Money is often one of the biggest pain points of a relationship. Money disagreements between partners are really common and can be among the causes of divorce.
Many of those disagreements come from partners’ different money scripts. It’s not unusual to have one spouse that tends toward spending while the other tends toward saving.
Sometimes you have one spouse that “does money” and the other who “doesn’t do money” and basically gives the power over money decisions to their partner. Couples may have different comfort levels and beliefs around debt. These are just a few of the many possible sources of tension around money.
Another situation that can get complicated is the question of one partner being employed and the other staying at home, most commonly to take care of young children. Even if the couple is in agreement that this is what is best for their family, the dynamics around it can cause tension.
Looking at it logically, having one parent stay at home often makes financial sense when you consider the cost of daycare, as well as other expenses that can increase when both parents are employed—such as commuting, eating out, professional wardrobes, and services like house cleaning. I’ve seen numbers that show the financial value of a stay-at-home parent as being higher than the average salaries for many types of employment.
No matter how sensible or logical the financial benefits may be, that doesn’t necessarily resolve partners’ tension around this issue. Here are just some examples of the emotions that might be involved:
- Fear. Someone may have deep, vulnerable feelings of fear; being afraid to be a burden, to be taken care of, to be dependent upon somebody else, to carry the whole financial load. It’s common for both partners to be afraid that the family can’t live on one income.
- Resentment and Anger. The idea of one partner staying at home may not feel fair. The stay-at-home spouse might feel trapped in a traditional role or resent lost career opportunities; the employed spouse might feel burdened by financial responsibility or resent the time the other partner gets to spend with the children; either or both might feel resentment over how household responsibilities are divided.
- Guilt. The stay-at-home spouse might feel guilty for not bringing in earnings, for “wasting” their education, for being a “burden.” The employed spouse might feel guilty over their partner bearing most of the responsibility for child care.
Whatever the logical and financial plusses and minuses around this issue, the reality for many couples is that having one partner stay home just doesn’t work emotionally for them. The need to maintain some type of balance between parenting and both partners taking care of themselves and their interests just doesn’t fit with having only one partner employed.
This is why it matters for partners who are considering having one stay at home to first focus on their own emotions. What comes up around this idea? What fears, what anger, what guilt, what “shoulds,” what expectations? Once each partner explores their own feelings, they can check in with each other and really have a discussion. Making the transition to one parent staying home is a big decision. It’s important to make it emotionally as well as financially.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler