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My Experience as a Female Breadwinner and my Lessons Learned

In this post, I share my experiences as the breadwinner of our household and how it affected our marriage.  Traditional gender roles assign males to the primary source of income for many households. Today the statistics are showing that the number of female-headed households is on the rise. According to an article by Refinery29 and Chase, 40% of households in the U.S. have a woman as the primary breadwinner. With an increase in women being the head of the household, gender roles in families are shifting.

Those who know my husband and me know that I work a full-time job for a corporation and that he manages our personal business. Today, we are in a positive place mentally and emotionally. But, it took a lot of work and time to get here.  I was surprised that as much work as there was in running a business, most of the work that had to be done was actually in our relationship.

“I knew that no matter how difficult our situation got, we would get through it”

Looking back now at when I first convinced my husband to quit his job and start his own business, I had very unrealistic expectations for how easy and quickly things would fall into place.  I wouldn’t say that I was wrong for thinking the way that I did.  I was dedicated to him, and I knew that no matter how difficult our situation got, we would get through it.  What I couldn’t have expected were the major ups and downs of our marriage, the deep personal insecurities that would surface, and the difficulty of some of our conversations. I’ll be honest. I’m still not entirely at peace with our situation, and we still have our struggles. 

There were some days where I was hard on my husband, some days where I’d be hard on myself, and other days where I would be hard on the both of us.  If my goal was never to be a martyr, I missed it—by a long shot.  I found myself being impatient and judgmental of how he spent his time.  Thoughts like “all he ever does is play video games; of course, his business hasn’t taken off yet!” and “what if he never gets out of this rut; am I enabling him?” would reoccur in my head. These thoughts would escape my mind through passive-aggressive and snarky comments which would lead to arguments in which both of us would be defensive; Afterwards, I always ended up feeling terrible about myself. I’d also feel ashamed that I wasn’t the superwoman wife that could support our family financially and my husband emotionally. 

“I was really struggling to keep it all together”

My husband, in the meantime, was going through his own process and was feeling really down about himself. I barely noticed though because I was so focused on the pressure that I felt to financially support us, the recently signed mortgage, and growing pressures at work.  It all felt minimal to the seemingly giant mountain that was on my back. I was very focused on myself; I was having difficulty understanding my husband; and, I was really struggling to keep it together.

In my head, I really wanted to be the super supportive wife that was able to do everything.  I was obsessed with maintaining this image among our friends—and more importantly, in my head. Trying my best to maintain this image,  I would hold things in and not communicate how I felt.  If he didn’t respond right away to my questions or comments, my immediate reaction was to assume that he didn’t about the pressure I was feeling.  The truth was that he was processing all the pressure in his own way.  Just like myself, he felt down about himself and he didn’t know how to communicate with me.  In a way, we were mirroring each other’s insecurities and emotions. 

Two years later and we are leaps and bounds farther from where we started.  It’s true that we still argue; we still bicker; we still say snarky things to each other when we’re tired and irritated. But overall, we’ve progressed dramatically.  I’ve shared some of the things that have really helped our marriage through this experience below.

Marriage Tips

  1. Practice Empathy
    • If your partner is stressed or having difficulty communicating with you, try to remember that both of you are facing pressures.
  2. Assume the best in your partner’s intentions.
    • Remember that this person is on your team and remind yourself of why you two are together.
  3. Be patient, and give each other grace.
    • Don’t engage in converstations where they are becoming heated. Sometimes it’s best to take a break from a conversation when you’re both really heated so that you don’t say anything you might regret.
  4. Remember why you’re together
    • When I get angry, I frequently feel like a victim. I often make stories about my husband in my head.  I assigned meanings to his actions, and then blamed him without speaking to him about it. For example, if I noticed that he was playing video games, I’d make up the meaning that that if he was playing games, he didn’t care about how stressed I was.
  5. Marriage Counseling – There is no shame in getting help. In our case, it really sped up the healing process for our marriage. I really can’t advocate enough for it. I see getting counseling as doing the work to maintain relationships.

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