What to Do If You're the Breadwinner in Your Relationship

Our resident psychiatrist addresses the imbalances stemming from a difference in paychecks.

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(Image credit: Getty Images ¦ Chuanchai Pundej / EyeEm)

Q: I’m the breadwinner in my family, which sometimes leads to resentment on my part when my husband isn’t pulling his weight. When I try to broach the topic, he gets defensive. Advice?

From my experience, arguments about money are rarely just about money. They’re about what money represents to those involved. Instead of fixating on dollars and cents and who owes/deserves what, shift the focus to the underlying emotions. Is your husband feeling controlled by the current financial situation? Is it making him feel vulnerable or insecure? What does being the breadwinner mean to you?

People have different money mindsets: Some are savers, others are spenders, and pretty much everyone has a personal definition of value. These beliefs are shaped by how we grew up and what money meant to our parents. For instance, I had a patient whose father lost his job when she was in middle school. The family sold their home and ended up moving in with relatives in a different state. This experience undoubtedly informed how she thought about her own finances and created issues with her significant other, who was far less cautious. Instead of allowing the conflict to drive a wedge between them, they used it to gain a greater understanding of each other and ultimately generate a shared understanding of what money meant to them as a couple.

So, here’s my two cents (pun intended): Have an open conversation about what money means to each of you. Money is so easily weaponized. Choose to disarm it instead.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positiveprescription.com.

This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Marie Claire.

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