Last week, I wrote a post about being the female breadwinner. In that post, I delved into some of the emotions regarding bread-winning that most likely stem from societal expectations. Today, I’m also going to talk about making more than your partner, but I’m going to look at a very specific potential downside. Although it sucks, the reality is that some women who make more than their partners can get taken advantage of. And I know, because I was one of them. So now, I’m working on preventing myself from being taken advantage of as a female breadwinner.
Being Taken Advantage of as a Female Breadwinner
Its so easy to fall into the trap. It starts because you just want to help someone. Or you want to go someplace exciting that they can’t afford, so you offer to pay. But it turns into you paying for everything, all the time. It turns into you paying all the bills while they blow money on stupid stuff. You end up buying them everything that they need, while also doing the majority of the housework and emotional labor. Instead of just being the breadwinner, you are now the sole provider and the maid and the cook and the household manager. You never really signed up for all that, it just sort of happened.
I know this isn’t just a women’s issue. Anybody can be taken advantage of in a relationship. But there are unique issues that affect women, which in my opinion, make it a bit easier for the female breadwinners to get sucked into this trap.
Why Do I Allow Myself To Be Taken Advantage of?
I wrote a lot about feeling shame over what your partner does in my previous post – but for me at least, those feelings of shame can lead to being taken advantage of as the female breadwinner. It’s super weird, I know, but hear me out.
I feel guilty because I am capable of doing these things that my partner just can’t do. I don’t want to exclude him, and I don’t want the shame of telling my friends that he can’t come to whatever event because he can’t afford it.
While in a really bad previous relationship, I discussed these feelings with a therapist. I expressed how uncomfortable I felt doing something as simple as ordering take-out. I didn’t want to pay for him (because I paid for freaking everything!), but I felt bad about bringing food home for just myself. My philosophy has always been that if you are in a relationship, you should take care of each other. And the really crazy thing is that I felt guilty not taking care of him even though he didn’t take care of me. I made more money, I should be doing those things, right? I’ve since learned that no, that is not right at all.
One of my biggest issue is that I was over compensating. I would try way too hard to make sure that whoever I was dating didn’t feel bad about their lack of income. But thankfully, I’ve realized that isn’t my problem. And they should take care of me in others way, if they can’t financially. Relationships should be give and take on both sides, not just give on one side and take on the other.
The Caring Nurturer
Another issue that tends to affect women more and lead them to getting taken advantage of is that society often sees us as the caring nurturer. I can’t speak for all women, just for my experiences, but my caring nature has led me to make some really terrible decisions. Because I care so much about people, especially someone I’m in a relationship with, I’ll do anything I can to make them feel special and loved. I’ll go above and beyond to make sure their needs are taken care of. I want to do those things for the person I love. But, it becomes a problem when they come to expect it, and refuse to do similar things to show their love and appreciation for me. In fact, it can even become abusive when one side is giving everything and the other side is only taking.
I have a weird need to take care of people (and yes, I know this borders on codependency – but that’s a post for another day!). I want them to take care of me back, but unfortunately, I have chosen partners who are incapable of doing so.
How Do I Stop Being Taken Advantage of?
Choosing Your Partner
And what a great segue into one of the most important things you can do to prevent yourself from being taken advantage of as the female breadwinner! Clearly, I don’t have a lot of experience with picking the right partner, but I do have tons of experience in picking the wrong one. They say love is blind, but man do I really need to start paying attention to waving red flags.
Red Flags that Someone Would Take Advantage
Not that I won’t ignore them in the future, but after a lot of reflection about my last few relationships, I’ve come to understand what some of the red flags were that were waving right in front of my face. Here are some things to pay attention to:
- Lack of household items
- Serial Unemployment
- Blaming Others
- Too Agreeable
- Too Invested too Early
- Expecting you to Pay
- Emotional Abuse
I know it seems like common sense, but it’s not. Addicts are great at lying about their behavior, at least in the short term. And if you’ve never had experience with addicts before, it’s hard to see the signs. At what point does him having a six pack every night turn into a problem? Watching someone you love fall deeper and deeper into addiction is a horrible experience. My advice is to watch for the signs, and get out early if you see them.
