The fact that some women earn more than their partners really shouldn’t still be a shocker in 2023. But alas, we still live in times where men who earn less than their better halves choose to be emasculated by something as fickle as money.
Many times, a woman will fall so deeply in love that they will not be deterred by their partner not being able to contribute equally to money matters. But, when it comes to other aspects of their relationship, they work equally towards making it great.
Software engineer Refilwe Motho*, 32, has been with her boyfriend for three years.
“I earn triple what he makes plus benefits. At the beginning of our relationship, we used to split the bill. As we became more serious, I would pick up the whole bill or be more generous with the gifts and holiday accommodations,” Motho says.
“Sometimes, he would insist on paying, but I enjoyed taking care of the financial aspect of our dating activities because I really liked him. When we started discussing moving in together, we exchanged our salary information. Although that didn’t change the dynamics, it opened up a dialogue about how he wished he made more so that he could be in a better position financially. But, it didn’t bother me that he couldn’t,” she recalls.
As things got serious, Motho and her boyfriend went on to meet each other’s friends and family — and of course some pressing questions were put on the table.
“What does he drive; where does he live; what does he do for a living? And, will he be able to take care of you? My love-struck heart would be caught off-guard by sarcastic responses from friends every time I shared that I made enough to take care of the both of us,” she says.
The day Motho’s father enquired about her boyfriend frazzled her even more — especially when he refused to give his blessing for her to be with someone who could not provide for her.
It goes without saying that age-old patriarchal systems continue to influence masculinity in many societies and cultures. These often position men as the heads of households because they, initially, held the right to work and bring home the money.
This, in turn, has conditioned many women to hold a man’s financial status to high esteem when considering a relationship, says counselling psychologist and life coach Linda Maye.
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Opinions around who earns more, and who it should actually be, are abound. With the legacy of men being providers, many people use financial class to determine their worth. Very often, they believe that the higher a man’s financial class, the worthier he makes them look, adds psychologist and relationship expert Makabelo Motaung.
“With all this range to relationships, I’ve been comfortable with the reality of dating someone who earns less. Unfortunately, because we don’t exist in silos, at some point my father’s comment and those of my friends started making me overthink the financial dynamic of my relationship,” she adds.
Whose shame is it?
Opinions are a huge subject matter in our mental conversations. The more regard we have for the people who express them, the more likely we are to internalise them, Maye says. So, it’s only human that Motho is grappling with racing thoughts of what the right thing to do is.
If her dilemma sounds like a page out of your book, don’t panic – it’s possible to shield yourself by making a concerted effort to work on your confidence, says clinical psychologist and relationship adviser Dr Hlengiwe Zwane. Breathe in all the goodness and deep-sigh the bad vibes; you’re going to be just fine.
She explains that the journey begins with what your voice is telling you. Both your internal voice and capacity to express yourself are important to nurture. When you’re able to confidently express yourself, you’re more likely to be able to stand up to people trying to shame you. But, if you don’t have a say, it silences you and makes you carry shame – first within yourself and then on behalf of others.
The different dynamics introduced by friends or family matter because we often don’t define what things mean for ourselves and our partners. So, we lend over to relative norms to formulate our perceptions. She adds that lacking an understanding of the value of your
relationship also makes you susceptible to being easily influenced. “Once you’ve done the internal work, you can establish rules of engagement with your partner, like whether or not to shield them when questions about what they do for a living come up.”
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- Assess your needs and wants from a relationship.
- Establish if you’re working towards the same goal.
- Do a situational analysis. This will help you determine how realistic your partner can meet what you want and need.
- Be clear on your needs. Detail everything, from financial contribution to rent, school fees and all other money-related matters.
- Accept that some things that can’t be done now, can be done later.
So, what makes a relationship tick? Dr Zwane draws from a concept called the Triangle of Love, that works with three components – passion, commitment and intimacy – as the working formula for a good relationship. She adds that it’s great when you can achieve all three, but long-term relationships can still function on any two. Intimacy is by far the most valuable aspect.
“And no, we’re not talking about sexual intimacy – we’re talking about getting personal and closely acquainted with your partner.” Understanding your love languages, values and belief systems is imperative. And, avoiding assumptions based on how you interpret each other enables you to love each other based on your true selves.
Red flag alert
All relationships are prone to challenges, and it’s important to pay attention to your partner’s actions to observe how they make you feel, Maye says. Our preferences may vary, but our instincts give us the clues we need. When you don’t like something, say it.
If it is repeated, decide whether you can tolerate it or not. Keep an eye out for restrictive behaviour, gaslighting or narcissism, Dr Zwane adds. Ask yourself whether the financial dynamic comes with offish demands of shrinking yourself so that your partner can feel more masculine. If they want you to shrink yourself, they value their beliefs more than you.
*Not their real name
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