Finding financial wellbeing when… your partner earns considerably more than you

by | Apr 15, 2021 | Articles, Wellbeing

By Olivia Stringer

Having a partner whose income is considerably higher than your own can put a huge strain on any relationship. My boyfriend’s current salary, in his early twenties, is more than I imagine I will ever earn and for a time this made me not only envious but also embarrassed by my comparatively pitiful earnings. 

I was jealous of the fact that his route to success had been pretty easy. His choice of career allowed him to leave university and almost immediately walk into a very well paid job, whereas my post-university life so far has been riddled with unpaid internships, job rejection emails and soul-destroying bar work. 

I felt that I worked a lot harder than him and had far more ambition. I felt that it was unfair that he is able to buy unnecessarily expensive things whilst I spend my spare time searching for miscellaneous household items that I can sell on Ebay to help cover my rent. 

Every time he bought me a coffee or paid for dinner I would get overcome with guilt and lack of self-worth. 

When he tried to be nice and buy me a new set of socks because he’d noticed that all of mine had holes in I became engulfed with embarrassment and couldn’t look him in the eye.

I do not want to be paid for, I want to be able to pay for things myself or at least to be able to return the favour, but the fact is, I just don’t have the disposable income to be able to do that.

I felt that by letting him pay for things I was taking advantage of his wealth and I was afraid that a part of him thought that I was using him for his money. 

It infuriated me that he does not seem to be fazed by the fact that he has always contributed so much more to food, holidays, days out etc. and that he could not empathise with my inner turmoil.

 I felt like a 1950s housewife. I felt that I was betraying my feminist values and that I should refuse to let him buy anything for me again and either watch him gorge on three course meals whilst I sat with a tap water and a packet of crisps or bankrupt myself by matching his spending.

I soon realised that this attitude was unhealthy and that if I let myself continue to feel this way it could lead to the breakdown of our relationship. 

Money isn’t everything, I hope that one day I will have enough money to be able to make an equal financial contribution but if not I know that there are an abundance of other things which make me a valued and worthy partner.  

I know that we make each other the happiest we have ever been, that neither of us have ever laughed so much and that if we were both penniless or if the roles were reversed and I was a millionaire, it wouldn’t change a thing about the way we feel for one another. 

 I began to rationalise the disparities in the amount of money that we spend on each other by thinking about it in similar terms to income tax. If we spent, let’s say, £100 each on gifts, my partner would be spending a far smaller percentage of his earnings than I would be. It would create a gaping hole in my bank balance and would be almost unnoticeable in his.Thus, it makes sense that we both pay what we can afford. 

In order for me to stop feeling like a cheapskate who can only afford to buy bargain gifts I instead began to make them. My artistic skills are pretty poor but a handmade card or a home cooked meal can be so meaningful. I no longer feel guilty for letting my boyfriend pay for things because I know that the time and effort that I have spent on him equates to any gifts that he buys for me.   

Changing my mindset really helped me to be able to deal with the guilt and stopped me from feeling like I was leeching off him. It also allowed my relationship with my partner to become healthier and stronger. 

For a while I was extremely focused on getting a job that would provide me with an income similar to my partner’s, regardless of whether or not it would make me happy. My boyfriend is incredibly lucky to have a job that he enjoys and which also pays well but if my dream job comes along and it is not incredibly well paid it would be foolish of me to turn it down.  

Moving forward, my partner and I are planning on moving in together. This will pose new challenges for us as we navigate finding somewhere that is within both of our price ranges and  decide how much we will each contribute to stuff like food shops and bills. However, with my newfound feelings of financial wellbeing, I am certain that I will be able to handle any money-based battles that my relationship is faced with.