I have listened to a few of your podcasts that talk about the perils of income disparity between spouses, where the wife earns more than the husband. I’m a guy, and frankly the topic terrifies me because I’d rather drive nails through my feet than face the prospect of divorce because of this kind of thing.
I’m dating someone who does not earn more than me but she has high potential to do so later.Am I heading for disaster?
I (RDL) often speak about the connection between money and marriage on my podcast and I (Susan) frequently cover variations on the same theme in my Musings. In this forum you get the two of us together!
A few years ago, we did a multi-day conference in Dallas on the topic and we are working on a book as well. Some of what we write below comes out of that manuscript. So, you have touched a hot-button subject for us and one in which, not surprisingly, much of what we have to say contradicts popular culture.
One of the sentences in your letter concerns us. We hope we’re wrong but you sound passively resigned to being terrified. Why isn’t that fear fueling your financial climb to a new level at which that fear would evaporate? Part of being a male is developing and feeling ambition.
Here is the bottom line: There is no question that both men and women can provide financially for their families. However, doing so fills a spiritual need in a man that it doesn’t for a woman. In addition, failing to provide financially erodes the essence of masculinity for most men but it leaves the core of a woman’s identity intact.
When a man loses his job or cannot obtain one, it strikes a blow at the heart of his masculinity. For this reason his body often reacts with sexual impotence. This problem, with its capacity to damage the marriage, can intensify, rather than diminish, if his wife capably and expansively assumes the burden of supporting the family.
Your question relates to this concept. We wouldn’t phrase it as “heading for disaster,” but we do think that you are wise to think about this now.
Here are some of the questions we feel you ought to both be examining now. Is your girlfriend’s work a ‘calling,’ or a job? Is she doing something that she feels defines her identity, or she is simply good at what she does? Do you ever get the feeling that her job is the priority in her life? If one of you was offered a career opportunity that required moving, meaning the other spouse would need to leave his or her current position, would your decision be based solely on who earns more? Do either or both of you see a commuter marriage where you only live together a few days a month as a viable option? What would inform that decision? Do you both mean the same thing when you use the words “marriage” and “family”?
When you and your girlfriend talk about raising a family, who do you see having primary responsibility for caring for children? Do you both understand why 50/50 is an unrealistic answer?
Additionally we think that there are some really important questions for you to ask yourself. Why are you, at what we presume is a relatively young age, deciding that your own earning potential is so limited? Are you willing to do whatever is necessary to carry the primary burden of providing for a wife and family or are you counting on your wife to share that burden equally? If you were married and your wife decided, after the arrival of her first baby, that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mother and wife, would that delight you or terrify you? Have you expressed your preference to her in this area?
If you have listened to our audio program, Madam, I’m Adam, you know that ancient Jewish wisdom places primary responsibility for marriage failure on the husband. Earning more than your wife doesn’t guarantee a successful marriage even though the opposite scenario is likely to pose problems. We encourage you to seek role models of enduring good marriages and openly ask for guidance from the husbands. Awareness of divorce is necessary in the world today, but if fear of divorce plays an outsized part in your thinking, we suggest that perhaps you need to develop your thinking and feelings before making a commitment to marriage.
Humming, “Here Comes the Groom,”
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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