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Male inadequacy: When men can't handle their wives earning more

A wife's competence at work was once cited as a reason for her husband wanting a divorce.

Ms Wong Kai Yun, co-managing partner at Chia Wong LLP, recalls the case, noting that the man felt excluded as his wife excelled at handling everything.

He felt that he had little decision-making power.

The wife's problem was not that her husband was earning less but rather, he was so insecure about her doing well that he constantly checked up on her.

"He became possessive and obsessive," she says.

He would become upset when she had to do things for work, such as entertain.

As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman.

But turn the tables and shifting a couple's main earning power to the woman can be devastating to a marriage or relationship, says a panel of divorce lawyers, counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists The New Paper on Sunday approached last week.

The experts say that they have anecdotally seen more cases where men feel insecure over their wives "wearing the pants".

From seeing two cases a year to three in a single month now, psychologist Richard Lim, who has been counselling couples for 20 years, says: "Most of the time, (the men) don't state outright it is because they feel less adequate.

"But probe further, and you'd find that even a simple decision such as which restaurant to go to becomes a source of contention."

Ms Joyce Ling, principal counsellor of Life Architects, agrees. She says: "The inadequacy is something that as a counsellor, I would uncover as a core reason for the breakdown in communication and strife.

"The human ego is a rather fragile one.

"In addition, men tend to project an image of not being emotional."

SUDDEN CHANGE

One common contributing factor to such unhappiness is a change of circumstances, notes our panel of experts.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist in private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, says: "If they are married and their wives have always earned more, they'd grow to accept it.

"But sometimes, the situation is reversed and the wife (ends up) earning more or is in a higher position due to fluctuations in the job market."

Family lawyer Yap Teong Liang, of TL Yap Law Chambers LLC, says: "The feelings of inadequacy are more pronounced, as the situation is quite different from choosing to take a backseat in their career.

"It can be more problematic when financial pressure comes into play."

Mr Lim adds: "Men expect - and desire - to be seen as the leader of the pack. It is societal expectations too.

"So when there is a shift in paradigm, not everyone can accept it. Subconsciously, they start to feel worse about themselves."

Psychologist Daniel Koh points out the feeling of inadequacy is usually part of a series of symptoms that can lead to depression and anxiety.

He says: "It can affect the self-esteem of the man. It is an issue of pride and ego sometimes."

A man's coping mechanism may differ, depending on the individual, he says.

"Some may be angry or resentful, others may lapse into depression because they see themselves as unable to fulfil the needs of their partners or they cannot compare to their peers."

Some men end up having a relationship outside of the marriage, to feel needed and secure again, explains Mr Lim.

And most times, the other woman will be the exact opposite of the wife, and defer to the man.

It is hard for men to even acknowledge they are facing issues, reluctant as they are to share their feelings with their families, especially if they are expected to be the breadwinners.

Mr Dylan Soh, 45, who walked out of his 12-year marriage, says: "How do I broach it?

"It is not something where a man can go, 'Oh wifey, I am feeling insecure about you wearing the pants in the home.'"


The human ego is a rather fragile one. In addition, men tend to project an image of not being emotional.

- Ms Joyce Ling, principal counsellor 
of Life Architects

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