Saturday, May 12, 2012

Out-earners: When the Wife is the Bigger Bread-winner

Even though - on average - women earn 82 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts make, in the new economy, there are many women that are able to out-earn their husbands.  And, it appears that this trend is likely to continue. 

For some couples a wife’s out-earning is the blessing that allows them to run their home and finances.  Other times, having a high-income wife becomes the kiss of death to a marriage. There are four ways female out-earning plays out in a marriage.  One way works and three don’t.  When it works, there are four factors that make it work:

1. There is a clear division of labor.  Being married is great. Because you have two partners, each spouse can take responsibility for a share of the life tasks.  No one has to have everything on their plate.  And, for many couples, they get to do the tasks that they enjoy and avoid the tasks that would feel more like drudgery.  As long as a couple is clear what each of them is in charge of and each of them fulfills their part of the bargain, everyone can be very happy with the deal.

2. Each partner values the others contribution.  When a partner has the attitude that their contribution has more value than that of their spouse, trouble is right around the corner.  Instead, it’s important that each partner be satisfied with the division of labor and appreciates their spouse’s contribution.

3. The couple has a shared vision and shared values.  When a married couple has a shared vision they are clear where they are going and what they want their lives to look like.  When a couple has shared values they know why and how they are going there.

4.  The family is living within its means.  Money problems don’t crop up from lack of money, they appear when a family is not living within its means.  In my divorce mediation practice I see many couples who have above average incomes but still have no net worth.  They are spending more than they earn.  This spending puts a strain on a marriage.  It is critical that couples live within their means in order to avoid marital money issues. 

Sadly, for many out-earner couples these factors are missing and the wife's earnings become a negative. While every couple is different, there are three common patterns I've found in out-earner couples who are not able to hold their marriages together. Here they are:

1. The Competitors.  These are partners who come to the marriage with high expectations and big potential for themselves and each other.  And, while he does OK somehow he doesn’t quite live up to the expectations and his potential as much as she does.  In the competitive environment these couples create there is a winner and a loser.  Keep in mind, these husbands would not be considered “losers” on the open market.  Its only when they are compared to their wives that they fall short.  But, falling short makes respect difficult.  (Both self-respect and partner-respect.)  And, without respect no marriage can survive.

2. The Loser.  Here is the man who would like a free ride.  He doesn’t really want to work and he is not a real Mr Mom either.  He does a bit of this or that but when his wife looks closely she finds that he is little more than an occasional baby sitter.  The bottom line is that the children, the money, the house, and all the big responsibilities, are hers.  Then one day she wakes up and realizes he is making such a minimal contribution to their lives that she would be better off without having to pull his dead weight.

3. Crummy marriage.  Sometimes, a marriage is just crummy and over.  In this case the fact that the wife earns more may be a detail that the couple looks at but it’s just one of many factors.  I believe that partners with failing marriages fall into four categories: 
  • Mismatch.  They are simply a mismatch, with conflicting values, goals, or temperament.
  • Addiction. One or both partners has some addiction issues.
  • Balance sheet mentality.  There is a balance sheet mentality that keeps the spouses from working together as a team; instead each one is looking at their individual contributions and feeling they are giving more than they are getting, and 
  • Unmet expectations.  One of both partners not living up to what was expected of them.  (My best example of this was a great couple we worked with a few years ago.  The husband was a dashing fire-fighter and army reservist.  His adorable wife was initially drawn to his strength and expected he would always protect her.  But, during a string of Florida hurricanes she found herself in their house, with two kids, and a leaking roof.  He was in Iraq - protecting us all.  She had an affair.  The end.)  In general, these expectations could be anything from a wife who loses her youth and innocence to a husband who loses his business. 
As our economy continues to evolve and the demand for certain skill-sets changes, we are going to see interesting shifts in earning and income potential for men and women.  These changes are going to continue to challenge marriages but couples can still make their marriages work and reap the rewards that can only be gained by having a committed partner. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Three Simple Steps To Winning Every Argument, Every Time

Here is my no-nonsense approach to winning every argument, every time.

1.  Pick your fights.  This is a three-part process.  First, pick who you are fighting with, then pick what you are fighting about, and finally decide when to bring it up.  But, before you even think about bringing up an unpleasant issue, rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.  Things that don’t rate as an 8, 9, or 10 are usually not worth arguing about.  Instead, ask your self – 30 minutes, 30 days or 30 years from now, will I still care about this?  If not, let it go.

