Income Disparity in Relationships

Jupiterimages/ Images

Money problems are a major cause of divorce in America, Casey Slide explains in an article titled “How to Deal with Financial Income Inequality in Marriage” for And though, according to the New York Times, an increasing number of people are partnering with others in the same income bracket (doctors marrying doctors, instead of doctors marrying nurses), there are still many couples who have a significant income disparity. If this disparity isn’t handled well, it can cause tension in a relationship.


When one partner earns more than the other, the lower-earning partner often feels guilty about it, notes Slide, who graduated with a degree in industrial engineering but became a stay-at-home mom upon the birth of her son. She says she has noticed this in her own marriage, where she sometimes feels that she shouldn’t buy something with her partner’s money. Occasionally, feelings of guilt might cause one partner to deny herself things in order to sustain the family finances, even when such denials are not necessary, she says, adding that because men are socialized to feel like they are the “providers” they are even more likely than women to feel guilt about earning lower pay.


The partner who makes more money and pays for things can also experience feelings of resentment toward the other. Laura Marcus, a reporter for The Guardian, interviewed a woman whose relationship had soured when her boyfriend lost his job and she started paying for everything. She resented that he expected her to cover all expenses, and he resented her for being “obsessed with money.” If money issues aren’t openly discussed, couples can find themselves harboring resentments that cause them to explode later on.


Income imbalances can also cause partners to lie about spending, as Slide revealed in “How to Deal with a Lying Spouse.” She explains that partners may lie to avoid confrontation about the price of a big purchase, to cover up an addiction, or because they fear being seen as inadequate or irresponsible by their partners. The partner who makes more money may also lie about how much is available, in order to keep a greater modicum of power in the relationship.

Power Imbalance

Money signifies power in a relationship, and the partner who has more earning power has more power to make all of the decisions, Slide notes. Couples are likely to disagree when one person gets to decide how money is allocated, where to go for vacation, and how much the other can spend. Another common issue is that the person who makes more money feels justified in spending much more instead of sharing. Counseling can help couples with power struggles over money get to a better place.