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Money is Power, Even in Your Marriage

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Let's face it: men and women are wired differently.

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I spend a lot of time thinking about baby boomers for my work in both TIME and Money magazines. But some topics transcend generations, like the one I write about in the soon-to-be released March issue of Money: wives who earn more than their husbands.

This setup is more common than you may think. In about a third of households where the wife brings home a paycheck, it's the big one. That's up from just 10% of households three decades ago, and that share will only build as baby boomer women-kids grown-reignite their careers, and as younger generations of women increasingly enter the job market with advanced degrees.

The trend has an obvious upside. More money is more money, no matter who brings it home. The extra loot sure helps in saving for a down payment or retiring your student loans. For boomers, who tend to think of the man as the breadwinner, the role reversal can be especially jarring. But even for young adults, who are more likely to have started out in a marriage where she earns more, this financial arrangement can come with a ton of underappreciated psychological baggage.

Let's face it: men and women are wired differently. I tend to believe men are conditioned to lead, take risks and provide; women, to nurture and tend the nest. Sorry, that's just the way it isThese lines may have blurred over the past 40 years. But in flat-out reversing the roles we're messing with 6 million years of human development. You don't do that without putting some stress on the system.

Does money ever come between you and your better half? Vote here.

Of course, couples have always argued about money-ahead of even sex and the in-laws. It's human nature. Opposites attract. Spenders tend to marry savers. Risk takers tend to attract risk avoiders. Even couples who start out with like minds are destined to clash. In the case of two spenders, for example, one inevitably tries to set limits.

Yet reversing deeply ingrained hunter-gatherer roles throws a far more combustible fuel on the fire. Money is power, even in your marriage. A little extra income on the wife's side can add up to big issues between couples.

She may become more insistent in general and take a bigger role in big purchases; he may resent her for it but feel powerless to object, and become withdrawn or angry. Meanwhile, he may undermine her accomplishments by cutting her out of family decisions-a direct attack on the side of her that comes most natural. Psychologists see it all the time. The good news is that it doesn't have to happen that way.

Click here for some tips on how to handle a woman's breadwinner status.

Gloria Steinem once said she had yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine a marriage and a career. That may be. But as this balancing act grows more delicate both sexes have something to learn-and we don't have 6 million years to do it.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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