Here at Divine Living, we stand for a world where women can have exciting, successful careers and a beautiful, fulfilling personal life. Women like us have come a long way professionally, but the truth is that whether we’re entrepreneurs or high-level executives, ambitious, high-earning women don’t exactly have it easy when it comes to marriage with men.
Financial expert Farnoosh Torabi discovered this for herself when her mother raised questions about her upcoming nuptials. As a prominent journalist, speaker, author and coach who offered fresh financial wisdom for a generation that struggled to find its footing, earning more than her fiancé hadn’t been a problem for Farnoosh or her relationship, but would it be down the road?
Investigating beyond her feelings and expectations, Farnoosh started looking at the data around women earning more than their husbands, and was shocked by what she found. Knowing the odds she was up against, her search for marital success strategies led to her most recent book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.
A guidebook for top-earning women to navigate money, career and family without guilt, shame or fear, When She Makes More could not be more relevant to our community of entrepreneurs. Editor-in-Chief Sam Saboura spoke with Farnoosh, his longtime friend, to share her expert insights on all things love, money and successful marriages.
Tell us about the personal experience behind your most recent book, When She Makes More.
I was about to get married, and in a relationship where from the beginning I made more, and it really wasn’t ever an issue for me or for him. But as we became more serious and family started to get involved, I learned that maybe we weren’t so normal, and it was actually my mom who, upon discovering that I made more than him, expressed a lot of concern about it to me bluntly (as she would with anything). She said, “How is this actually going to work out? Right now everything might seem fine. You’re having fun, but then you’ll have kids and accumulate assets like houses and cars, and you’ll be a mother and you might want to take time off, but you’re making more. How does that work logistically and financially?” I just thought she was being really traditional and unfair in her criticism—as most daughters probably would. Then I started to think about, “Well, okay. It is something that I don’t really talk about publicly.” You don’t go around saying, “Hey, guess what? I make more than my boyfriend or husband.” It’s not something that just flows off your tongue, and it wouldn’t naturally come up anyway. But then I tested myself. I said, “If I was asked to admit this in public, how would I feel about it?” Honestly, I was not 100% comfortable with it, and I think if I could speak for my husband, too, he would have also felt a little reserved discussing this openly. It wasn’t because we were ashamed of it, but because we knew this wasn’t the norm and that there was going to be a lot of traditional judgment.
What did you discover were the unique challenges faced by women breadwinners?
There are actually a lot of studies on this, believe it or not. I uncovered so many data points. Pew research has found that in America more than two-thirds of people still expect husbands to be the primary providers for their households. That’s a huge statistic. Other academic studies on the relationship dynamics between couples find that when she makes more, there’s more likelihood for divorce and cheating and that was where I stopped and said, “Okay, well, this is a problem.” I did my own survey and discovered that when she makes more, she sometimes wishes she didn’t. And other studies have found that when she makes more and she feels like it’s a threat to her marriage, she is willing to take a step back and not be as ambitious in her career as she was before. I thought, what terrible fate is that for women who work so hard in their lives? The message that I always got growing up was ask for more, climb the ladder, work your heart off. Why should it be that when I arrive at a healthy relationship and I want to get married, that I should be at a disadvantage because I’m successful? That irony, I just felt we had to stop it. We have to make sure that people know what’s going on and give women a better promise.
What do you think is behind all of this discomfort with women making more?
I think a lot of it has to do with societal pressure and gender expectations. I interviewed many, many couples and discovered that when she makes more, she resents her role sometimes, because what happens (especially when you get married and have kids) is that while she’s at the forefront of her career and professional life, she comes home and still wants to be at the forefront of mothering and the household—as so many magazines tell us we should be, like Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living. We think, “I want to go make the perfect blueberry pie, and I still want to give my kids a bath every night and portray this life of the domestic queen, as well as being the professional queen.” When she makes more, she actually does more housework than a woman who makes the same or less than her husband. At some point, you’re going to break and you might start resenting your husband if you’re not communicating with him why you’re taking on all these responsibilities. So there’s a whole chapter in the book dedicated to resolving that issue in your household. It’s sort of like arguing over laundry is the last frontier in marriages.
Is it about trying to overcompensate for not being a full-time mom and housekeeper?
One-hundred percent. Being the breadwinner in a marriage has traditionally been the role for him and still is in our country in 2017. So when she takes on that position, she feels like she has to overcompensate in the house-wifery department and may come home and be a little bit more attentive to the domestic issues. I’m not going to say she likes it or wants to do it, but for whatever reason she feels like she has to overcompensate for wearing the “pants” by coming home and putting on her apron. It’s completely psycho, but it is what is happening and that’s where the book is unapologetic. It’s not politically correct. I’m saying things that people maybe don’t want to hear, but these are the things that are happening, and it’s not fair to society, to women and to the longevity of your relationship to say, “This stuff will just resolve itself or this stuff isn’t even true.” It’s true in many relationships.
How do the husbands feel in these kinds of relationships?
Because he’s making less, he may feel that he is less than. More often than women, men relate their sense of worth and success to their income, their title and their professional status. If you’re talking to a man who’s married to a woman who has a higher status and earning, if there’s no discussion or re-examining of the relationship dynamic, it could end up where he feels neglected and useless. That often happens because money is a taboo topic in society, so it’s also a taboo topic in relationships. Couples get married without knowing how much they make, believe it or not. Husbands don’t know how much wives make and wives don’t know how much husbands make. They don’t know what their credit scores are. They don’t know how much debt they have until oops—one day they find out and it’s a little too late. So you bring in this added layer that she makes more, and it sometimes makes the communication break down, and that’s where a lot of emotions start to float to the surface and go undiscussed and unresolved. That’s where couples break off. He starts cheating. She starts cheating. They start arguing. They get divorced. At that point, it’s not to say that it’s not resolvable, but it’s a lot more complex and difficult if you haven’t established any kind of trust or common ground or pattern of communicating. The book comes in and tries to help these people. That’s essentially it. I’m trying to save marriages.
Can a woman be successful in her job and still be feminine in her relationship?
It’s really important for women to step into their femininity, as hard as it can be. The thing about very ambitious women, they often work in careers where they are surrounded by Type A kind of men and women, so the skillset that you bring to work is one thing and the skillset that you bring into your relationship is completely different. You have to turn off a lot of the ways that you’ve been handling nine to five when you come home from six to midnight. Listen to what your womanhood is telling you, and if it’s telling you that you want to be “taken care of,” lean into that and allow your man to be your hero. Ultimately that’s what men want. They want to be validated in such a way where they really feel like they are the most important person in your life. It’s really easy for a woman who is the most important person in her professional life to come home and feel like, “I’m still very autonomous and I don’t need help.” You have to shift the way you think and recognize, I’m in a relationship. I’m in a partnership. There’s two people there. I can’t do everything myself. He wants to help, so that’s an opportunity for me to have a better life. I encourage women to sit down with their husbands and think about what responsibilities that they can completely give to him and present it as, “If you do this for me, for us, it would literally mean the world to me.”
What are the kinds of things a husband might do for a breadwinning wife that will shift the dynamic?
It can help if women allow their husband to not only take on some of the domestic work, but also just to dote on them. Shower them with love and chivalrous acts. I was at dinner with a couple where she made eight times as much money as her husband. He was a cop. She was an executive at a financial firm. But they were so in love. He would take her coat off for her, pull out her chair, push her in. It was so beautiful. She really just enjoyed it. For them, that’s what worked. I’m not saying that it works for every relationship, but I think that in 2017 it’s really important for women to remind themselves that we are still women and men are still men. Some traditional things, if that works for you in your marriage, then that’s what works for you and that’s no one else’s business. In my relationship, I like it when my husband pays for dinner—even though it might be coming from our joint account. I like the act of seeing my husband settle the bill. That could be because I grew up in a household where my dad made more and the men always fought over the bill and I grew up with that frame of reference. That’s what’s comforting and familiar to me, so we role-play that. Someone on the outside looking in might go, “That’s ridiculous. Why does she need that?” But you know what? Screw it. That’s what I want and that’s what he and I have decided is a small act that we do that keeps the relationship, in some ways, traditional. It’s how we keep ourselves happy and satisfied. Relationships are not politically correct.
Is the conversation and the perception changing around women breadwinners?
Even as I was publishing the book, I was happy to learn about the younger generation being a lot more open-minded. Nowadays you meet people in their 20s and 30s and chances are they were raised by a single mother or their parents were divorced or they were adopted. There’s a lot of diversity when it comes to how this current
generation was raised. And there are more and more men and women who are realizing that it’s not realistic to have these expectations that he’s going to make more and I’m going to make less or we’re going to make the same and life is going to be perfectly balanced. There’s going to be economic instability and not a lot of equilibrium when it comes to our finances, as well as our career ambitions. You can’t deny the fact that women are killing it right now in society. More women are going to college than men. They’re graduating with more degrees, more master’s degrees and more professional degrees. We’re buying homes younger than men are and I think this big, broader conversation about women asking for more at work and starting businesses is becoming more and more prevalent. So it shouldn’t be a shock if you arrive in a relationship where your female partner is doing very well at work and financially.
What are some of the positive side effects of having women breadwinners in happy, healthy relationships?
