When my wife and I met nearly eight years ago, we had both recently graduated and were working long, late shifts in the service industry.
She was co-managing a late-night bar and I worked in a celebrity chef restaurant where the only thing the celebrity contributed was his name.
After a late shift I would head for drinks in my wife’s bar, quickly becoming a regular, then the quizmaster, then her boyfriend.
She was criminally underpaid and I was on minimum wage, so neither of us was rolling in it but it didn’t really matter.
We didn’t have any responsibility to each other than to have fun. If one of us couldn’t afford to go out, we stayed in. Money didn’t feel like a part of the relationship.
Now we’re married, however, my wife works for a bank detecting fraud while I write for a living – and that means I earn less than her.
My wife’s superior income is not something which hurts my fragile, masculine pride. She is as smart as she is tenacious and far more competent in general than I am – that’s why I love and admire her. Simply, she deserves to be paid more than me.
But I’m not an idiot – only people who don’t need money say money doesn’t matter. Plenty of couples get stressed at the thought of being short on the bills – that’s just part of life – but add in the fact that there is a difference in our earning and a shadow of inequality, dependence and failure creeps in.
If money comes up during an argument it shifts from ‘We’ll have forgotten this in 10 minutes’ to ‘Oh, this is an all-evening debate? I’ll take the tea off the hob then.’ I think my wife is angry at me for earning less, which in turn makes me defensive.
Luckily after eight years, we’re pretty good at understanding what we’re each trying to say: she isn’t upset I earn less than her, but sometimes I’m upset on her behalf.
When my wife feels she can’t buy something because she is worried about the cost – even something she actually needs and is reasonably priced – I can’t help but feel I’m a drain on her. If it wasn’t for me, she’d be happier… or at least own more clothes.
Whenever I have a bad or unproductive day – which happens in any job – I don’t just feel like I’m letting myself down, I feel like I’m letting her down too. As a generally negative kind of guy, if I spiral and feel bad about myself, my super positive wife feels the strain.
Then she feels bad because she can’t stop me feeling bad. Money might not buy love but it is sometimes necessary for romance – or even just fun. A relationship needs more than just getting by together and nights in watching Netflix. I still have the desire to show my wife I love her but flashy displays of affection come at the cost of paying the bills, and the anxiety creeps in.
I’ve learned that small gestures can go a long way. Flowers, or a book, or an M&S two for £12 meal may not make my wife’s heart race but they are enough to say, ‘I was thinking of you’. It’s never much, but she loves it.
There’s something about small, everyday treats that is more meaningful than extravagant gifts – although I’m sure they’re nice too. We both feel that spending lots of money comes off as ‘look how much this is worth’ – smothering the sentiment in the expense.