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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 07-Apr-15 16:37:00

Guest post: "Now I'm dependent on my partner for money - and it's hard to adjust"

Aileen Few on how her husband becoming the sole breadwinner affected their relationship

Aileen Few

(Mal)contented Mother

Posted on: Tue 07-Apr-15 16:37:00


Lead photo

"I felt defensive and beholden to him in a new and unwanted way."

When a couple has a baby everything changes. Obviously. But does one partner giving up their paid employment to provide full time childcare change things more?

Taking the decision to 'stay at home' means that everything about your daily routine, and much of your identity, changes. For me, the loss of financial independence has been one of the hardest things to deal with.

However right-on and post-gender you might think you are, when one partner becomes the sole breadwinner, it can be pretty bloody difficult to feel like equals. The problem isn't so much the lack of cash (though of course this can create tension) but the feeling that it is someone else's cash you're spending.

Of course, for some couples, there is no concept of 'my money' and 'your money'. To those for whom "what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine" is lived out literally - I salute you. But I'm not quite there yet.

Women of my generation have been taught that we go to school, and probably university, to get a job to earn money. Most of us remember the sweet euphoria of our first pay packet. That heady rush of independence when you realise this money is all yours. If you wanted to spend it all on belly tops or tights with crazy patterns or under-age drinking, then you could. Before we 'settle down' and have kids, sharing everything (everything? Really?) is a foreign idea. I don't think we've been programmed that way.

The age at which people have their first child continues to rise, and, as our careers progressed, my friends (both male and female) and I became increasingly attached to our own money. Sure, some couples had joint accounts, but they were sacred ground for gas, mortgage, council tax; not impulse buys or frothy coffees.

This arrangement tends to falter, though, when one partner loses their independent income. Suddenly, they have nothing, in monetary terms, to contribute to the shared pot. Putting aside the constant source of unpaid childcare and domestic services of course, because you can't offer them up as legal tender in Sainsbury's, sadly. (I could rant forever about the contribution free female labour makes to our economy, but for now let's just say that it's hard to feel truly valued in this society when you're not actually paid.)

When I stopped earning, I realised that if we maintained the 'your-money, my-money' mindset, it would become almost impossible to feel on even ground. It's hard not to feel disempowered.

When I stopped earning, it took a while for me to realise that if we maintained the 'your-money, my-money' mindset, it would become almost impossible to feel on even ground. However appreciated I am, it's hard not to feel a loss of control, and disempowered.

The logistics are inevitably awkward. Some 'breadwinners' give their partner a bit of money every month - usually nothing like the amount they would be paid if they were actually employed – so they've got something 'just for them'. Or maybe the partner who stays at home simply uses the joint account, whilst the main earner retains their own account and transfers money monthly.

Isn't there something uncomfortable, though, about someone else being able to see all of your purchases, especially when this arrangement only goes one way? You may not actually be under any scrutiny, but, in my experience, it's a recipe for self-consciousness and guilt. "Is this really a vital purchase?" you ask yourself at the checkout. Does it fit neatly into 'for the house' or 'for a child'?

In this context, 'earning a living' becomes a telling phrase; if you're not being paid it is easier to feel you don't 'earn' anything, and that you have to prove your worth in other ways. For me, this manifested itself in repeatedly explaining to my husband as soon as he came through the door why the house was a mess, as if the small child wasn't a big enough clue. I'd hear myself launching into a long and rambling story about why I bought something, too, as if I needed to justify it.

These explanations are almost always unsolicited and unnecessary - but they can be a telling sign that something has changed in how you relate to your partner. Often I felt defensive and beholden to him in a new and unwanted way, and it took me a while to figure out why.

When money has never been an issue between a couple, it is hard to admit that it has become one, or to find the words to talk about it. The British don't really do talking about money - it's considered bad manners - so it's no wonder that any attempt to broach the subject can get a bit fraught. How do you tell your partner you're finding it hard that they are in control of the finances, without accusing them of being controlling?

Arguably, this whole issue is 'just' about changing your mind-set. Whatever the arrangements, if your partner is genuinely supportive and you have enough money to go round, then just stop feeling so bloody guilty. It's easy to say, though. Relationship dynamics are subtle things, and - even if neither of you intended this shift to occur, even if it crept up on you - I think it's important to talk about it.

I reckon that probably, the one-account couples have got it right. How else can it feel like the money truly belongs to both of you? How else can you be equally in control of your family's finances? Many of us have made wedding vows declaring "all that I have I share with you" in one way or another. So perhaps it's time we put our money where our mouth is?

By Aileen Few

Twitter: @AAFew

PomeralLights Tue 07-Apr-15 17:39:03

Surely this should be discussed pre-baby/giving up work.

