Love and Money: Breadwinner Wives

Their careers soared while their husbands’ sputtered. Now at midlife, these high-achieving women can’t help but wonder — who’s that guy in the apron?

Sharon and Ann and Jill aren’t walking out either.But our joy in our own fulfillment is always tempered by that nagging fear that it has come at the expense of our husbands’, and impatience with the life choices they’ve made. This is reinforced by the experience of another friend, from high school, Laurie Bayon, a project manager with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. After graduating from Bowdoin, she visited Spain and fell hard for Tono, an auto-factory assembly worker and wannabe soccer pro with killer looks but not so much as a high school diploma. They returned to the U.S. together, and she paid the bills while he earned his GED. Through 18 years of marriage and two kids, she supported the family while he got a degree in biomedical engineering, worked as an engineer for a while, got an MBA, opened a sporting goods store… "All he ever really cared about was soccer," she says ruefully. It cost her dearly when the marriage broke up, what with no prenup, money she’d inherited and a great house she’d mostly paid for herself. What’s worse, he’d never even vacuumed. "He didn’t do the househusband thing," Laurie says bitterly.But something odd happened after the divorce became final. Tono found his footing, dug in, got serious, became a sales manager (and eventually a partner) for a medical equipment servicing firm that did well. He sold his shares in it and started another firm. Today, Laurie says, "He makes as much as me. And he’s a happy guy."Throughout their marriage, she controlled the purse strings. It wasn’t until Tono was cut free that he discovered his forte. If Ann and Sharon and Jill and I had been more dependent — or less controlling — would our men’s lives be richer? Have we held them back by insisting on being all that we could be?Perhaps all along we’ve been subconsciously disparaging or discouraging about our husbands’ goals and careers. After all, the fact that our kids were at home and in good hands freed us to work the long hours we needed to get ahead without worrying that anyone would think we were bad moms. Plus, we got to be the family stars — and who doesn’t want that?Sharon believes there’s masculine energy and feminine energy, and which you’ve got has nothing to do with gender. "To have a successful relationship," she says, "you have to be paired up with the opposite." She, too, has told her husband she will never leave him — though not the truth about why. "I’d just end up with someone else like him," she says.Sandy Hingston is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.Originally published in MORE magazine, February 2007.

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