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Black women are also more likely to earn college degrees than their Black male counterparts, making the earnings gap even more of a reality whether you’re married or not.

If you’re dating and your salary is higher than your partner’s, it can seem awkward or downright scary to talk about money with them. And as a woman earning more than her partner (or who has the potential to more than likely out-earn a love interest), you might be tempted to go all in with questions and investigations related to investments, car choice, child support cases, and credit score on the first date.

But before you do that, pause and think about this: Why ask about credit scores and salaries on a first, second, or even 100th date when you don’t even know if that person has integrity, values that align with yours or isn’t out here trying to make you the next Reesa Teesa?)

How To Have The Money Conversation As The Breadwinner

I’ve been in several relationships where I earned more than my man, and while it’s not something I’m ashamed of, that gap did have its implications. For me, if the man was treating me with respect, love, and attention, I really didn’t care that he might be taking home less pay. The tragic part of that would be when some of the guys I’d dated saw me spending money on designer bags, going out to eat more than three times a week, or taking trips, there would be issues of passive-aggressive judgment, resentment, and eventually relationship sabotage. (I’ve also dated men who earn six figures and above, but that’s a whole other story.)

Sometimes we become the breadwinners due to circumstances that are beyond someone’s control or due to a life transition. Maybe your spouse was laid off from the job two years into the relationship or marriage, or they had to take on the care expenses for an elderly parent. Maybe they’re in the throws of launching a new business or pursuing higher education, or the person was hit with a lawsuit, health scare, unforeseen tax bill, or other financial emergency. So it’s not always an issue of fault, fraud, or scandal, and can be more of a case of life life-ing.

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All relationship dynamics are different, so what one woman sees as a red flag might not be a huge deal-breaker for others. I’m super-ambitious and self-employed, have found long-term success in a media industry perfect for independent go-getters, and I’ve always embraced having a side hustle.

Considering what many Black men face in society in general, I could understand and accept the possibility that my ideal mate might earn less money than me.

In my current relationship, ongoing for seven years, the breadwinner status has shifted multiple times, and for the most part, my man is my man. Period. After getting through some very tough times including surviving a whole pandemic, healing from surgeries, and coping with deaths in our families, there are things beyond money that have become golden for me in my love and loyalty toward him.

Whether you’re married or you’ve been in a relationship for the long haul, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned along my journey as well as what the experts say about it:

1. Use fun and humor to spark the money conversation.

I’ve always been one to shy away from talking about money with anyone, as that’s just not something we did when I was growing up. For the most part, I saw the men in our family, whether they were the breadwinner or not, taking charge of the spending in the household and they oftentimes paid for everything, even if, for some, the bulk of the money was earned by their wives. It seemed to be an unspoken rule that everyone must have the perception that the man was calling all the shots financially (when I’d later find out, that one man in the family, for example, was often unemployed.) I only learned through observing things, not through conversations for clarity, confirmation, or understanding.

So when I started working and dating seriously, I’d just avoid speaking up when men would love-bomb me after seeing how I dressed, or when I’d find out that a guy who had spent $200 on a first date was actually struggling—making $1200 a month before taxes—and was just trying to impress me.

Today, humor and fun are helpful in having conversations about money. Early in our relationship, my man and I would play a game and ask questions of each other about how much we’d spend on a house or what we would do if we had $1 million. We might find humor in the money mistakes we’ve made in the past and those conversations would often lead to very serious conversations about debt, current bills, quality of life standards, and how we can work together to help one another achieve our respective goals.

Leaning into humor has helped me have those hard conversations—to get to know my partner more—and they’ve allowed him to feel a bit more comfortable about sharing information about his finances with me. One expert agrees that adding humor to conversations about money can be beneficial. “I think that keeping it light is the best way to learn. If we lower the temperature, if we make it fun, if I tell you how I have screwed up everything and I still did okay, that we can all come out of this much, much better, we’ll relax and do a better job with our money,” Joe Saul-Sehy, co-host of NerdWallet’s Smart Money Podcast, shared during an episode.

2. Put mutual respect and consideration at the center and approach with grace and love.

Bola Sokunbi, founder of CleverGirl Finance, breaks this down very well in sharing her own experience with being the breadwinner in a relationship. “Just because you earn more doesn’t mean you should become the evil queen dictating how every penny is spent, checking all the bank accounts, and asking for a play-by-play of every transaction your partner made,” she writes. “Think of how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Allow your partner to make financial decisions; remember you are part of a team, and it is a partnership.”

While you should feel no shame or guilt for your success as the breadwinner, there’s still a way to talk about money with your spouse that does not demean or belittle them. And you need to be clear about your own financial blind spots, habits, and mindset in order to come correct in a conversation about money with someone else.

Just because you’re the breadwinner doesn’t mean you’re great at managing money or have the best personal finance habits, so consider humility and decency when talking with your partner about their own. (I can admit that I’ve dated men who made less but treated their money better than I did. Several were even better at managing what they had and building savings versus always living check to check, which was my reality at certain times in my life.)

Whatever your desires are when it comes to money and its role in your relationship, approach the conversation with respect, grace, love, and consideration that you’re talking to someone you care a lot about. Figure out what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not, and go from there.

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3. Instead of pausing, tip-toeing or avoiding, address behaviors that reflect habits and values.

Timing is a sticky aspect when you’re talking about finances with your partner or spouse, whether you’re in a long-term relationship, in the early stages of a romance, or you’ve already walked down the alter. From my own experience, being strategic in talking early on about what matters to me, in general, is key. And using my own senses of observation and gut feelings is important, too.

“‘Fess up about the debt too soon and you risk scaring that special someone away, ” Kimberly Foss, a certified financial planner, told Forbes. “However, if you wait too long, it can complicate things. If you are becoming very serious in your relationship, it is time to speak up. [If you carry a lot of debt], think of the roles being reversed — wouldn’t you want to know? You might be surprised just how understanding and open your partner is.”

At the end of it all, it’s not really about the money but about compatibility in one’s outlook on what success means, what trust entails, what quality of life they want, and how they see partnership in a relationship. A few observations I think are more telling than outright asking a man about his credit score would be to watch early on for signs of greed, jealousy, uncontrollable anger, indifferent complacency, scarcity mindset, and ego.

Experts also recommend that married couples should especially embrace open communication to come up with a plan of action that they both can agree on. If you’re expected to carry the financial load at any time in the relationship, set healthy boundaries and hold your partner accountable. You can also get help in the form of a therapist, counselor, or financial adviser to create or adjust the plan and help you navigate through bumps in the road without heading to TikTok for a 50-part series or, worse, divorce court.

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Featured image Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir/Getty Images

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