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Tools and tips for every day relationship problems. Blog posts on how to stop conflict, how to have more intimacy and how to have better communication with your husband, wife or partner.

The Entitlement of Being the Breadwinner

Erika Boissiere

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I never imagined how becoming the primary breadwinner for my family would influence how I feel and what I feel entitled to.

Life has brought a series of unexpected events. Maintaining a career while having a family was always part of the plan. I didn’t expect that my husband’s career would shift so drastically that I would take over financial responsibility for the family. Images of my father’s old school role in the family started to creep in without my permission bringing entitlement and an expected division of duties. Looking at this has been an unexpected lesson in becoming a modern family. The following are just some of the entitlements I discovered and ways I’ve had to grow as individuals and we as partners to adjust.

Your Unknown Entitlement as the Breadwinner

As a woman I never expected to wake up one day to the realization that I had become entitled. It smacked me in the face one day when I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes. Hot anger rose in my body in a flash. Resentful thoughts about the amount of work I have on my plate flooded in.  I found myself making a case against my husband to inflate my anger and the distance between us. I don’t recall what it was that caused me to pause long enough to come out of this months later.

The Income that is Not Monetary

When I came to the surface I heard my husband talking about all the wonderful things he had been doing with our son after school and the struggles he had been working on with his business. I stopped fueling resentment and listened. It’s not like he was sitting around all day.  I expected him to take care of everything with no support from me because I had bought into the idea that it was the job of the person who doesn’t bring in as much money to do so. He didn’t buy into this idea because he was not socialized to do so. I could fight to maintain what I silently expected and keep growing dissatisfaction or I could collaborate to hash out new norms and distribution of labor, be generous and communicate/ collaborate and feel less anger, the joy of mutual support and connection. It’s not much of a choice really.

The Responsibility of Parenting and the Breadwinner

The aforementioned experience started sparks of realization in other areas of life as well. My expectations regarding child care were riddled with entitlement. I love spending time with my child. I would not give up my role as a parent for the world. Like most parents, I don’t always like the responsibility and struggle of it.

When I became the bread winner I subconsciously expected to also have less of the parenting responsibility and more of the fun. I believe I saw meal planning, enforcing structure and cleaning up after our little one as his job. Generations of families including my own have viewed this as an acceptable family dynamic. (When the man is the breadwinner.) We always imagined that we would do it together and that it would feel equal. Only that’s not possible and while we are both working only one of us is bringing in an income. Somehow this translated as Money= Less work and more play.  What I saw in my family growing up had become a voice in my head.  In order to combat this I had to make the unconscious patterns of that voice conscious and make sure that I am stepping into situations to help.

The Entitlement on Your Income

What a wake-up call to see my own entitlement in how I control the finances. Not only do I make the money but I also manage the finances. Mind you, neither of us are extravagant but I felt entitled to spend what I please and had expectations that he would limit himself. I grumble when he spends money on coffee yet it is okay for me to play for spiritual retreats and wine dates.

I only recently realized that there is actually no, yes no, line item in our budget for his spending money. He had to ask me for money or to buy things. This seems crazy to me. As a side note, the further I get into this article the more I appreciate my partner.  To feel like I was aligned with my values as a partner I had to start keeping his needs at the fore of my mind and invite him often to ask for what he needs.

Tips on how to Work with Entitlement

Before I close an amazon order I check with him to see if there is anything he needs. I know that he loves specialty coffees so I make sure there is room in the budget for it. It doesn’t take much to make sure he feels special and I feel like a good partner. To keep myself honest and inclusive I schedule a meeting once every other month to review our spending and to ask him for input. (Still a tinge of entitlement to work on. Ideally We would decide on budget and spending together vs asking for his input. It’s a work in progress. I earn for my family, which means that it’s never just mine.

Emotional Support for the Working Parent

The last shocking entitlement that I will talk about is the expectation that he would provide emotional support for me but that I was entitled to not do so as much for him. I was tired from work. Ugh, I feel like a terrible person just writing this. I also realize that this is a manifestation of my parents expectations of each other. As the breadwinner, I saw myself in a traditionally masculine roll and he in the feminine. I was living out a relationship dynamic that I never agreed with! Sure I need some time to decompress after working but it doesn’t mean that I get to tune my partner out. Providing empathy and emotional support is part of being a good partner, even when it is difficult.

Entitlement is tricky. It can sneak up in life before you know it. Facing it means facing parts of yourself that may be hard to look at. You may be shocked by what you find and the ways it does not match your values. In looking at my own entitlement I stopped acting out an unconscious script written by my parents and opened up to living in congruence with my own beliefs. In making changes I have to work harder but I feel more connected to my partner and child. I am proud to be this parent and wife.

-- Alexis Monnier, MFT, is a relationship and individual therapist in San Francisco, CA.