Power shifts in relationships can be perceived in many ways. Take the newlyweds who meet in college. The wife gets a teaching job with a decent entry level salary — enough to support the couple while the husband goes to law school. She works full-time, pays all the bills, and runs the household so that he can focus on his studies. After he graduates and passes the bar exam, he is able to land a position as an associate attorney at a mid-sized law firm, and his starting salary is twice that of his wife’s teaching income. Now that he’s bringing home the bacon, he’s taken over the household budget and also taken over the decision-making.
Also consider the recent power shift between Leonard and Penny in “The Big Bang Theory.” When Penny was a starving actress working as a waitress, her self-confidence was often diminished. Then she became a successful pharmaceutical sales rep, with a salary greater than Leonard’s. The dynamic between the fictional couple changed significantly.
In a perfect world, none of us would attach our perceived power to our paycheck. But we do, and some of us are more successful at adjusting than others. Traditionally, the men have been the breadwinners and the women have been the homemakers. That tradition, thankfully, is no longer relevant. But what if our subconscious still places us in the traditional roles? You can be sure that a crisis might occur when the power shifts and roles change.
There are ways to adjust to a power shift without causing the relationship to collapse. I’ll give you a few ideas to start your thinking process.
- TALK TO EACH OTHER. This seems so obvious, but it’s not always the case. Acknowledging the shift without judgment is the trick here. Take the time to explain your observations about the shift, and describe how the changes have made you feel. Then listen as your partner does the same.
- FIGURE OUT WHAT’S WORKING AND WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT. Even though your wife is now the major breadwinner, maybe you’re still better at paying the bills on time and being in charge of the finances.
- MAKE THE NEW PLAN TEMPORARY. Baby steps are generally easier to adjust to, so schedule a review of how things are going in a month or two. Maybe have an agenda for next month’s date night, and then tweak the plan if it’s not entirely working.
- REMEMBER TO VALUE YOURSELF. You bring many intangibles into your relationship. Make a list of the good stuff and remind yourself why you deserve to be happy.
- BE FLEXIBLE. If you’ve ever admired a yoga instructor for her flexibility, please understand that being flexible takes practice. Think about how you can do a little bit more each day to be flexible in your relationship. It’s worth it.
Separating the connection between power and paycheck is definitely a journey. We have habits to modify, and patterns to shift. This takes time and, above all, it takes patience.
Once again, Nancy, an insightfully written article. I liked how you used the example of Leonard and Penny from “Big Bang.”