Why Do I Feel Inferior To My Spouse? When one partner in a relationship makes more money or has more talent, skills and friends, how can the other partner not feel inferior? BY DR. NEIL FIORE with ANGELIKA KASTEN, M.A.
Don't worry about the value from society, think instead of how your spouse values you.
Why do I... feel inferior to my partner?
This question to "Why Do I?" sparked a lively discussion in our home. My significant other, Angelika Kasten, immediately asked why this is such a big issue for men when women typically make less money than their husbands, yet have no problem with it. She suggested that while women value a spouse who is hard working and makes enough money, the difference in income is much less important if that spouse is loving, respectful and has a strong sense of him- or her-self. Angelika said that there are many ways to contribute a fair share to the relationship that doesn’t involve money and that men differ in their concerns about income levels. While some men would be glad to have a wife who makes more money than they do, others might feel that they're not playing out their designated role as the "man" and breadwinner.
Granted, our biology influences much of our mating behavior and tendencies, but we have the ability to break free of rigid sex roles and learn to complement and balance each other's strengths and weaknesses. I, for example, often defer to Angelika’s superior sense of direction and she has generously given me a GPS device for my birthday. She gently reminded me that though she’s a better skier and dancer than I am she doesn’t rub that in, but rather respects me for gracefully accepting my inferior place in these areas while cheering her on.
Focus on Self-Respect
If a spouse doubts his or her significance in the relationship, it puts their partner in the awful dilemma of worrying about outshining their mate—and hurting the "male ego"—to the point of not fully celebrating their own success. As long as you contribute to your relationship in a way that brings your spouse joy, safety, respect and love, there’s no reason to feel inferior.
Instead of comparing yourself to your spouse, being envious of them and begrudging them their success, honor your own gifts and be grateful for your work and your interests. Salary and income, after all, are measures of what the society values, not what is the most important to your spouse. If a man can listen to his wife and communicate without arguing or trying to fix her––I am told––most women will consider these skills worth more than double the man’s actual income.
Comparisons: Positive or Negative
Negative comparisons are very damaging to your self-esteem. They make you feel "one down," inferior and like a loser. You can compare yourself to someone and use their success to criticize yourself, make excuses or to find fault with them. But you also can compare yourself to someone and use their success to motivate you to follow their example, learning from them on how to achieve your goals. You can choose to make positive or negative comparisons, or to accept yourself and just stop making comparisons.
Respect yourself and your worth. Don’t let it be judged by your income or "net worth." Build on your skills and passions. Remember, if you are a sensitive lover who makes your spouse feel valued, respected, loved and desirable, there’s no price, income or salary that can replace that.
Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA, a coach, a speaker, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage [McGraw-Hill, 2006]. His bestselling guide to overcoming procrastination, The Now Habit [Putnam, 2007], is revised and available at iTunes under "Audio books," and at www.audible.com. You can find Dr. Fiore's "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com. and a copy of Regardless Affirmations at neilfiore.blogspot.com.