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When it comes to money, people can get a bit… well, funny. In fact, it’s a topic that can cause issues amongst even the closest of friends and partners.

And while money – be it saving or spending – can often be the source of contention, pay disparity (that is, a difference between what one partner earns, compared to the other) is another issue that rears its unhelpful head all too often.

“Given the wide range of careers and income levels open to us all, it’s common to see differences in a couple’s earnings. But regardless of who the higher earner is, financial disparity, if not managed well, can cause tensions in a relationship,” says Molly Benjamin founder of Ladies Finance Club and author of Girls Just Wanna Have Funds.

Melbourne, woman, *Bianca, experienced this very issue with her husband of seven years, *Luke, after she recently received a promotion and subsequent pay rise.

“When I first told Luke, he was thrilled for me and about the additional income. But when it happened and we sat down to reconfigure budgets, he started to become less enthusiastic about it all,” Bianca says.

Luke began making disparaging comments toward Bianca, she says, putting her down and dismissing her new role as not being that important. He also became reluctant to take part in any financial conversations, even around holiday savings which was something he had usually instigated.

While initially ignoring the behaviour change, after a family gathering, where Bianca’s sibling joked about her becoming the breadwinner which caused Luke to become quite upset and angry, Bianca realised she needed to act.

“I asked Luke directly about why he was so upset, and he told me that he saw me earning more as a failure on his part and like he wasn’t doing his role as a husband and that he should be earning more than her,” she says.

With now around 40 per cent of Australian households having women as their primary earners, this tension isn’t isolated to Bianca and Luke’s situation.

“Every relationship is different, but in the situation where a woman earns more, the effect of gender norms can add a layer of difficulty,” says Benjamin.

“For men who have been socialised to believe their value is bound up in being a ‘provider’ or ‘breadwinner’, it can affect their self-esteem when they earn less,” she says. “And this can chip away at a relationship if they feel the need to exert their power in other ways, or to seek validation from their partner about their value as a man.”

Other factors can also cause issues around financial disparity, says clinical psychologist and author of Difficult People, Dr Rebecca Ray.

“Financial disparity between partners can often be a significant source of tension in relationships because we live in a capitalist society where money equals survival, quite literally.”

“Partners may have different financial backgrounds, earning capacities, or spending habits, leading to feelings of inequality or resentment. These differences can challenge the sense of partnership and equality within the relationship, potentially leading to conflicts and misunderstandings,” she says.

Picture: Getty Images

Dr Ray says some signs that financial disparity is causing issues in your relationship could include:

#1. Conflict over spending

“Disagreements about how money should be spent or saved can create relationship instability or disconnection, especially if partners have different priorities or financial goals,” she says.

#2. Feelings of insecurity

Dr Ray says that the partner with lower (or no) income may experience feelings of inadequacy or dependency, “while the higher-earning partner may feel burdened or pressured to provide.”

#3. Communication breakdown or miscommunication

Like Bianca and Luke, Dr Ray says that there can be a tendency to avoid discussing money, or problems altogether. Alternatively, couples may still have those discussions, but no longer do so respectfully and openly, which she says “can lead to communication breakdowns or ongoing misunderstandings.”

Hint: Sending these kind of selfies to him won’t help. Picture: Getty Images

While Bianca and Luke are still navigating the issues surrounding the financial disparity between them through couple’s counselling, both Benjamin and Dr Ray have the following advice for anyone else in a similar situation.

#1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Initiate an open and honest dialogue with your partner about money. Approach the conversation with empathy and a willingness to understand each other’s perspectives.

#2. Establish mutual goals

Work together to be on the same team and collaborate regarding your financial health and goals.

#3. Focus on equity and compromise

Work towards fair and equal financial decision-making where both partners feel valued and respected in the process and be open to compromise when your needs differ.

#4. Seek professional guidance if necessary

And finally, seek help from a money coach or financial adviser who can work with you to help set up finances in a way that works for you both.
With a strong interest in mental health and wellbeing, women’s health, relationships and all things celebrity and pop culture, Shona Hendley loves writing content that incorporates some combination of these. You can find more of her work here.