How to Successfully Handle Being a Female Breadwinner

by Melanie Lockert · 6 comments

female breadwinner

For most of my life, my mother has been the sole breadwinner in our household. My dad has health issues and stopped working when I was a teenager.

Seeing my mom work hard and pay for everything on her own was simultaneously inspiring and frustrating. I admired her hard work and her ability to bring home the bacon, but I had often wondered if this what she signed up for? The baby boomer generation grew up with shifting gender and career dynamics.

Women were getting out of the kitchen and into the workplace. The feminist movement also brought out the idea of equal rights and equal pay. Because of these various factors, more and more women are becoming breadwinners.

And here I am finding myself as a part of this select group. I’m sure others would agree, but being a female breadwinner isn’t something you choose, rather it’s something that happens because of career choices, illness, or life events — and because you fall in love with someone based on who they are, not their income potential.

My partner is a musician, with a wildly variable income. Even with my nonprofit-turned-freelance salary, I’ve made more money than him our entire relationship. Although we treat each other as equals, there are still things I’ve had to learn about being a breadwinner in order for our relationship to work.

If you find yourself making more than your husband or partner, here are ways to make it work as a female breadwinner.

Renegotiate Your Roles

Although being a female breadwinner is becoming more common, it is still a nontraditional role. Because of that, you need to give up what you’ve been taught and the ideas in your head of how a relationship “should” look.

As women, we grow up thinking that Prince Charming is going to come to sweep us away and take care of us. Well, it’s time to create a new fairy tale by renegotiating your roles in money and housework.

Be clear with your partner about what you need emotionally and financially and set expectations about housework.

For example, if your husband stays at home, what are your expectations for him? Should he cook and clean? Help out more with the kids? Whatever it is you need and want, these roles need to be clearly communicated. Remember, your partner is not a mind reader!

I think this is especially important because as a woman, it’s easy to bring home the bacon, then cook it too. I read an interesting fact in the book When She Makes More:10 Rules for Breadwinning Women by Farnoosh Torabi that female breadwinners — after a long day of work — were still more likely to do the majority of the housework. The premise is that when women came home they went back to more “traditional” roles.

It’s key to find a balance that works for you and your relationship. I like to clean, whereas my partner likes to cook. On days that he knows I’m working longer hours, he will pick up the extra slack around the house, so I can continue working.

It’s all about working together as a team and finding that balance.

Don’t Use Money as a Form of Power

When you make more, it can be easy to feel like you have more power when it comes to decisions. Wrong! If you want your relationship to survive when you make more, you can’t use money as a form of power when it comes to decisions, purchases, etc.

Remember, you are a team. Your partner doesn’t want it held over their head that you make more — which could be emasculating and is undoubtedly unhelpful.

Don’t keep score of the financial imbalance, or inequities in the household. If there are issues, work to resolve them together.

If it really is a money issue, encourage your partner to start a side hustle. If it’s about time, communicate with each other and explain that you need more help around the house and with running errands.

I have a tendency of thinking I can do everything by myself. But when I do that, I sacrifice my work and my own time and start to feel resentful. But that’s not my partner’s problem. It’s my job to communicate my needs, and as a breadwinner, this type of honesty will be your best friend in your relationship.

Discuss Your Financial Goals

Money is still one of the leading causes of divorce, and you don’t want the fact that you make more to be a thorn in the side of your relationship. In order to work together as a couple, discuss your financial goals and what you want.

If you both aren’t clear on your financial goals, you could create an us-versus-them mentality. Income starts to matter less when you discuss your goals and dreams for the future, together. After all, you fell in love for a reason! Money is simply a tool to help you achieve those goals, so make sure you get on the same page financially and feel comfortable in your roles.

Come up with a financial plan that respects and honors both your work and income. As the breadwinner, it may make sense that you pay a higher proportion of the bills — if not all of them. Whatever situation you and your partner come up with, make sure you are both happy with it.

Negotiate financial terms that make sense given your situation and always remember there is more to a relationship than money — but that money is an easy scapegoat when there are other issues in the relationship.

Women breadwinners should be supportive of their partners and their goals and dreams, while men should be proud and happy for their breadwinning partners. Listen to each other’s unique needs when navigating these roles. And most importantly, never stop sharing your dreams, and supporting each other in this journey called life.

Are you a female breadwinner? What tips do you have to share with other female breadwinners?

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  • Donna S says:

    I was the breadwinner as well. Also by fate. But I married him because I loved him–not to be taken care of. We shared everything. He let me handle the money since I was good at it. But he loved taking care of our children, and since he was a teacher, he was very good at it. We had a wonderful life together because we cared about one another. We talked about our budget and tried to satisfy both our goals.

  • James says:

    Brave and controversial topic from Melanie L.

    I wanted to move the discussion along by adding a couple of points here. First, the role reversal is sometimes welcome, but traditional gender roles are still deeply rooted in many parts of the country.

    Second, its easier if the non-breadwinning partner has passive income. So, it they have a ton of stocks and bonds producing income they’d still be making a contribution – that is, they’re still bringing in bread.

    Lastly, I think Melanie is right to address the psychology of the situation. Resentment, contempt, etc. are great ways to degrade the quality of your relationship quickly.

    • Caroline Joanna Mary Bowman says:

      Why is it brave and controversial? It feels… odd to have a whole article explaining carefully how to… earn more money than one’s spouse *correctly* because if you happen to be a woman, it’s a massively tricky thing. If more people just did it and more people simply didn’t micro-explain to men what women have just been expected to know intuitively, then it would shake down quite fast.

  • DNN says:

    Honestly, I find it a turn on when an educated female is running the show in her business and making big bucks. I date those kinds of women not for their money, but because they have it going on mentally. They challenge me to be better. 🙂

  • Stefanie says:

    My mom was the breadwinner in our household too, though both of my parents were very successful. I really HATE having the smaller income in my relationship, haha.

  • Donna says:

    You pretty much covered it all in your article. I became the breadwinner by chance. My career was blooming and his wasn’t. But we did much of the things you mentioned. We always discussed large expenses TOGETHER and we had EQUAL say in how the money was spent. We were a team. It really was not important who did the job–just that it got done. We cared for one another and supported one another’s dreams. THAT is what couples should do. See yourself and your partner as a unit. Both must do that for things to grow into a loving relationship that lasts a lifetime.

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