! People around the world choose to learn English on their own accord for many reasons, but when confronted with an English person who hasn’t even bothered to learn a few important local phrases, they tend to think they might as well speak English to them instead of urge them to try to speak the local language, in order to avoid the fuss. It’s in turn frequent how some people will assume that a European or American person who can speak, say, Japanese must be half-Japanese or something because why would they bother learning Japanese otherwise(!)) You might be fine with this – perhaps because they have abilities that complement yours – but if you cannot accept that your boy/girlfriend can’t or won’t do something well then perhaps they’re not for the long-term for you?
We also need to recognise that we are biased in thinking that we contribute more to things than we really do because we each live from the perspective of ourselves as the lead characters of our own stories and underweight the inputs and impacts of others because we can’t always see or hear them. For example, when you ask each partner in a couple to separately write down how much they contribute to the housework as a percentage, their aggregate total will likely add up to well over 100% (e.g. the husband says 45% and the wife says 75%)!
To help prevent your work or career from ruining your relationship – don’t argue that you have more stress than he/she does. It is not a suffering contest! No one’s lingering stress should be more or less consequential overall, and suffering more shouldn’t be a badge of honour to boast about. (People who genuinely suffer would rather lose this contest than brag about how hard they’ve got it.) You can express appreciation without devaluing yourself – the best way to elicit support is to nurture the other person. Give in order to get.
Don’t invest all of your energy, dynamism or time for work – save some for your home life too, as your work life will have some impact on your home life. So don’t make sacrifices at home for work. Look after your and your family’s health first. Success in life is finding a content and sustainable balance.
Make sure you can both flip between work and family roles comfortably as these often require opposing attitudes. The qualities for success at work are typically not the same for at home. Home is different socially – there’s less perfectionism, and simply getting on with others, for instance. The goal at home is the relationship and the qualities of nurturing; not comparisons, competitiveness or trying to gain more power or money than the other. So don’t bring your assertive work attitude home – switch to the loving home ‘you’.
When in the presence of your partner, don’t think about work too much. Leave your work worries behind when the workday is over (even if you work at home) and be the family person. Be emotionally available for him/her. A good husband/wife, or father/mother to one’s children, or friend to one’s friends, is more crucial than being a good worker any day. Workers are far more interchangeable than partners.
Be sensitive to if your busyness is hurting others – encourage your partner to speak up about how he/she would like the relationship to change for the better. Even the small things are important. Quality time can often simply mean appreciating each other’s fluffy company. It doesn’t always have to involve intense effort or planning (e.g. just turn off any distractions and have a gentle one-on-one). If you ever feel rusty because the relationship has entered a rut then work at it and practise it until you feel comfortable again – the more you do something the easier it gets. Don’t avoid things that’ll add so much more to your relationship. So learn, practise, adapt and persist, such as with the playing, touching, communicating, loving, intimacy and other vital interpersonal skills.
Never blame work for deficiencies in your home life. Prioritise what you consider important in your lives and choose the lifestyle that brings you both the most outright happiness, not anything else like trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ or thinking that your children want more stuff rather than more time with you. Money is important because (bad) debts are bad for the family, but this is often about being smarter with your money and living within your means rather than needing more.
You should both ideally be compatible in terms of your attitudes to money. Money problems in relationships include ‘financial infidelity’, which means things like lying about what one has bought, being untruthful about secret stashes of money, or hiding debt problems. If you lie about money then it’ll be inferred that you’ll be untrustworthy about other critical aspects of the relationship too. So promise to be totally transparent about all money issues with each other. Have regular conversations about the state of the household finances. In some cultures it’s considered vulgar to talk about money but you’re supposed to be in a partnership that’s sharing everything. It’s not about comparing anything.
Set joint financial goals and budgets together – don’t be one of those couples where only one person looks after the household finances. This can cause problems if that person passes away first and there’s this stressful period when the surviving partner is mourning at the same time as not knowing how to access funds or pay bills.
Some careful savers might be fine with going out with impulsive spenders, but if not then the relationship won’t work. Some compromise or latitude should be expected for what seem like frivolous purchases (perhaps you’ll have both agreed to a monthly budget of personal expenditure that won’t be judged or questioned) but major purchases must always be discussed and agreed upon together.
Although it’s obviously critical to have enough money for the necessities, and to raise a family if that’s your shared goal, for money is a major cause of relationship strife – you should love your partner for who they are, not what they make. Being together is more important than the inanimate material stuff.