Lack of Household Items
This is a red flag that you are dating someone who needs to grow up. Unfortunately, I just recently realized this. When I first started dating my most recent ex, I’d have to bring toilet paper with me when I went to his place, because he couldn’t be bothered to get it. I thought it was funny at the time. Now I realize that he couldn’t even really take care of himself like an adult, so how could I expect him to take care of me in the adult ways that I’d need? The answer is that he couldn’t. A thirty something year old man who can’t be bothered to buy himself basic household necessities is a giant waving red flag of someone who is looking to take advantage of others.
My problem with this one is that I just believe the best in people. Naïve, I know. If someone tells me that they are out of work because they just fell on hard times, I tend to believe them. I don’t hold anyone’s job (or lack thereof!) against them. But I have learned that people who tend to be serially unemployed tend to be the biggest users. They don’t want to work; they want to find someone to take care of them. Maybe this is common sense to most people, but if they are constantly out of work, you may want to avoid dating them.
Another huge thing to look for is whether your potential partner can admit fault. Did he lose his job because there was a layoff and he didn’t have the experience to stay, or did he lose his job because Jan from accounting talked badly about him to the boss? Does he blame his parents for his behavior, or does he hold himself accountable? People who want to play the victim about everything and refuse to accept responsibility for anything that happens in their life are not ready to grow up and have an adult relationship. They want to be taken care of, and will blame you (or gaslight you!) when you don’t do what they want.
You’d think that agreeableness is a quality that you’d want in a partner, right? But you have to be careful with that. If someone is just agreeing to everything that you are saying, are they really listening? Or are they just saying what they think you want to hear? A good way to tell is to pay attention to their actions rather than their words. Someone who is just telling you what you want to hear won’t follow through. They will disappoint you again and again while promising that they care and they will do better next time. Don’t fall for it. Watch for the early signs of a smooth talker – they will agree with everything but they won’t follow through with anything.
All in Too Soon
There’s a common tactic among manipulative people known as Love Bombing. They will tell you how amazing you are, how they’ve never met anyone like you, and how you must be their soulmate within the first few weeks of dating. For most people, that sounds like a giant red flag. But for some of us Disney Princess wannabes, meeting someone who you instantly connect with on that level is a dream come true.
Unfortunately, more likely than not it’s just a fairy tale. It isn’t real. You can’t know someone well enough after a few weeks to know that you want to be with them forever (ok, I know that it works out that way sometimes, but in general, it’s safer to be skeptical). I’m a hopeless romantic at heart though, so I always struggle with this. It is possible (however unlikely) that next time it will be real!
Expecting you to Pay
It’s one thing if you offer to pay. But when it gets to the point that he doesn’t even make an attempt anymore, he might be taking advantage of you. Clearly this doesn’t apply if you are in a long-term relationship and have had discussions of who pays for what. But if you just started dating someone who expects you to pay all the time, you may want to re-evaluate.
Another clear sign that your partner is taking advantage of you is that they are emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, as women, we are never actually taught what emotional abuse is. Instead, we’re taught that we have to take care of everyone, be nice, do everything around the house, and be thankful that we even caught a man, regardless of how he treats us.
This culture has lead to a rampant amount of emotional abuse, and the worst thing is that most women don’t even recognize the behavior as abusive. I was one of those women. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for over 5 years, and it just kept getting worse and worse. The thing is, I didn’t recognize the behavior as abusive. We aren’t taught those things.
So, to help other women who might be in similar situations, I wrote a mini-ebook outlining some of the signs of emotional abuse, using stories from my life. It was tough to write, but if my example can help anyone else avoid abuse, it was worthwhile to write.
Other Ways to not Get Taken Advantage of as a Female Breadwinner
Choosing the right partner is paramount to not getting taken advantage of . It’s not the only thing you can do though. You can also use discretion when disclosing your salary, take things slowly, set clear boundaries, and protect yourself.
