Orlando, Florida, radiologist Dawn DeLavallade was in her last year of medical school when she met her husband, Ty, a teacher. "We always knew one day I would probably make more money," she recalls. "After we married and I settled into my career, I started feeling some shame about earning more than my husband." Her stress was compounded by her inability to share with friends and family for fear that others wouldn't understand. However, DeLavallade was far from alone:
Forty percent of American households with children now have a woman bringing home the higher paycheck, and that reality may be more prevalent in Black households. In the past 50 years, the number of married moms earning more than their husbands has quadrupled, and the numbers continue to rise as women outnumber men in college and make gains at work. But the growth of female breadwinners and decline of traditional gender roles don't have to wreak havoc on our relationships.
EMBRACE YOUR REALITY
"There are a lot of misconceptions when a woman earns more than her man," says Farnoosh Torabi, who makes higher wages than her husband and wrote When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women (Hudson Street Press). "As a female breadwinner, you have to write your own rules and share your needs."
After acknowledging her stress over being the top earner, DeLavallade confided in a girlfriend. To her surprise, the friend confessed she also made more than her husband. "I felt a huge weight lift," she says. DeLavallade was inspired to create a support group for other high-earning women, which includes monthly group calls and webinars at shemakesmore.com.
Not all higher-earning ladies entered the relationship that way. "I see many couples where the man used to make more money and now they are adjusting to a new dynamic," says Decatur, Georgia, counselor Alduan Tartt, Ph.D., author of The Ring Formula: How to Marry Mr. Right (Visionary Minds). That was the case for Courtney Waldon, 33, whose husband, Jarrel, a chef, lost his job when the restaurant where he worked closed months before they wed in 2010. "It was a tough transition for us, from him making more to me paying more of the bills," the Chicago makeup artist shares. "It also brought us closer. We had to talk more about our finances and future plans." As Jarrel started a dessert business, the couple got creative with their finances, mostly fueled by Courtney. One of their favorite memories is of a $12 date of putt-putt golf and Burger King's dollar menu.
POOL YOUR RESOURCES
Buffalo psychologist Ursuline Bankhead considers her Ph.D. and career success as both her and her husband's since he worked various jobs, including one as a janitor, to support her when they wed and later while she was in school. "I am now the top earner in our relationship, and I wouldn't be here without his support," she says. "The money isn't mine or his, but ours. We pay the bills by working as a team." The couple that ate peanut butter sandwiches during their hardest times celebrated their twentieth anniversary in Rome last year with their daughter. "I can't put a value on my husband," Bankhead says. Joining forces financially minimizes the focus on who makes what. When the check comes at dinner, it also allows your man to whip out the debit card from your joint account.
DISCUSS YOUR ROLES
"One of the biggest myths surrounding women who make more money is that we all want to wear the pants with our men," says DeLavallade. "We are often leaders at work, but are also capable of following. We don't always want to be the head of household." If you do want to take a break from leading when you get home, don't assume your man will know you left your manager role at work. Talk with your partner about the relationship responsibilities you each would like to handle. To assist your man in taking charge, let your feminine side show and ask his opinion on decisions. And to really push him to step up at the castle, let him know he's king. "When we hear king, we'll do just about anything," Tartt says. "We need to hear that you trust us. Sometimes a woman has to over-commu-nicate to her man that even though she makes more money, she still needs him."
DISCOVER TRUE VALUE
We live in a materialistic society that can make it difficult to see the specialness of your relationship if it's not covered in bling. The most important items a partner can provide—affection, encouragement, laughter, loyalty—are not things that can be purchased. "My husband accepts me for who I am and would do anything for me," Bankhead says. "I can't put a price on our relationship." Instead of diamonds and dinners, many female top-earners are spoiled with support and a tidy home after a long day. "It is a nontraditional gender role, but there are a lot of men who are completely okay with defining their manhood with how they help their wives," Tartt suggests.
Issues can arise in female-breadwinner relationships when it's time to have some fun, especially travel. You may want a getaway and a Caribbean excursion is more of a stretch for your man than for you. "Instead of hitting Costa Rica for seven days, consider four days so he can afford it, or postpone so he can contribute or save more," Tartt says.
"If you are an African-American woman with a master's and married to a post office worker with a high school diploma, can you imagine having to pay him alimony if you split?" asks Lester L. Barclay, a Chicago divorce attorney and author of The African-American Guide to Divorce & Drama (Khari). An end to your marriage is sad enough without the stress of supporting an ex in the lifestyle you've introduced to him. Consider joining a growing number of women who get prenuptial agreements that state how assets will be divided if your relationship ends. Think of it as a kind of insurance policy: You pray you won't need it, but will be glad you have it if you split.
3 HABITS TO AVOID
1. Being Your Man's HR Manager
You may see your mate's potential and have the contacts to help him. But remember: He is your man, not your mentee. "Avoid criticizing him and instead act like his assistant," psychologist Alduan Tartt, Ph.D., says. "Let him feel in charge while supporting his goals. A smart woman can turn her man from Clark Kent to Superman."
2. Bringing Up That It's Your Money
In the middle of an argument, makeup artist Courtney Waldon yelled at her husband, "My money is not yours!" and knew she had crossed a line. "I now know that what comes in our home is for the both of us to help run our household," she says. "Just because I make more does not make me better or him less."
3. Hiding Your Success
Some high-earning women don't feel comfortable sharing they are shining at work when their partner isn't doing the same. But your good news may be the motivation your man needs. Dawn DeLavallade saw her edge rub off when her husband transitioned from a teacher to luxury travel agent.
FOR THE SINGLE LADIES
If you are on the dating scene and curious if a new guy will be comfortable with you making more money, pay attention to how he talks about his job. "If work is how a man defines himself and what he talks the most about, he may not feel comfortable with a partner who has a more prominent position or makes money," says author Farnoosh Torabi. "The couples that are most successful can transcend gender role expectations. When we were dating, my husband was up-front that family was most important to him. He now equally splits caring for our newborn."
Follow ESSENCE Relationships Editor Charreah K. Jackson on Twitter @CHARREAH.