Denise (38) is a freelance consultant. In her relationship she is now the sole breadwinner. We spoke to her about what that is doing to the relationship after three and a half years.

FOCUS Online: In times of equality, it’s not a problem if she earns more than he does, one would think.

Denise: No problem? In fact, we thought it was a really good idea. We are leading the way, we are modern – that’s how it felt. At least in the second step. At first, our concept of life wasn’t really a question of equality, the whole thing was born out of necessity. I was pregnant, unplanned.

What was the professional situation like back then, what did each of you do?

Denise: I worked as a consultant in a large company and earned quite a bit. He was a seasonal film worker. He didn’t earn badly either, but a lot less than I did. If he deserves it. He was always unemployed for several months a year.

How come?

Denise: It’s quite common in the industry. A film or a series is worked on for a few months and when the project ends, everyone goes to the employment office. This is how you bridge the time until the next film. Overall we managed.

But then came the turning point, pregnancy. What was the plan for when you had children?

Denise: To be honest, we were pretty naïve at first. Above all, I saw how well he supported me. From the panting course to the preparations for the home birth, which I wanted so much: he was fully involved in everything. So how could I blame him for his almost complete absence of finance?

I felt like there were two options: reproach him and make demands. Or you can fill out the parental allowance application yourself. I decided to take the last option. We’ll take it easy, I said to myself. I wanted us to be relaxed parents.

And? Has the wish come true?

Denise: The closer we got to the due date, the more tense we got. His job was becoming less and less fun for him. He often came from the shoot totally stressed out. The question of how we should enjoy the time with a baby under these circumstances stressed me out. You could say we had no prospects. At first glance, what I saw above all was his lack of prospects.

Now I’m wondering how it really was. What did I want, possibly secretly? That one day he’d stand in front of me and say, Don’t worry babe, I’ll take care of it? And if that had been the case: Is it equal to think like this?

What happened after the child came?

Denise: In a way I was lucky in my misfortune. Shortly before the confinement, there were massive restructuring measures in my company, to which my job fell victim. In other words: I became unemployed. After maternity leave I wouldn’t have to go back to work, that was the good thing. I had a year free time, so to speak.

So take a deep breath first?

Denise: No, I’m completely different from my husband. I had previously worked as a freelance consultant. It was a great time, even if it wasn’t particularly lucrative financially. But now I was older, more mature. So I put everything on one card and planned to build a business. A few months after maternity leave, instead of continuing to claim unemployment benefits and look for a job, I signed up for a start-up support program that would give me financial security for six months from that moment.

Sounds relaxed.

Denise: It was the complete opposite of the hammock. The whole time I had this deadline in my head, banged on. Despite the lack of sleep as a new mom, I was almost always in a great mood, full of power. For us as a family. And for me and my job.

Sure, in this mood it’s easy to say: No problem if you work less and spend more time with the baby. We’ll do it. As I said: We are leading the way, we don’t let ourselves be stopped, especially not by questionable role clichés… that was the mood with us as a couple. We felt very flexible and very playful with the situation.

And how was it de facto? How did the business start?

Denise: It was incredible. Already in the first year of founding I made a turnover of 100,000 euros. In the second year it was 250,000 euros, in the third 300,000. It hit the spot. I was on fire for work and at first we both really celebrated, my husband and I.

Why only at first?

Denise: Well, soon there were months in which I earned as much as he did in half a year. Irritation soon mingled with the intoxication. What can I say? He thought it was cool, on the one hand. And on the other hand really bad. No wonder. Of course something like that does something to you if you have to ask the other person: Can you pass me 1000 euros? A question that comes up quite often to this day. I’ve been the sole breadwinner, so to speak, for three and a half years. He no longer works at all.

Was this decision made collectively and if so, on what basis?

Denise: Somehow you slip into it. You spend the morning with the child and suddenly you have this thought: 3000 euros are slipping through your fingers just so that he can be part of this production, which doesn’t even bring in a fraction. And which ultimately only means stress again, for him and for us. I’ve been doing this shit for 20 years now…I remember him saying that one day when he came home.

Do you remember how you reacted?

Denise: Oh yes. During this time we talked a lot about the topics of work and vocation. Of course he noticed how passionate I was about my business. You’ll find yourself too, I’ve said many times before. But now that was more than an encouraging phrase. It was a goal to aim for. What should we wait for? The basic conditions were there, he just needed time. Creative time, no time that was senselessly filled.

One day everything would fall into place. And until then we would enjoy what we had. Traveling together a lot on the weekends and during the holidays, for example. But somehow we haven’t been really happy with it for a long time. On the contrary, the mood has steadily deteriorated over time. And the whole thing also has something to do with attraction. Everything weighs on my shoulders…

All the responsibility, is that the problem?

Denise: That less. I love my job, I don’t feel pressure to have to earn money. If I knew my husband enjoyed being at home, I would probably feel better. But he obviously doesn’t. She does her thing and I do the laundry – that’s more what he exudes. He seems annoyed, feels super unmanly. He’s even said that before.

In a specific situation?

Denise: When it comes to paying, I think it becomes particularly clear. In the restaurant for example. It is obviously important to him to pull out his debit or credit card from time to time. I’ll let him do that. Paying for the running costs, rent, insurance and so on is less difficult. It’s a transfer that went more or less unnoticed by him. Anything to do with our joint account is tricky.

Of course, when the tide goes out here, I get active immediately. Either because I see for myself that money is missing. Or because he points it out to me. In both cases, I am the one who initiates the transfer. He doesn’t have that leverage. To put it bluntly, his leverage is to hold his hand. How does it make you feel? I don’t know if you can even begin to guess something like that. And that’s probably what makes it so difficult to find a way out: There is no roadmap for this scenario, no ideas on how to design it well. There are no role models.

We also spoke to Jessica Samuel, with whom Denise is now doing coaching.

FOCUS Online: You deserve more than him. How do you go about coaching when tensions arise?

Samuel: First of all, we look at the different financial biographies of Denise and her partner. Which – often secret – assessments weigh on the topics of income, work, power, self-esteem and money? What was exemplified in the respective family of origin and unconsciously adopted by both partners? And which of these can now be adjusted?

Sounds like you’re going deep into the subject…

Jessica Samuel: Let’s not forget: up until the 1950’s, without the consent of their husbands, women had no way of making any money at all. The woman was reduced to the supporting force in the background, and her value was not and is still not taken for granted when we look at the pension entitlements of housewives who have managed their families for years so that the man can pursue a career. A lot has changed today. But often only externally. Studies also show this, by the way.

Do tell.

Jessica Samuel: A study by the British University of Bath actually came to the conclusion that men do not have the highest stress level in a relationship when they are the sole earners, but when their partner earns significantly more than he does. Men feel sad and worthless and are afraid of being abandoned more quickly if they are dissatisfied.

What happens next when Denise has understood the biographical monetary background for herself and her partner?

Jessica Samuel: She can consciously engage with the topic and reassess many things for herself. It goes without saying that “behind every successful man there is a strong woman”, for example. We know such statements from Barack Obama and other well-known – male – personalities. But for the opposite case, despite all emancipation, there is a lack of role models.

It’s not that the opposite pattern doesn’t exist: we had a female Chancellor in public for 16 years – but her husband hardly made an appearance in the public eye, neither as a valuable backer nor in any other form. Where are the strong men behind the successful women who like to take on their roles vigorously? That is the crucial question. I think we should start looking for that. It’s good that there are women like Denise who don’t wait any longer and seize the opportunity. And who might become pioneers for others.