THE One About the SAHM Trap

Hi there. My name is Athol, here to entertain and explain.

In this episode I’m going to talk about why single income marriages can be especially problematic when they’re starting to break down.

What I want you to do for the purpose of argument is imagine that each person in the relationship can either be basically nice or basically mean. Like they only have two choices of card to play through the entire relationship, a Nice Card or a Mean Card. Which get us this sort of four possible outcome: Mean and Nice, Nice and Mean, both Mean or Both nice.

Nice Mean Image

Now I want you to imagine that both people in the relationship earn about the same amount of money, which gets us these four possible outcomes:


Nice NiceBoth are nice so they kind of have a happy marriage and a great income together, a nice lifestyle.





Mean MeanThey are both Mean and the kind of have a high conflict relationship and eventually the relationship breaks down and fails.




Nice MeanOr she’s Nice, he’s Mean and of course he’s a total jerk that tries to sleep with her sister and his best feature is flatulence.




Mean NiceOr she’s Mean, he’s Nice and she likes having fistfights at DUI stops.





So in those four possible outcomes everybody has the opportunity to file for divorce if they want to. They have the actual ability to leave the relationship. I’m not saying if that is a good or a bad idea, I’m just saying they have the capability if they want to. They can cut the relationship down the middle, take half their stuff, and be on their merry way. And if they are Nice people, then they have the opportunity to remarry with someone else who is also Nice. And if they have half their stuff and the second Nice person has half their stuff, well then together they kind of have a complete whole amount of stuff. It’s not quite a loss, it’s not quite a win, but it’s at least a reasonable outcome in terms of getting out of a really crappy marriage situation.

What I want you to do now is imagine those exact same scenarios but only one of them is earning an income. For the sake of brevity let’s just imagine that the guy is the primary breadwinner and the wife is the stay-at-home mom. And yes, I know it can be the other way round but let’s just keep this to a reasonable length video. We don’t have to be here all day covering every single possible outcome.


Nice NiceAlrighty, so he earns the money, she doesn’t. So we have the two, the double Nice outcome. And they still are happily married, everything is working fine. He works some longer hours, she does great at home, everybody is happy. It works out great for them.




Mean MeanAnd now we have the two Mean people. Just as before, it’s a really high conflict relationship. Eventually the relationship fails and it turns into an absolute feeding frenzy with divorce lawyers as everything just turns into a complete disaster. Both of them act very aggressively in the divorce.



Nice Mean

So now we get to the scenario where she’s Nice, he’s Mean, so he’s tried to sleep with her sister. He’s a complete jerk. He doesn’t help at all and she is very likely trapped in the relationship, because in order for her to be able to divorce him, she’s going to need some kind of income. She’s going to need to support herself. She may get some amount of alimony and even if she gets full custody and she gets all the child support, that may not be enough to keep her in the same sort of standard of living.

Very often women in this situation are trapped with the husband and they don’t want to be with him. They want to be divorced. They can’t get out and they very often can’t get out until they find some way of earning financial stability. I mean this is one of the reasons why women don’t leave abusive men, because they simply can’t afford to.

Mean NiceOkay so final scenario. It’s the Nice Guy husband with the Mean wife who’s a stay-at-home Mom. I’ve come across this scenario multiple times with coaching, where he desperately wants to leave the relationship but he simply can’t afford to because she’s financially dependent on him. So if it goes to divorce court, he’s probably going to end up paying some amount of alimony. He’s probably going to end up paying a lot of child support and he just can’t afford to be divorced. Also she can know this and make his life even worse when he attempts to leave the relationship.
So what I want you to see is that the one income family, when the relationship is falling apart, can be a real double edged sword. It can advantage whichever of the partners is the stronger one.

Sometimes that is the person who is earning no income because they can bully and push around the one who is earning the income, and sometimes it’s the one who is earning an income that is pushing around and bullying the one that isn’t earning the income. It’s a really topsy turvy crazy situation, but almost always for either one of these outcomes, what you want to do as a starting point, is get the person who is not earning an income to get some kind of job.

If you’re the stay-at-home Mom who’s trapped with some horrible guy and you can’t afford to divorce, one of your first steps is to get a job. And that may mean going back to school. It may mean some additional training. But part of your plan, one of your biggest puzzle pieces is getting a job. Likewise if you’re the guy that’s earning an income and she is a stay-at-home Mom and she’s digging in her heels and you can see the only outcome that’s really possible is divorce, one of the best things you can do in your interest is actually try and encourage her to get a job. Almost invariably when you suggest that though, they blow that stuff up. Oh my goodness do they blow that up. They hate that suggestion because they know the end is coming.

Something else to think about is that when you’re the weaker partner in the relationship, and sometimes that’s the one that has the income and sometimes that’s the one that doesn’t have the income. Almost invariably though, it is the one that is too Nice in the relationship while their partner is playing the Mean Card and getting away with a lot of stuff. If you’re being too Nice, that is horribly unattractive. Your partner does not respect you. Sometimes when you finally draw a line in the sand, when you finally start becoming self-supporting and standing up for yourself, sometimes that really does change their level of attraction for you and it can really improve things.

As a final thought, there is no down side to having a job when your relationship is falling apart. There’s no down side, there’s bad outcome for that.

Anyway I will leave it there. Like, share, subscribe and all that cool internet stuff.

And I will see you tomorrow.


(Transcript lightly edited from the video. The video is worth watching for all the interactions between the Nice and Mean characters.)


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