Who?  If someone is a lunatic don’t waste your time.  This includes teen agers.  The frontal lobe of the brain is not fully formed until age 25 so arguing with a teen ager means you are arguing with someone who has only a fraction of a brain.  And, anyway, the time to win an argument with a teen ager is when they are two.  That’s when you set the rules down.  Whatever you taught them at two is what you will get when they are 15.  With that said, keep in mind that it is critical to listen to your teenager.  Give him/her a chance to convince you.  (It’s good practice for them.)  During those times that s/he cannot convince you, give him/her a choice between two options that you consider marginally acceptable.  As to adult lunatics, stay as far away from them as possible.  Minimize your dealings with crazy people.  This will save you time and money.  I repeat, do not argue with crazy people.  Even if you win, you lose. 

What?  Only argue over things that can be measured.  Do not argue over values and beliefs.  Yesterday I got myself in an uproar trying to convince someone that her political beliefs are full of holes.  HELLO!  Ultimately, if she feels better believing stories designed to manipulate the masses with fear, who am I to point to reality.  Values and beliefs are not negotiable.  Only argue over things that can result in an action plan – you will do this, I won’t do that, etc.  Leave the rest of it for the pundits. 

When?  If you are sure you want to go forward, think about the consequences of bringing up the topic.  Timing is critical.  Ask yourself is this the best time to make your point or if it would be better to shut up now and bring it up later.  In any event, avoid arguing in public at all costs. 

2.  Fight fair.  There are four simple rules for a fair fight.  (1) Fight in the here and now – do not bring up things that happened in the past.  (2) Listen to each other.  Do not talk over someone.  Instead, take turns speaking, even if you have to use a timer to make it happen.  (3) Keep the focus on yourself, use “I” statements to avoid pointing the finger of blame.  It’s not important what percentage of fault each of you contributed to the creation of the problem.  (4) Avoid threats, name-calling, contempt, nagging, whining, and any other communication strategy that could be seen as manipulative.

3.  Follow my nine fight fundamentals.

  • Find commonalities
  • What's in it for him/her?  Instead of focusing on what you want, focus on what features and benefits the other person will receive.
  • Look at the whole picture.  And, then look at the details.
  • Clearly state what you want/need.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • Give everyone time to think, process the information, and cool down.
  • Speak in a language the other person understands.  Don't talk feelings to your accountant.
  • Be comfortable apologizing.  A genuine apology can bring about profound change and healing.  Often you can come out the big winner when you apologize.  An apology is one way to give the “loser” an opportunity to save face.
  • Get closure and finish on the positive.  Each argument ends with one of three possible outcomes:
      • Agreement
      • Agree to disagree and move on
      • No agreement and horns still locked.  Of course, just because you’re here now doesn’t mean this is where you’ll stay.  But, this is the resolution you don’t want.  Remember, there is a HUGE difference between going away unhappy and going away so angry that getting a gun sounds like a good idea.  If you “win” and the other side goes home and gets his gun, you lost.
Questions, commentary? I want to hear about your arguments and how they play out. Email me.

Why Women Screw Up Their Relationships

Guess what girls. It is up to you to make your relationship work - or not. Men are simple creatures. And, their simpler brains work differently from ours. They are not nearly as relationship oriented as we are. So, in a man-woman relationship it falls upon the woman to manage the relational interactions. Remember, that. Relationship management is your job, just like fixing the garbage disposal and changing a tire are his. Sexist? Nope. We are equal, but we are different. Here are the three other things you need to know so that you don’t screw up your relationship.  

1. Don’t listen to your hormones. During the early stages of a relationship you are awash with hormonal messages. Your brain is playing tricks on you. These hormonal messages are designed to spark feelings of attachment and connection for the “beloved.” But, once you are attached the hormones stop coming. Now, you can see his true colors and it may be too late to escape gracefully. So, avoid making a serious commitment while you are feeling ga-ga from the serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, oxytocin, and vasopressin that your brain is putting out.

 2. Don’t expect your man to be your girlfriend or your mother. Manage your expectations. Your man will typically not be able to support you or share your interests like a girlfriend. And, he will not be able to sacrifice or pick up after you the way a mother would. On the other hand, he will expect you to fulfill your role, however he sees it. So, ask him what he needs from you. You may be surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly) by his simple answer. Tell him what you expect from him, but keep it simple and make sure its doable.  

3. Don’t be too easy. Hunting is in the male DNA. He wants to hunt. And, often he cannot tell the difference between you and the wildlife. So, give him space. The “distance-pursuer” dance is an extreme form of the dynamic that plays out with a needy woman and a detached man. She is always chasing, while he creates emotional distance. If you are the pursuer, don’t cry, get mad, or nag for more attention. (AND, don’t tell him “we need to talk.”) All you need to do is create some distance.

Most human behaviors can be plotted on a bell curve. So everything I’ve said here may not be true for you. You and/or your man may fall outside the “normal” range when it comes to gender related relationship behaviors. If that’s where you see yourselves, that’s OK, just enjoy your differences.