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What happens when you earn more than your partner?

What happens when you earn more than your partner? With Money Bites
We look at Reese Witherspoon’s experience and discuss what happens when you earn more than your partner and how to handle it like a boss.

Bite-Size Read:

  • Within your relationship, it’s likely that you earn more than your partner or vice versa.
  • Reese Witherspoon was called out publicly for earning more than her then-husband and this salary disparity can create uncomfortable situations.
  • Our tips for managing income differences within relationships include talking about money regularly, dealing with your insecurities, and remembering you’re a team.


When you meet first someone, one of the first questions you’ll ask is: what do you do for a living?

But we rarely ask someone how much they earn for a living. A third or more of all arguments in marriages are about money, so it is something we talk about. However, we’re not necessarily talking about money as a positive conversation.

This includes how much each partner earns within a relationship. It can get awkward when someone can’t afford to go on holiday with you or afford the restaurant you want to eat at. We often assume money isn’t an issue until becomes one in your relationship.


The story on Reese Witherspoon at the Oscars:

Reese Witherspoon commented on her experience of being called out for her partner at the 2002 Oscars. This was covered in an article on the Grazia online website on 29 December 2020.

So what happened?

Reese Witherspoon got on stage to announce the 2002 Oscar winner for the Best Make-Up And Hairstyling. She was announcing the award with her then-husband, Ryan Phillippe.

When Reese asked if she could open the envelope, Ryan said: ‘You make more than I do. Go ahead!. She seemed embarrassed when you watch it back, you can’t help but squirm on her behalf.

You’re right, he did say that, and no, it wasn’t scripted.

That’s what Reese said recently when reflecting on that 2002 moment. We feel for her, rewatching the footage now. We find it difficult to talk about how much we earn with our closest loved ones, let alone to have our salary made visible on the world stage.

Reese Witherspoon’s character of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde is a role model for women. She recently shared that “there’s so few women that make a lot of money that sometimes they’re shamed for it, and sometimes they are expected to give more and do more and be more to others in the same position”.



Often, if you deal with the impact of earning more, then the money itself becomes less of an issue.

That’s the advice of the psychotherapist quoted in the same Grazia article. It refers to making sure that you can spend time together rather than letting work take over.

However, being in the situation can feel really awkward. When you earn more than your partner or vice versa, resentment can build from assumptions and misunderstandings.


If you earn more than your partner, these scenarios might sound familiar:

  • Showing love with gifts rather than time.
  • Hesitating before sharing your work wins, such as getting a huge bonus cheque.
  • Going to nice restaurants to enjoy your money is normal for you but a rare experience for your partner.

Navigating these situations involves uncomfortable conversations. However, it is possible to work through them and handle it like a boss.


Here’s our tips on how to manage when you earn more than your partner:


1. Remember that you’re driving progress

If you are in Reese’s position and are earning more, recognise where that sits in history. Women have traditionally earned less in relationships. Don’t be ashamed of how much you earn because you’re standing on the shoulders of those who pushed for you to be able to earn more.


2. Relationships are about being part of a team

Celebrate your partner’s wins when they achieve success at work. That could be earning a promotion or achieving a goal they’ve worked hard on. Support your team member because that’s what being in a relationship is all about.


3. Recognise and manage your insecurities

We all have our own baggage we carry. If you are bothered by the fact that your partner earns more than you, or vice versa, consider why that is and take responsibility for your feelings. Practising emotional hygiene could include professional help if discussing it with a counsellor would be helpful.


4. Talk about money regularly

Talking about money with your partner is like training a muscle: you get better at it with practice. This includes making it a fun conversation and a positive chat you actually want to have. Talking about financial decisions also means you can support each other with your financial goals.


Don’t ever feel bad if you make money, and don’t be embarrassed or ashamed if it’s more than your partner.

That quote from Reese Witherspoon is one worthy of Elle Woods herself. Being in a partnership means supporting the person you’re with to be the best version of themselves. That’s a message about money and relationships we can all support.  

Written by Kate Crowhurst

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