Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, marriage, and Dirty Dishes

I just finished reading this book written by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, two reporters who interviewed economists and couples for a book that has you think about relationships from an economist's point of view.  Since my husband is so rational (and an economics major), I thought this would help me to better understand his point of view.  Here's a re-cap of what I learned:

1.  How to divide chores: It's more efficient to divide up chores (For example, rather than taking turns washing dishes, one person should do this and the other could be in charge of vacuuming.)  To decide, which tasks to take on, decide who is relatively better at each task (also called comparative advantage).  Splitting up tasks this way should give BOTH people in a relationship MORE time for other things.  A 50/50 split isn't always what works - instead, strive for efficiency and meeting the needs of both people in the relationship.  Hopefully, the chores you end up with are once you like doing and/or have an incentive of some kind to do.

2.  Fighting and Loss Aversion: People don't like losing fights, even when it would be in their best interest.  Things to remember about why this happens - rash decision making, choose immediate satisfaction rather than saving for future gains, fear of change.  A good technique to avoid the fight in the first place is to wait 24 hours or so and see if you still think what ever was bugging you is worth starting a fight over - not easy to do for an "emotional-reactor" like me. 

3.  Sex is important: Pew Research Center has found that a happy sexual relationship is the second most important factor to a successful marriage (after faithfulness).  To make sure your having enough sex you should clearly communicate when you're in the mood, get into the habit of doing it regularly, and be open about what you want and when you want it.

4.   Moral Hazard (or taking your marriage for granted): When we get comfortable in our relationship, we take our spouse for granted and can treat them worse than we should.  In order to avoid this, we need incentives to be more responsible in how we treat each other such as investing actively in the relationship, set expectations for each other and work to meet them, and share the "costs" of being in a relationship.

5.  How to get him/her to do what you want: Trust them to do the right thing. (This is a big one that I'm always working on!)  Forgive them when they mess up, which then gives you a get out of jail free card.  Surprise them with thoughtful gestures. 

6.  Trade-offs (Get over it): As a default perfectionist, this is an important one for me to practice - just reminding myself that things can't be perfect and trade-offs have to be made and accepted.  I always want things to be fair and perfect, but real life doesn't work that way, and I have to remember that.  One way to get over what seems like big problems is thinking at the margins.  Rather than looking for one perfect solution, which is my tendency, try to find smaller changes that can be made that can provide a benefit (but at a cost).  Ignore sunk costs (something my husband is always reminding me to do) - which is another way of breaking free of bad habits and perceived status quo.

7.  Asymmetric information (why communication is important): Be very clear in expressing your needs (in a nice, and succinct way).  Of course, for this to happen, the other person needs to be receptive in listening rather than getting defensive and lashing out (another skill to work on!)   

8.  Avoiding laziness and procrastination in your relationship: Find a way to help you commit to being a better partner.  To do this, you need to figure out what incentive will help.

9.  How to sustain a happy marriage: Don't succumb to peer pressure - for me this means not constantly comparing ourselves to other couples, but figure out what makes sense for us instead.  Don't be so confident that you take your marriage for granted.  The book provides a good quiz to help you gauge whether or not you may be overconfident. 

10.  Game theory works for marriage too: Think ahead. (Maybe playing more chess will help me with this one.)  Learn from past experiences.  See things from their perspective.  Rather than only aiming for an ideal outcome, also think about what would be an acceptable outcome.  Making the first move can give you an advantage.  Although the aim is to "win," cooperative strategies often make everyone happier in the end.  Hmmmm...maybe keeping this in mind would help me win Catan more :-)

I realized as I was reading this book that so much of this advice are things that my dear husband has been telling me for years.  So, this post is dedicated to you, oh wise one.  Happy 2nd anniversary!

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