Jetgir1 Tue 07-Apr-15 17:49:39

We've had 1 joint account for years. Everything goes in it and everything comes out of it. I am married. I share my house, my car, my kids and my life with my husband. Why wouldn't we share money? We both know what the bills cost and what is left. Any none essential purchases are only done if there is enough money to do so. Having money in one place means it is easy to assess that. All large purchases we consult each other. I find it easier to manage and we've found it easier to ride changes in dynamics (both of us have been sahp and both worked at various times)

lightgreenglass Tue 07-Apr-15 17:51:43

I work and am paid a wage but everything goes into one pot for both myself and my husband. We both justify what we spend our money on. He earns significantly more than me but I see it as our money not his. I think it really depends on you both as a couple and your attitude to money.

readysteady Tue 07-Apr-15 18:09:34

I would assume rightly or wrongly that most people pool money when married, or children come along. Otherwise what if one of you is a carer and the other an investment banker? How can any other way be fair in a equal partnership and family unit??

readysteady Tue 07-Apr-15 18:11:06

My point being one of you being a SAHP is irrelevant if you already have a unbalanced marriage.

icklekid Tue 07-Apr-15 18:11:55

Joint account with all money except a small amount in separate accounts each month to spend as we wish/save for presents etc. Works really well for us and meant I never felt I had to justify coffee on maternity leave etc just budget carefully!

Heels99 Tue 07-Apr-15 18:23:54

As per previous posters, its a non issue! I am working now but had periods when studying and sahp, being on a lower income is of course more of a challenge but we have never done separate financials anyway, its all joint. Find it strange married people with children would do it any other way!
Strange blog!

bluebackpack Tue 07-Apr-15 18:27:25

We have joint and separate accounts but we have regarded all money as ours since we got married. It wouldn't make sense to me otherwise. DH has either been the sole earner, or earned between 5-10x my income during the time we've been together and I've never felt that I have to be grateful to him or that I need to justify my spending. We still regard ourselves as equals within the relationship and neither of us has more control over financial decisions than the other. Personally I've never attached much status or power to my job or salary, because for me that comes from within, so I think that is what has helped me adjust to changes more easily.

fruitpastille Tue 07-Apr-15 18:27:55

Similar here although I do work part time. All goes into one pot. Small amount standing order into individual pocket money accounts for private, frivolous spends although these aren't used for much as most things including clothes and haircuts are considered essential and therefore joint. No issues.

Stinchcombebabycafe Tue 07-Apr-15 19:07:20

I felt like this for many years. Now I have a set amount paid into my personal bank account for me to spend how I wish; things for me, surprise gifts for him, etc. It's also a useful second pot of money if/when I lose our main bank card.

cosmicglittergirl Tue 07-Apr-15 19:12:29

Interesting topic, but like pp I've never felt awkward not earning any money. I'm on my second year as a SAHM to two children under two and it's a given that all money is 'ours'. Even before the children my husband earns considerably more than me. However, I know of people who have a less harmonious relationship regarding their partner and money and they have have expressed the opinion that they have to justify certain purchases. One woman's husband did actually question purchases. (Essential) Hopefully, this is not the norm.

StephanieDA Tue 07-Apr-15 19:21:04

I think this is a great post. My Mum was recently telling me about very similar feelings she had when she was a SAHP. Not relevant to me, as my husband and I were self-employed and worked together, but I can imagine that no matter how good a relationship I was in, or how grown-up I think I am, in the same position I too would experience that subtle shift in power - and probably not so subtly rage and scream and rail against those feelings of being a kept woman on an allowance. And I'd still want my own bank account.

bonniebear Tue 07-Apr-15 19:51:22

We have account since 6 months of dating which all our wages went in to, and back then we earned the same. Dh has had periods of being a sahd and earning less than me. We don't really notice as never known any different in our adult lives.

waterlily200 Tue 07-Apr-15 20:06:15

I totally agree. Joint accounts all the way. My partner and I have been that way since before we married. We make spending decisions together and never had a problem.

But both my in laws and my sister in law have separate accounts and separate money. My in laws have operated this way forever. I cannot get my head around it as I often hear them saying 'I owe u or u owe me' it's insane. Especially considering MIL didn't work when kids were young she did the odd bit of cleaning for a bit of spends and got an allowance for household things but FIL spent what he wanted on football. I also recently found out that as they had one car he decided where they went or what they did on weekends but it all fit around the football and if he was at the football that was it. This came out as MIL is horrified SIL shares a car with husband, but they live in a city and it's no problem for either of them.

Also until recently when needed for a mortgage SIL didn't know how much her husband earned!!!!

Share everything, be honest and be a partnership. I'm not saying it's always easy at forst if you're used to different circumstances but it's worth it.

