When One Partner Earns More In A Same-Sex Relationship

Photographed by Eylul Aslan
"I’d spend 99p on six eggs, whereas the only brand she buys costs £2.50," says 28-year-old Annie*. She is a finance manager in Manchester and earns £52,000 a year, which is an amount she’s comfortable with and allows her "more than enough disposable income". Her partner, Zara*, takes home around £80k.
The income disparity between the couple has bred awkwardness and feelings of inadequacy during their two-year relationship. The problems caused by a salary disparity in heterosexual relationships have been much-discussed, particularly as young professional women enter the workplace in record numbers and begin to out earn men their age, turning gender norms about women's roles on their head. However when it comes to same-sex relationships, a wage gap can cause just as much turmoil, insecurity and resentment.
​On a frivolous level, Zara has more expensive taste in food. Annie recalls how they disagreed about this when they moved in together 11 months ago.
"It made me feel cheap and she felt she couldn't have the food she wanted, even though we had more than enough money," she explains. "We resolved it by discussing the money things that mattered to us – for her, quality food was an importance and if I'm honest, her eggs are significantly better."
More consequentially, the issue arose again when Annie and Zara started looking to buy a house together. Annie’s budget was £250k when looking on her own and she expected their joint budget to remain the same.
"From Zara’s perspective, it was as if I still wanted to have one foot out the door. But for me, anything more than £250k just seemed like a huge sum of money." They eventually agreed to a bigger budget only if they put down the same deposit and were equal partners.
"I’m very aware that I can only live in the area I do because I benefit from Zara’s income too," Annie admits. "I’ve had to come to terms with that and whether it means I can still feel independent." As a result, Annie makes more of an effort to ensure she has savings of her own and they split bills 50/50.
"It has, at times, been tiring to worry about money but it’s forced us to be better at communication and increased our trust in each other and faith in our relationship," Annie says.
Thirty-two-year-old Josie* from Derbyshire is in a similar position to Annie. As a coffee shop manager earning £19k, her salary is less than half that of her partner, Dina*, a hospital matron on £40k. "I hate it but there isn't much I can do  – I’m constantly looking for jobs but I work in the hospitality industry," Josie says. The pair split bills 50/50 and contribute equally to two joint accounts but Dina pays the £600 mortgage as Josie can’t afford to contribute.

It has, at times, been tiring to worry about money but it's forced us to be better at communication and increased our trust in each other and faith in our relationship.

Having been in Josie’s situation in a previous relationship, 48-year-old Dina is understanding and aware of how Josie feels but that doesn’t erase Josie’s self-loathing over the mortgage. "I hate that I'm not contributing but if I did I wouldn’t have any money for fuel to get to work, so I had to let her pay," Josie says.
When two women enter into a romantic partnership they are, in theory, more equal than a man and a woman in a cis heteronormative relationship. And so, for Josie the disparity has been challenging. Her long-term aim is to get a better paid job and contribute towards either the mortgage or something else, like their holiday fund.
"One of my core values is fairness, whether it's sharing a bar of chocolate, driving on holiday or money," she reflects. "I've always believed that everything should be equal and I do hate that it's not in this respect."
Charlotte Lidstone is a qualified financial coach who helps couples with their finances. Couples with a large income disparity account for 80% of her clients. She says that the earning gap is often overlooked between couples until the issue is forced, such as if they want to buy a home together or have children, because couples tend to have separate financial arrangements and are both in full-time work.
"This means that any disparity comes up in reference to disposable income – holidays, meals out, purchases – and a lot of people find it easier to manage this through fudging their expectations. By not both going to the same social events or on the same holidays, for example," Charlotte explains.
"Sometimes, a very large disparity creates issues for mortgages or large purchases where finance might be required, and those conversations are often the start of couples seeking help from a money coach."
There are sometimes differences in how earning disparities manifest in couples depending on their sexuality, Charlotte says, but the vast majority of our money beliefs stem from our upbringing and mirror those of our parents and caregivers. "It's not as simple as old tropes like 'men earn more'. We don't learn our money beliefs through our sexuality – instead, we learn them through our early experiences up to age seven."
"So if you were brought up in a household where one parent never got involved with the money, you might carry those beliefs over to your relationships in adulthood and feel that only one of you should 'manage the money'."
Saying this, Charlotte says that people in heterosexual relationships are more likely to 'remodel' what they see their parents do because it feels familiar and, on some level, comforting, even if it’s unhelpful or destructive to the relationship. "In same-sex relationships, or in those where the dynamic is ‘non-traditional’, like transgender couples or relationships where there are more than two people, you're less likely to subconsciously model your own upbringing because you’re already doing a lot differently to your parents."

It's important to remember that you fell in love with a person – not a number on a payslip.

Charlotte Lidstone, FINANCIAL COACH
It sounds obvious but honest communication about money is essential to managing a relationship salary disparity, says Charlotte. Because most of us attach some element of our self-worth to our paycheque, talking numbers can make us feel vulnerable and as if our life choices and level of 'success' are being judged.
"It's important to remember that you fell in love with a person – not a number on a payslip." Charlotte advises remembering what brought you together in the first place and using that as the foundation to talk about finances. Building a life that suits you both will involve compromises.
"You might have to save a little longer to go on the once-in-a-lifetime holiday, or you may not be able to have a Kardashian-style wedding – but you don't have to have those things. You have to have someone who loves and respects you for all that you are and will be, and that can't be quantified by your salary."
Set joint goals. If you’re planning a holiday, find the middle ground between what you both want, advises Charlotte. "Perhaps one of you wants two weeks all-inclusive, while one of you is happy camping. A good solution might be two short breaks, say three nights each – one that's more rustic, one that suits the all-inclusive mentality – and these might be more affordable on a joint budget."
In addition, make sure you’re both able to spend and save a little for yourselves, separate from your partner, she adds. That way you avoid the resentment of thinking you have to spend your money in a way that suits your partner, and they aren't able to judge you for how you spend it.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.