Disclosing Your Salary
I’ve made the mistake of telling guys how much I make way too early in the relationship. I tend to be overly honest about everything. Fortunately, I’ve since learned that oversharing probably isn’t the answer. When an immature person, or someone prone to using, learns how much you make, they start trying to find ways for it to benefit them. It might be something simple, like asking you to borrow a few bucks that they have no intention of paying back, or it might be something more expensive, like a weekend get-a-way that they expect you to pay for. In their minds, you make more than enough money to cover it, so it’s all ok.
I’ve learned to not disclose my salary to anyone unless we are at the point of combining finances. The “what’s mine is yours” mentality only works when both people are on-board.
Take It Slow
Fools rush in, as they say. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve been incredibly foolish in my life. I guess that’s the hopeless romantic in me. But, it’s just as important for you to take things slowly in a new relationship as it is for the guy to not be all in too soon. It takes a long time for the rose-colored glasses to wear off, and you want to be sure that you are still independent when they do. When you are wearing rose colored glasses, red flags just look like normal flags.
So many of us have issues with setting and enforcing boundaries. But it’s important to prevent yourself from getting taken advantage of, especially as a female breadwinner. Make it clear from the beginning that it is not your job to take care of anyone but yourself. Don’t feel obligated to buy him things that he can’t buy himself, and don’t let him make you feel guilty over it. Ensure that the relationship is moving at a pace that you are comfortable with. The boundaries that you set need to be what is comfortable for you.
Sometimes it takes a long time for a manipulator to show their true colors (or for us to notice them!). One of the most important things you can do to not get taken advantage of as a female breadwinner is to protect yourself. That means to keep all of your accounts separate – and if at one point you decide to have joint finances, keep at least one account in your name alone. It’s always smart to have a safety net.
Also, unless you are married, don’t cosign for anything. It took me way too long to learn that lesson unfortunately. A final thing you can do is request a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage. I know that it’s an incredibly sensitive topic, but I think that if there is a large financial disparity on either side, a prenup is a good idea.
How Do You Tell if a Guy Is Taking Advantage of You?
The last thing that we need to address is how to identify that you’re getting taken advantage of. First of all, did this post resonate with you? You’re probably getting taken advantage of. Some other signs that you might be taken advantage are that your boundaries aren’t being respected and that your partnership is incredibly unequal.
Boundaries Aren’t Being Respected
A giant waving red flag that you are being taken advantage of is when your boundaries get disrespected. A solid partner should respect your boundaries, and work to ensure that you feel safe and secure in your relationship. A user will push at those boundaries, and do everything they can to get you to ease up so they can push the line further and further back.
A great example of this is spending money. I’m more than happy to help out with basic living expenses, but my expectation is that a partner pays for his needs before his wants. My ex would spend his money on video games and then not be able to afford his bills. Of course, there was always a sob story behind it. His work cut his hours unexpectedly, or he got paid later than expected. I stupidly accepted these excuses, and eventually it became normal for him to buy games while I paid his bills.
They say that relationships should be 50/50, but it’s fair to say that it will never be 50/50 at any given time. We all have ups and downs. In a good partnership, there will be times where you give 100% and times where you give 0. That’s life – you carry each other when needed. But when you’re being taken advantage of, it will feel like you are constantly giving 90-100%, while never getting anything in return (hint: because that’s what’s actually happening!).
If you are constantly giving and giving and giving without getting taken care of in return, you are probably being taken advantage of.
What Do You Do When Your Boyfriend Takes Advantage of You?
So what should you do, right now, if you’re in a relationship where you’re being taken advantage of? The first step is to see a counselor. If you think the relationship can be salvaged, bring him with you and do couples therapy. Maybe he will see that his behavior was actually detrimental.
Sometimes though, they don’t want to change. They chose you because they knew you would be an easy target. In cases like this, it’s best to get out. I know it’s not as easy as just leaving, so check out this post about how to make a plan to escape. You’re safety is the top priority.
Share Your Stories!
Have you ever felt taken advantage of as a female breadwinner? I would love to hear your stories about why you felt that way and how you fixed it.
Originally Published July 7, 2019, Updated June 24, 2020
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.