05/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Balancing Financial Power

Ready for a statistic that Gloria Steinem would both love and hate? One third of women in the workforce now out-earn their husbands. Some say this relatively "new" phenomenon was inevitable, and that this percentage is likely to grow. This is something women can be proud of; and yet, it's created a unique situation for their relationships.

I have been told several times, all from very successful women, that their earnings caused the demise of an otherwise happy and robust relationship. Each of these women had been told by their less-earning partner that it wouldn't be an issue, but in the end these men really were bothered by it.

Earning and providing for families and loved ones is hallowed ground for men, or at least for their psyches. Societal norms have dictated for centuries that a man be strong, able, stoic and in-charge. Our society, in particular, measures men by their achievements, and a man's self-worth is so often tied up in earnings, power and status. He competes with other men all day in the workplace and subconsciously does not want to feel like he is also competing with the woman in his life. A man wants a soft, feminine, slightly helpless woman in his life. Right?

Not exactly. I am constantly meeting eligible men who are looking for, and are very much attracted to, smart, driven, "go-getter" types. They tell me they are even more turned on by a beautiful woman who is also accomplished. I like this. So why the disparity between what they say and what they do? Apparently, a lot of men are confused. Many say that success is not a threat, but with an increasing number of women in the workforce taking home competitive salaries, I've heard more complaints from men that their female partner spends less time at home, is too busy to tend to the relationship, or is not interested in marriage. This seems to suggest that maybe the issue is not just about a woman actually out-earning a man, but also about his own, slightly-outdated expectations for a woman's place in the world.

Ultimately, if a man really loves a woman he should see her as a partner, not a competitor. He should be confident and satisfied with himself regardless of how much money his girlfriend or wife brings home. Easier said than done, as has been the case with the accomplished women who confided in me. Still, it is hard to say that a man who ends a good relationship because of his partner's earnings is a bad guy. I'm sure each of these women's exes were whole-heartedly honest when they said they were "fine with it," but what we think is not a big deal when a relationship begins can start bothering us later on. There are just some things you don't know about yourself, until you learn.

So what is an uber-earning woman to do? I do know some men who are very proud of the achievements of their girlfriends and wives and who have been able to balance financial power in their relationships regardless of who earns more. From my experience with couples over the years, I have found that men who are secure with themselves, are relatively unaffected by the amount of their significant other's paycheck. I wish all men could see how unthreatening these situations really are, but I know that will not happen overnight. The bottom line is that women in today's society do more than just cook, clean and care for the children. Today's modern woman is accomplished and for that, she should never feel guilty!