Man struggles to feel like a "man" due to wife's inflated income


**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

I grew up in the ’70s, when things we now consider toxic were normal, including ideas about what makes a man. One of those ideas is that a man should make more money than his partner. It’s an outdated idea, but it’s one that I’ve seen cause a lot of pain in relationships.

My friend is in a position where she makes more money than her husband, and it’s been hard for him to deal with. He feels like less of a man because he doesn’t bring in as much as she does.

As a result, he refuses to go out on dates or take vacations unless he pays, and his pride prevents him from taking financial help from his wife. Their financial circumstances seem to be a constant point of contention between them.

She hates seeing him struggle to make ends meet when she is capable of making sure that they’re both comfortable. But she doesn’t want to demean him by offering to pay for things when she knows he’s strapped for cash. When she’s offered in the past, he’s always refused.

This issue has put a lot of stress on their relationship, and I’m not sure what the solution is. I don’t think either of them is wrong, but I can see how this could eventually tear them apart if they can’t figure out a way to compromise.

Money and the perception of masculinity

Masculinity is often conflated with making money. An unspoken rule says that men need to make a lot of money to be considered “real men.” This pressure can lead to mental and physical distress.

A 2019 study found that when a man’s wife earns more money than he does, it leads to increased stress and anxiety. The study also found that some men felt like they needed to make more money to be the “man of the house.”

Children of all genders absorb ideas perpetuated in their environment about what manhood is and is not from a very young age. And societal conditioning is directly linked to the pressure many men feel to earn more and be the “breadwinner.”

Three Reasons Why Men Are Insecure About Making Money:

1. They may feel like they’re not “man enough” if they’re not bringing in a high enough salary to support their partner and children.

2. Money is often seen as a symbol of power and success, and men may feel insecure if they don’t have as much money as their peers.

3. Men with lower salaries are often deemed uninteresting, less desirable, and aren’t respected as much as their higher-earning counterparts.

Although times have changed, many people still operate under the belief that the man should be the highest-paid provider of the house. This pressure to “be the man” often leads to insecurity and frustration.

With money being such a large part of our society, it’s no wonder that many men lack confidence if they make less money than their partners or comrades. This can be a vicious cycle, as the anxiety and insecurity caused by not making enough money can lead to even more financial stress.

Is it possible to feel financially valuable as a man if your partner makes more money than you?

In theory, yes, it is possible to feel financially valuable and secure as a man if your partner earns more. You can still be loved, appreciated, and valued, even if you don’t bring in the highest salary.

But to obtain this level of emotional freedom, some men will have to commit to unlearning the harmful and outdated ideas about masculinity they’ve been taught. This can be a difficult task, but it’s important to try if you want to reduce the anxiety and stress that comes with making less money than your partner.

What do you think? Does the amount of money a man makes affect his masculinity? Let us know in the comments below!

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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