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Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson

Basic concept of book explained by thought expt - working couple come home tired and stressed. He wants sex; she just wants to veg out in front of the TV and then go to sleep. Boys say "Why not? She's his wife for chrissake." Girls say "No way. She doesn't have to put out every time he asks." But the authors say: look at the marginal cost (10 minutes less sleep or TV) verses the benefits (a happy husband and a peaceful home).

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"Welcome to spousonomics: the art of using economics to minimise conflict and maximise returns on life's biggest investment - your marriage."

Advice like Never let yr own happiness outweigh that of yr spouse; always try to anticipate his next move before launching into negotiation. Divide housework not 50:50, but according to who does what better. Don't be afraid to use incentives to get what you want. Be willing to lose an argument.

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations explained idea of division of labour. Described a pin factory where if each worker made a whole pin, he cd turn out 10 a day, but if each of the 18 different steps involved in making a pin were assigned to specific workers, they cd make thousands.

David Ricardo's idea of Comparative Advantage - a country, or a person, should not try to make everything it needs. Instead it should stick to the things it can make better than others, and then trade those with others. And this makes sense, even if the other country can make the stuff themselves. eg New Zealand provides milk and tourism; China makes TV's. Some couples try to split everything 50:50, but then argue over what exactly counts. If instead they can figure out which chores thay can do best, and do those, they both wind up spending less time on domestic stuff.

Speculation - typically by people who want to make a quick profit by jumping in and hoping for the best. Marriage is one of the biggest specs anyone gets into. You have no good reason - just faith - to believe it will pay off, given that roughly 50% fail. But the only way you stand a chance of success is if you treat it as a long term investment, sticking it out when the going gets tough and profits stagnate and shareholders revolt.

Signs of a marriage market failure:
A bottle of wine. Per person. Per night.
A raised bump in the middle of the bed.
Love handles and man boobs.
Soul death.

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Loss aversion is why we don't bale out of losing bets on the stock market. But it also screws up marriages, because we don't want to lose a fight. Refuse to apologize because don't want to lose face. Refuse to appreciate good stuff in front of you because all you can think about is how much fun life used to be.

People don't usually stop and rationally decide on best option, they go with whatever's easiest. Do the same in marriage - choose easy options like read book or watch TV rather than strike up a conversation. When cost of sex gets too high, opt for TV or Internet. Cost as in what you have to give up to get it. And since the basic recipe for marital happiness is to have more sex ....

The way to have more sex has a lot to do with economics. You can lower the costs by:
1. being transparent - don't expect partner to read your mind.
2. reset habits - go back to some of old ways
3. signals - tell yr partner what you want when you want it

Self-disclosure is heart of intimacy - helps stop molehills becoming mountains. Little gripes turn into little resentments which turn into little withholdings, which then leads to other partner griping, resenting, withholding, and before you know it, something that could have been sorted out in 5 minutes has become a death spiral. Problem of swing between too little info being supplied (expecting partner to read yr mind) and then too much, usually in the course of an argument. John Gottman called this 'flooding' - overwhelming so you shut down.

Hyperbolic discounting. We are rational about way others should think, but emotional about our own minds. Your friend has $10 and intends to go to movies, but his dad tells him to hand over the $10 and in a month he'll give him $20. You tell yr friend he has to take the offer. But when it's you that has the $10, there's no way you'll take the offer.

Sex has health benefits and relationship benefits, so it's impt to keep it going. One suggestion is that you agree on a frequency and then stick to it - if one person wants sex the other can't veto it.

One couple the guy was a trial lawyer who regularly lost his temper when came home to messy or noisy house. After years of trying to get him to control it (he always agreed when 'cold' but lost it when he was 'hot')they devised a red flag system. If he lost his temper, wife cd call a red flag. If he went 3 days without a red flag he got sex; if he went for a week he cd have it 2 days in a row. And the reverse - every time he blew up, it was no sex for a week. 3 red flags and he had to look after the kids for a day while she went to the spa.

Author apologetic for idea of bartering sex, but a lot quicker and more practical than years of therapy about his messed up childhood and having to compete for attention.

Game theory and marriage have lot in common:
Two players, each trying to do the best he can for himself but limited by fact that not alone.
There are co-op strategies in which parties work together to come up with a solution that's best for both, and there are non-co-op strategies in which each is out for number one.
It's usually the non-co-op strategy that is most appealing and hardest to resist
It's usually the co-op strategy that makes everyone happiest in the end.

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