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What Happens When You're More Successful Than Your Boyfriend?

Statistics show that more men are losing their jobs than women, making females the main moneymaker in the relationship.

Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts is one of Hollywood’s most popular leading ladies, one of its highest-paid actresses, and she’s married to a cameraman. Yup, you read that right. This high-powered woman is married to a guy with less status and a much smaller paycheck. Of course, being a cameraman is a totally respectable career, but it’s not often you see a couple who’s so lopsided in this particular way. Or, is it?

Based on trend reports, Julia’s situation is sure to become increasingly common every year. The Philippine Commision on Women reports that more women than men hold bachelor degrees, putting them in better positions to get more prestigious jobs. In fact, data shows there are more licensed professional women than men, which means job openings for doctors, teachers, auditors, and the like are being filled up by more and more women. And statistics show that more men are losing their jobs than women, making females the main moneymaker in the relationship. Clearly, we are slowly encroaching what's formerly been a male territory, and it’s drastically changing relationships today.

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On the upside, these changes could lead to even greater equality (how women are perceived in the workplace). But as couples in this situation already know, the reversal of traditional roles tends to dredge up surprising—and often negative—emotions.

No matter how progressive you are, when you have to foot the bill 90 percent of the time, it gets old fast. “Even though we know it’s not a big deal, we still hold on to some old-fashioned expectations in relationships,” says Belisa Vranich, PsyD, co-author of He’s Got Potential. “As women, we want to feel like we’re being taken care of.” Granted, the most important way to be supported is emotionally, “but if you’re always paying, it’s normal to feel twinges of resentment,” says Vranich.

And it doesn’t just get on your nerves. “Guys are socialized to think they should be breadwinners,” says relationship therapist Debbie Magids, PhD, co-author of All The Good Ones Aren’t Taken. “Even if he’s content in his job, earning less than you do can be emasculating.” Men love to impress their partner, and when you make financial gestures that he can’t, he feels as small as his wallet.

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A few tweaks to your routine can help alter those outdated needs. “If you can afford to buy what you want, it’s not financial insecurity that’s bothering you,” says Vranich. “It’s the fact that you buy him more stuff than he buys you.” So give him opportunities to treat you in inexpensive ways. Point out little things you covet—a hat, a pair of earrings, even a cupcake—and say “I’d love to have that. Will you get it for me?” Be careful not to be condescending. Magids says, “The more you let him pay for even minor things, the more equal you’ll both feel.”

This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, October 2010. 

* Minor edits have been made by editors