I think that there’s so much promise for men who willingly and with such pleasure engage in a relationship where she makes more. Just look at the opportunities for them. For so many generations (and I’m generalizing here) society expected men to become the breadwinners. Many entered careers that weren’t necessarily fulfilling, but they promised a paycheck and a title that would create a certain lifestyle for themselves and their family. I’m seeing that when she makes more in a career she’s really excited about, that opens the door for him to be more risk-taking and explore careers and pursuits that he may never have before because he was just chasing the paycheck, or the status. We find that sometimes these guys decide, “You know what? I’m going to work part-time and I’ll be more of a presence at home and help raise our children. I will start a non-profit. I will go back to school. I will start a business.” It’s giving men this gift of being able to explore more in their own lives, to find what’s fulfilling to them, whether that’s at home or not. And when we have more visible successful women in society as leaders, that sends a beautiful message to kids. It’s happening and it’s going to become the norm. If you look at the 1960s, the amount of female breadwinners in marriages was just four percent. Today, in one out of four marriages, she makes more than him. I think it’s only growing. But it has to be something that we live out there vocally, proudly and transparently. When I say that statistic, people go, “Wow!” But we shouldn’t be shocked because that’s the norm. I hope my book becomes unnecessary down the road, but for now, I think it’s something worth tackling if you find yourself in a relationship where you make more or not. Because the thing is, you might arrive in a relationship where there’s income equality. You make the same now, but then he loses his job and suddenly you’re managing everything. In some ways that’s even harder to navigate than going into the relationship knowing what the financial make up is going to be.
What’s your advice for women who are moving into a serious relationship in 2017?
Continue to establish a really good dialogue and trust around money. Just start with the basics. Know what your goals are. Make sure you’re on the same page. Understand if your boyfriend is not happy in his career and meanwhile you’re getting your Master’s. Talk about what does actually make you happy, what fulfills you and how can you help each other achieve your goals. How much debt do you have? How much savings do you have? What are your goals and what do they cost? Having these really important and sometimes hard conversations early on in the relationship makes it so that when things get more complex—like suddenly he doesn’t have a job and I do and I’m making more—it’ll be a little bit easier to navigate all of those complexities as they enter your life. When my husband and I were about to get married, we went to a margarita bar and took out Post-Its and each of us wrote down how much we make, what we have in savings, what’s our debt, what’s our credit score, etc. Then at the same time, we swapped. But we were in a margarita bar. Soccer was playing. It was a nice, relaxing environment. We wanted to be somewhere that wasn’t intimidating. At that point in the relationship, I don’t think that we would have been too shocked by what we ultimately saw, but it was still important for us to get that transparency on the table before we started our life together in that very serious way. So I encourage people to do that.
What about for ambitious young women who have tons of career potential and are looking forward to marriage one day, yet still single?
I think that we need to not be stuck on this idea that we have to find our “equal” in the sense of our professional equal and our financial equal. It’s a dangerous concept because unfortunately it gets interpreted as, “Well, I went to Princeton and I have my own company, so clearly I can’t marry someone who’s just a freelance writer who doesn’t have anything published yet.” I get letters from young women who have gone to great schools and they’re just killing it in the professional world, and they don’t want to “settle for less.” I find that to be a very terrible calculus for finding the right partner. I think that instead you want to look for somebody who has shared values who can be a counterbalance to you. Yes, there are power couples out there and two Type A people can definitely hit it off, but ultimately if you seek a life that includes kids and responsibilities beyond just you, you want to find somebody who’s going to allow you to continue to do your best at work, but also feels like he’s playing this really important role in the relationship. Sometimes that’s not going to be two Type A people or two CEOs. If you go through life trying to find a guy that’s the male version of you, that might be exciting for the first six months, and then you realize that in the long term, this is not the best set up, because at some point, someone’s career is going to have to slow down a little bit because kids enter the picture or a life circumstance happens. If it does, it should happen without resentment and feeling like you’re giving up anything. An alpha woman needs a beta man in order to continue to do what she does best. He can be the most important supporting role in your life, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that or feel like it’s not a good pairing or think, “Oh my gosh, what are my friends going to think?” Do what’s going to work for you.
Aside from giving birth in the next few days, what’s coming up next for you?
I’m really excited about the podcast, So Money. It’s going on two and a half years, with millions and millions of downloads. I’ve submitted the podcast for many awards, and hopefully we’ll be at the Gracie Awards in LA this summer. Who knows? Fingers crossed. In life there’s two ways you make money— from what you do and from what you know. What I found increasingly in my career as I was going out and giving talks and meeting people is that they were like, “So tell me how you became you. What’s your story?” as opposed to, “How do I get out of debt?” or “Should I refinance my mortgage?” I realized there’s something to be taught there, and that is how to use a book as a platform to create a thriving career no matter what field you’re in, whether it’s money or fashion or nutrition. So I started to coach this method. It’s called “Book to Brand,” and I realized I have enough material here to develop an online course. Everything from how to establish your book, make it successful and ultimately leverage it to get other opportunities. I’m hoping to launch that this fall.