Agedoesntmatter Tue 07-Apr-15 21:24:37

This is a great post, and in my experience, completely spot on. I'm currently on Mat Leave after baby number 2. I have no income as such as my maternity pay stopped a while back. I absolutely hate asking my DH for money. He transfers a small amount over into the joint account ( used only for bills, Council Tax etc) monthly and questions my spending habits of the money he's given me. Meanwhile however, his salary gets paid into his own account, he drives a flash car, eats lunch out every day.... You get my drift?
Actually, for this reason I couldn't be a SAHP and I'm going back for 2 days a week in August.
I have to earn my own money and I'm intending on sorting myself out once and for all this summer and becoming independent ( in all ways ) again

Josie5 Tue 07-Apr-15 21:34:54

Spot on. On both maternity leaves once my mat pay ran out I felt uncomfortable asking my husband for money despite doing all the childcare and all of the domestic stuff at home. Having been brought up to go to uni to earn my own money to value my ability to be independent of a man I have found this difficult and dis empowering. As a mother to two daughters I also want them to have a career they like and to be able to look after themselves but do not invisage things changing much in terms of who does what and what is valued.

readysteady Tue 07-Apr-15 22:14:22

But I still don't understand....are you saying your partners have a higher standard of living then you? In a partnership??? I want to empower my daughters to be able to support themselves, always to have the means as it I also teach my son but surely in real life a relationship has to stand up to shifts of who is working when...if raising children, redundancies, training etc lives are tricky to balance that's why marriage is surely a partnership not a individual competion and secrets about own money? Now I have always worked but our money is totally long as we both live within our joint means....we never talk about or mention money....we both know the full picture....

Mrlr1 Tue 07-Apr-15 23:09:56

What an interesting discussion...I've experienced the double whammy of having been the bigger bread winner and now on mat leave for baby 3, have limited money and a husband who can't cope with the drop in income after not needing to worry before. I can't even buy a coffee without him panicking. We have always shared funds equally to cover bills and dc expenses with whatever leftover being ours. So the pain of a single income is hurting us both in different ways. Despite resenting the prospect, I need to go back to work so that I don't resent him!!!

blueshoes Wed 08-Apr-15 00:10:31

As a professional woman who enjoys a good wage, I can sympathise with the OP. It would be foolish to think that over time, the dynamics between a couple would not change if one person is dependent on the other financially. My mother who was a SAHM when we were growing up warned me against the vulnerability of complete financial dependence.

MissYamabuki Wed 08-Apr-15 01:32:00

Great post. I could never put myself in a position where I'm financially dependent on somebody especially the person you're in a relationship with. We share finances for the common stuff (bills, mortgage) but that's where it stops. It's great that we don't have to justify personal spending to each other. Supporting myself and my family / being financially independent is paramount for me.

AstonishingMouse Wed 08-Apr-15 01:36:07

To deal with this problem we have all our money paid into a joint account; bills, holidays, house and children's stuff come out of this account. Large purchases are discussed. Well, I tell DP but I largely control finance stuff which suits us both.
We also have individual current accounts and we each have the same amount of spending money transferred from the joint account to our personal accounts each month. We then use our individual accounts for our own clothes, nights out with friends, coffees, yoga or whatever (although we don't stick to this religiously, if one of us needs a new winter coat or whatever it doesn't have to come from our personal accounts).
I find this a much more comfortable arrangement than just having a joint account. I want to be able to buy DP a birthday present without him having to see it on the bank statement. And as I am generally more aware of our finances than DP I can be pretty critical about how he spends his money. This way I don't need to see DP's day to day purchases and pick on him for buying too many coffees or whatever. As long as he stays within his spending money (which he does) he can sup lattes to his heart's content.

PomeralLights Wed 08-Apr-15 01:46:35

Over time, women statistically will earn less than men. We are kidding ourselves if we think that just the act of taking ML (not necessarily giving up work to SAHP, just taking the leave then going back) doesn't result in discrimination in the workplace - of course it does. If you take a year for ML you are 'less experienced' etc etc. The discrimination is endemic to a patriarchal system.

If you don't recognise this within the marriage and therefore don't split funds equally the wider sexism in society manages to nose it's way into your marriage and home life. If you earn more than your OH then you might think this doesn't apply to you, but still, having a set up where one partner isn't afforded the same standard of living as the other due to the profession they are in, or through caring for the family, is surely going to cause more arguments/resentment than making all money equal.

Men need to value the unpaid work involved in pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding (where you bf). This work HAS to be the women's work but that doesn't mean it should be ignored or denigrated. Once that is acknowledged, seeing childcare as work also must logically follow, regardless of which partner provides it?

If my DH begrudged sharing his wage with me I'd think we had bigger problems than me justifying buying a coffee tbh. Like the fact he clearly wouldn't respect me or our children, or that we hadnt properly discussed the upbringing we wanted them to have before committing to having them.

sandgrown Wed 08-Apr-15 07:18:23

Having had my fingers burnt when ex-DH totally cleared out our bank accounts I would not have a joint account again. DP and I have responsibility for various bills but is not very organised so I am going to set up a joint account for bills only to which we will pay in the same amount.

nihatsgirl Wed 08-Apr-15 07:39:07

I relate a lot to what the OP States. This is why I can never be a non earner no matter how much my partner gets.

Joiny accounts only work if both partners have same spending habits. I had joint account with my ex, and it has been difficult separating fully due to this. I think personally there is nothing sexy about a partner who is financially dependant on another wholly. Kudos to those who are able to do this. I think my pec, gladly becoming financially dependent on me was a contributory factor to our separation. At present, I could live comfortably without working, but this would mean being dependant financially on my hubby. Something I can't do yet, so long as I have the option to work.huge ca

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