I have noticed that some men have a problem with their wives making more money than they do. What a crazy notion that is. Some women feel bad about making less than their husbands or feel that their pay check may not be worth the effort. That's just as crazy. Here is the way I see it: marriage is a partnership. You share the responsibilities, the obligations and the rewards. If one of you does well, you both benefit. However, feelings are feelings and it's tough to ignore them, so here are some techniques you can use to make both parties feel better about the relationship and about their earning power:
1. Acknowledge the Facts - unless you have a magic wand you can wave around to change your respective earning power or fundamentally change the circumstances that brought you to where you are today, you are going to have to live with reality. One of you makes more than the other. Put that fact on the table and find a way to make peace with it.
2. Understand that Things Can Change - "for richer or for poorer" is not just an empty statement. Things in life change. Today you are making more than him, tomorrow something happens and the roles are reversed. God forbid, the higher earning partner could fall ill, lose their job or decide to accept a lesser paying job with more job satisfaction. The situation you are in now is not permanent. The important thing is to understand that your partner is a part of your financial foundation - a sort of diversifying asset, if you will. Isn't it a great thing to know that if things go badly for you, you can rely on someone close to carry you through?
When I was getting my MBA my wife was raking in the dough. This was at the height of the dot com bubble and her stock options were worth a nice chunk of change (no, we did not sell at the right time). She made much more money than I could generate from my measly teaching assistant gigs. She also contributed much more than I as I was going through law school. Now things have changed for us, and who knows, they could change again.
3. Trick Yourselves a Bit - who said trickery is a bad thing? The better earning partner can bear more of the deductions to allow the lower paid partner to bring home a bigger check. For example, the higher paid partner could ask for a higher withholding level, which would allow the lower paid partner to claim more deductions and increase their take home pay (as long as you end up withholding the correct amount - IRS penalties and interest suck). Similarly, the better paid partner could bear the costs of the family health care and any flexible spending accounts, again increasing the other partner's take home pay. If you decide to go this route, make sure that you are not opting for worse or more expensive medical coverage or for lesser benefits, just to make yourselves feel better.
4. Consider Your Full Contribution - I make more money than my wife these days, but she spends much more time with the kids and that's worth a bundle. It is frequently the case that the lower earning partner contributes more around the house or with other responsibilities. Make sure that you acknowledge this fact and give credit where credit is due. These additional responsibilites are just as important, if not more important, than money.
5. No Extra Credit - It is also important to acknowledge the fact that just because you bring in more cash than your partner, you are not entitled to more control and have no more rights to that money than does your partner. One of my colleagues at work once told me that he "gives his wife an allowance". This statement rattled and disgusted me. If you treat your partner as you would a child, and if you do not recognize the value that you each bring to the table just because one of you is currently making more money than the other, than I am afraid the future does not bode well for your relationship. Seriously, marriage is, first and foremost, about sharing.
6. Motivate Each Other - recognize that your financial futures are tied together, as are the rest of your lives. If one of you feels unhappy about your level of income, motivate each other. Help each other network, find a new job, get a raise, start a business, get an education - whatever it takes to improve your financial situation as a couple.
As a bottom line, I would like to leave you with the following thought: marriage is a partnership, not a contest. If one of you makes more, it only means that together as a family, you have more. It's a good thing.