The recession has had a big impact on marital finances, and many couples have been hit by job losses. We know that more men than women have become unemployed, so it wasn't surprising that readers sent in a number of e-mails about becoming the major breadwinners when their husbands were fired. Christina wrote in telling of a firing that occurred just before her wedding, and then described how she and her husband have coped in the year that followed.
"My fiancé got laid off on Oct. 24, 2008, and we got married on Nov. 8." she began.
There was a solid 24 hours of panic with a lot of tears and questions. How could this happen to us? Can we even afford our honeymoon anymore? (Yes!) Will your parents still let you marry me? (I’m 90 perecent sure he was just joking on this one.) Maybe it was the pre-wedding stress, but it seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened at the time, and, come to think of it, it was the biggest event to test our relationship. Then it was Oct. 25, and it didn't seem as bad. It was moving day, and I was officially moving out of my apartment to his house to start our new lives together. Finally, some positive thinking.
Fast-forward to a year later, as we prepare to celebrate our first anniversary, and I’m still working and he still isn’t. The timing of everything was less than ideal. By the time we got back from the honeymoon and came down off the newlywed high it was the holidays, and let’s face it, not many companies hire around the holidays ... especially in this economy. Even when my husband was working, I was earning just a little bit more than he, but we were never in the position where I could be the sole earner of the household. Has it been hard? Yes. Has it been as hard as I thought? No. Have there been some serious discussions about money? Yes. Do we sit at home and never go out any more? No.
There have been a lot of obstacles to overcome, especially since we just started living together and sharing expenses when the layoff occurred. This was very new territory for the both of us, and we are still establishing our household roles. There was always the understanding that I would be the one in charge of the money flow in the household, but it becomes a bit more complicated when it is only your money. I came into the relationship with a lot of savings, while my husband brought a lot of credit-card debt, and while there were some initial feelings of "Oh my gosh, I'm losing all my savings while paying off a debt that isn't even mine!" I quickly learned I can't think like that. We were in this together, and it was all about making smart decisions for our future.
The hardest part of this whole thing has nothing to do with money and more to do with my husband's confidence in himself. He was definitely born with the male provider gene and I think it's hard on him that he isn't contributing financially to the household right now. I'm confident in him, though, and no matter how long it takes to get back in the job market, we have proved that we can weather the storm. It was an unexpected bump in the road, but we are surviving, and I think that's a pretty good start to a solid future together.
Not every marriage can sustain unemployment. Another reader wrote in with the following story.
While we were married, my husband lost his job three times. He wanted to "pursue a career as an independent consultant" and grow his own software company (this was in the early 2000s). My employer merged with another company, and the new boss told me I had a job in North Carolina, when we lived in Atlanta. Hubby had been out of work for a year but cried when I told him we had to move and said I was ruining his life. We moved anyway, and divorced a year-and-a-half later.
My current income is twice the level of my boyfriend’s. I have always felt that whoever earns the least should do more of the domestic chores. Unfortunately, men don’t think that way. I still do my "second job" (housekeeping), while my boyfriend continues to work. And this makes me resentful, to be honest. What exactly did we gain from 100 years of social movement if I can’t get my (lower earning) boyfriend to pull his own weight?
Finally, a story of a husband who wasn’t fired but who quit to take care of his daughter. I’ll run a bunch of submissions on dealing with children and finances later this week, but for now, here’s a taste from Ariel.
I have been the primary earner in my household for most of my five-year marriage and the sole earner since July. When our nanny left us, we looked at the options and decided that my husband would leave his contract position as an IT systems developer to stay at home with our 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter. In the year leading up this, he had dropped to four days a week to spend Fridays with her, and earned about half what I did as in-house lawyer for a small company. When we finally ran the numbers we figured that, after paying the nanny, taxes, and commuting costs, he was working for somewhere near minimum wage. We had some cash saved, and are able to live on my salary, although it is very tight and we have had to cut costs and redefine the way we think about spending. We do miss the extra money, but my husband and daughter seem to be doing very well under the current arrangement. Our agreement when he started his new career as stay-at-home-dad (or, as I like to think of it, Director of Domestic Development) included the reassignment of all things domestic to him. He tries, but is a fairly lousy housekeeper and family finance manager. He is working on developing his cooking and organizational skills and the like, but his real strengths remain in the stereotyped "dad" realm-playing, transportation, etc.
The fact that I make more than my husband doesn’t seem strange to either of us, probably because it has been our norm for so long, and because so many of our female friends out-earn their husbands as well. My husband supported me through school and neither of us thought it was strange, so neither of us gives much thought to which of us fills the family coffers. I never thought of it as "his money" when he earned it, and I don’t think of it as "my money" now that I do, although I confess to badgering, "Where are you going to get that money?" when he overspends or spends unwisely.
I am salaried and fortunate in my position, and neither the domestic shift nor the current economy has piled more work or stress on my job, so I still see my family and contribute to the housework, but I do resent having to do work around the house when he is, for lack of a better phrase, "home all day." Mostly, I imagine that if I were the one staying home with our daughter, the house would be clean, the chores would be done and dinner would be on the table when he got home from the office. This idea remains untested, so I retain my imagined domestic moral superiority.
The dark underbelly of our current situation is that I am secretly glad for the widespread domestic shift the current economy is causing (with men bearing the brunt of the layoffs, no doubt in part because they were earning $1 for every $0.70 I make)-it has made our situation that much less eyebrow-raising. These days, nobody treats you like a social deviant for working outside the home while your husband stays home with the kids.
Although he still gets far fewer playdates than the "other mommies."
Photograph of bride and groom by Digital Vision/Getty Images.