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The Moneyist: "I really feel like she's joined an abusive cult": My spouse makes $ 25,000 and receives only one.5% annual pay increase. What can I do?

My wife and I have been married for 18 years and met at work in 2000. She has a college education and has worked all her life, with the exception of a few years off when our children were very young.

For the past 13 years of our marriage, my wife has worked for the same employer and in my opinion it is an abusive and opportunistic relationship. The company just doesn't value them and takes advantage of their goodwill.

I have good reason to believe they are making healthy margins and getting them involved in government projects.

Every year their company has a sobbing story about why increases are not given or are so small (1% or 1.5%). Every year she says to me, "You can't afford to pay me more." In inflation-adjusted dollars, she now earns less than she did at the beginning.

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Her employer has given her several leave of absence over the past 13 years to address the lack of adequate contract management. She stays year after year out of fear and some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

I just received her 2020 W-2, and she made $ 25,000 last year as she pays little and has few hours. Why should a highly educated professional at the age of 13 continue to work for her current employer for this amount of money?

I'm doing comparatively well, so she has the luxury of telling her employer to plug it in and find literally any other job she wants. I asked her to look beyond her job, and possibly her profession, and she said, "What do you suggest since we as a couple are not about money?"

I feel like she has joined an abusive cult. She has to find a new job. But I'm afraid she is not motivated to improve our financial situation and will only stay with her abusive employer out of fear. What should I do?

Affected husband

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Dear husband,

They don't say what your wife does for a living, but $ 25,000 a year is more than $ 10,000 less than the median annual salary in the US. Her employer has often given her an annual raise that doesn't even keep up with inflation. I can see how that would affect her self-esteem – and if this job gives her a sense of self-worth and identity, how she might hold onto it for fear that she would not find another job elsewhere.

Beyond your and your wife's relationship and psychology, there are problems here that are bigger than either of you, but not insurmountable. Women make an average of 80 cents on a man's dollar. Women with color often do even less. The more people share their salaries at work, the more employees will be empowered. A culture of sexism persists. For example, female managers in technology companies are not only underrepresented, they are also paid significantly less than men.

In a survey of 1,200 people published last month, more men (81%) than women (75%) said they would rather negotiate a higher amount and settle for a number in the middle than nothing to ask. More women (57%) than men (51%) state that they never negotiated their pay. And more men (66%) than women (60%) say they would leave their role to find an equal position in another company only to get a salary jump they wouldn't get if they were in would stay with their current company.

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On the other hand, don't say what your wife is actually doing, whether she enjoys her work and thinks it is fulfilling, and whether she likes people. I wonder if this is a "hobby job" for her or if she goes somewhere every morning that gives her structure and meaning. Provided you are financially comfortable and your wife doesn't have to work, she may enjoy her independence and look forward to going to work every day.

Without further information, it is better to ask your wife questions: “Do you like this job? Does it make you happy If so, are you interested in the stagnating salary? If it doesn't make you happy, why don't you want to ask for more money or leave? What do you fear will happen? What do you have to lose? "You could even play role-playing games to test these conversations, with everyone playing their employer and, in the future, everyone playing an interviewee for a future position.

You never mentioned she was unhappy. Why is it important to you that your wife change jobs, provided she doesn't mind what she's got? I suggest that you address these questions together during the consultation. Even if she likes this job, I agree that she could and should push for more money. It is a good fear barrier for her to overcome it, and standing up for herself while emotionally disconnecting herself from any possible reaction is also good practice.

How does your wife see herself in the world? And what does she think her employer sees in her? And what do you see in each other? Who is she without her job and how does she feel when she goes to work? These are questions we should all ask ourselves from time to time. The world is no bigger than our job that lives in it. The answers to these questions can be more than just the key to your wife's salary negotiations. At least that would be the hope.

You can email The Moneyist at qfottrell@marketwatch.com with financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus

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