Power shifts in relationships can be perceived in many ways. Take the newlyweds who met in college. The wife was hired for a teaching job with a decent entry level salary, enough to support the couple while the husband attended law school. She worked full-time, paid all the bills, and ran the household while he focused on his studies. After passing the bar exam, he landed a position as an associate attorney at a mid-sized law firm, and his starting salary was twice that of his wife’s teaching income. Once he began “bringing home the bacon,” he took over the household budget as well as the decision-making.

In another scenario, let’s imagine a couple who each had good jobs with comparable salaries.  When the pandemic hit, the husband lost his lucrative restaurant job, and had no choice but to become the primary, stay-at-home caregiver to their three children.  He understood that the circumstances were out of his control, yet he felt diminished and less significant because he was no longer “bringing home the bacon.”  

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, men have been the breadwinners and women were the homemakers. That tradition, thankfully, is no longer relevant. But what if our subconscious still places us in those traditional roles? Sometimes 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 partner 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.