*By Sid Balachandran
Despite having similar academic degrees and almost the same amount of work experience, I'm honoured to loudly state that for as long as I can remember, my wife has always earned more money than I have. And except for the fact that I've had to occasionally take loans from her, it hasn't perturbed me one bit. And yes, we are fiercely loyal and committed to each other. Except for when we're dreaming about some of our celebrity crushes, perhaps.
This is not to say that I haven't been sometimes teased by friends and family about not earning as much as my wife. In fact, the teasing almost doubled when I quit full-time work and took over this amazing role as a stay-at-home-dad. And yes, whatever "male ego" I have was hurt occasionally. I suppose a lot of it comes from a deep-rooted ideology that men derive their sense of identity from the ability to provide for and protect their families, and women from their domestic prowess and ability to nurture.
One thing that's definitely helped both of us is making a conscious decision never to bring up money when we're having an argument.
And although today there's been an economic shift and we are looking at a society where women are taking on more roles that have always been archetypical "male" territory, our social lives and mentalities haven't caught up. I soon came to terms with the fact that my wife earning more than me did not reflect in any way or form on my "manhood" or capability to be a loving husband, father and person. So, despite society and the people around me often trying to pick on me for my reduced/lack of earning potential, I'm happy that my identity is not muddled up; I'm not beating myself up for not earning as much as my spouse.
And here are the reasons why.
I've never been intimidated by my wife's lofty career ambitions. In fact, I've always felt the urge to stand by her decisions and to be her pillar of support, as I'd promised to be. Of course, the challenge to this has been that my wife does sometimes expect me to be as driven as she is. In fact, if there was some sort of counselling available on "how to be more ambitious", I'm sure she'd have signed me up for it.
We've always seen ourselves as partners, and not competitors. The thing with money is that it sometimes tends to loom over your coupledom like a dark, threatening storm cloud.
But the important thing is to realise that we play for the same team called "family", and the end goal is always happiness.
Money has never been the foundation that our relationship was built on. While we both agree that money is certainly important, it has never been the main focal point or decisive factor in our relationship. We try and split our expenses in the most logical way we can. So, if I've brought in 20% of the total household income, I pay 20% of the total household expense. That way, she doesn't feel like she is always footing the entire expense. We also put any excess money into a joint account, and refer to it as our "savings."
We've always kept open the lines of communication and don't shy away from talking about any feelings of insecurity or resentment when and if they come up.
The thing about disparity in incomes is that it sometimes comes out when you least expect it—like when having a completely unrelated argument, and we try to go "one-up" on the other person. Money is ugly that way—it tends to make you feel powerful. One thing that's definitely helped both of us is making a conscious decision never to bring up money when we're having an argument. Or the fact that one person earns a lot more than the other.
As the husband of a successful career woman, I understand that high-paying roles do come with added responsibilities. This means that I don't expect her to behave like the age-old definition of a conventional wife, nor do I guilt-trip her into feeling bad about not spending enough time with her family. What has also helped is that despite her busy schedule, my wife has always ensured that her work doesn't take full precedence over her family. This mutual give-and-take and understanding has certainly helped us both maintain some level-headedness when it comes to money matters.
But perhaps the thing that's helped us maintain a happy marriage the most, despite the disparity in our incomes, is the fact that we've always kept open the lines of communication and don't shy away from talking about any feelings of insecurity or resentment when and if they come up.
When it comes to challenges that couples face, there are few things that some honest conversation (and sex) can't solve.
*Sid Balachandran is a telecommunication engineer who is now a work-from-home dad. When not running after his four-year old son, tripping over Lego blocks, or picking out food from his hair, he writes about fatherhood, relationships, fiction and satire on this blog, which recently won 'The Best Personal Blog in India' award.
This article first appeared on Bonobology.com.