Wives Who Earn Their Own Money Need to Use This Power Well

It is widely known that prior to women becoming economically independent, wives whose marriages went south were at a disadvantage. If a woman’s husband left her, he was required to pay alimony and child support; but it wasn’t always enough to live on comfortably. Thus, if the wife didn’t have an education or job skills, she would invariably have a rough go of it.

Thankfully, those days are gone. Most women today are either educated or skilled (or both) and are thus capable of earning a living.

But now we have a different problem.

A man I know recently told me that friends of his, a married couple with four children, are getting divorced. He said the husband is such a great guy that he married his wife even though she had a child from a previous relationship and subsequently took that child on as his. The couple then went on to have three children of their own.

Ten years in, his wife has filed for divorce.

This couple is a great example of how prevalent divorce has become as a result of women being economically independent. Far from being the victim of a man who left her high and dry, it turns out this wife’s parents are very wealthy, and she uses this resource when her husband—who’s gainfully employed—can’t meet her material demands. Naturally, this undermines her husband’s efforts to provide for his family.

Now it’s true this woman’s circumstances are not the norm—most people don’t have rich parents— but it is equally true that most wives today are economically independent, just for a different reason: they make their own money. And while this would certainly benefit any wife whose husband left her, there’s just one problem.

Men aren’t the ones leaving their marriages in droves. Women are.

Many Americans don’t realize that wives initiate the vast majority of divorce. And many of these women are divorcing perfectly good husbands.

The question is why, and there’s an obvious answer.

Because they can.

To put it another way, women becoming economically independent spurred a self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea was for women to be armed with the ability to take care of themselves if their marriages fell apart, but by ginning up their resources “in the event of a divorce,” women increase the likelihood they will divorce.

Why? Because when the marriage hits a rough patch—as all marriages do—it becomes all too easy for wives, particularly since we live in a culture that hails women’s independence, to use their money as a means of escape. Some even use it as a weapon.

Can’t the same be said of husbands? Sometimes. But it’s much less common—and here’s why.

The average married man has a visceral need to protect and provide for his family. The more he makes, the better he feels about how he’s doing as a provider. It is therefore in his own best interest to be responsible with the money he makes.

The average married woman doesn’t earn money for the purpose of supporting her family so much as for the purpose of supporting herself “in the event of a divorce” or because she and her husband want or need the extra income. So unless she’s the primary breadwinner, she works for different reasons than her husband does—and thus her view of the money she earns is different from his.

To be clear: this is not a call for wives to stop earning money. It is simply to point out that there’s a smart way and a not so smart way to handle this still somewhat new state of affairs. And based on the divorce statistics of high-earning wives, it would appear the latter is more common.

Here are 5 basic rules for how to be an economically independent wife:

  1. Understand that the money you bring to the table is 50% his, just as the money he earns is 50% yours. While it’s fine to have small amounts that you and your husband set aside to spend independently, all monies should all go into one big pot. No “our” money and “my” money. Just our money.

  2. Every major purchase should be discussed and decided by both parties. Neither partner should make an executive decision.

  3. Never hide money. Be 100% transparent with everything you do.

  4. Don’t be the bookkeeper. Most husbands take pride in managing the family’s money, whereas many wives consider it just “one more chore” and wind up frustrated and resentful. Or they like the control and use it poorly—and their marriages suffer as a result. (Yes, some husbands do this; but it’s less common since a man’s identity is tied to his need to care for his family.) *NOTE: Do not go this route if your husband is financially irresponsible or has any kind of addiction.

  5. If you make more than your husband does, put aside that extra income for retirement or invest it together so the money you live on day to day comes primarily the money your husband makes.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.