A Letter from Co-author Jenny Anderson
When I told my husband I was thinking about writing a book about marriage, specifically a book that used economic principles to resolve common conflicts, he reacted as if I’d asked suggested we take up sea kayaking. “Sounds cool,” he said.
At the time, I was eight months pregnant with our first kid and working as a business reporter at the New York Times. It was 2008 and the financial world was falling apart. I was working 12 hour days, and we were all hoping I wouldn’t go into labor in the newsroom. But somehow in spite of this, I was convinced that writing a book was not just a good idea, but a fantastic family undertaking. I’d learn more about successful marriages! I’d become an amateur economist! I’d come up with all sorts of cool tricks to getting what I wanted. What genius!
Talk about overconfidence. In It's Not You, It's the Dishes [editor's note: this book was originally published as Spousonomics], Paula Szuchman, my co-author, and I write that overconfidence contributes not just to booms and busts in the wider economy, but booms and busts in marriage, too. Overconfidence is what causes CEOs of major corporations--think Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers--to blow up their firms: They didn’t plan for the worst because they thought they were too smart to drive their banks into the ground. Similarly, overconfidence drives couples to assume they will be together forever and then fail to take into account how much strain certain events--say, a baby, a full-time job and a book--might put on their relationship.
Chalk that one up to inexperience. I hadn’t yet started my research into the world of marriage and economics. But the more Paula and I researched the latest thinking in economics, while simultaneously interviewing hundreds of couples across the country about their own marriages, the more we realized just how much economics has to teach us about making marriage work. We were learning how to divide labor more efficiently, how sex comes down to a simple question of supply and demand, and how a smart incentive can get your spouse to do almost anything you want (almost).
We even hit on some anger-management techniques. When Paula and her husband would discuss something--say, why he’s incapable of signaling before making a left turn--Paula sometimes felt inclined to argue all night if he didn’t immediately concede that she was right about all his flaws. That’s because she was taught never to go to bed angry. So she’d amp it up until her husband would fall asleep, and she was apoplectic. “Woman, we need our sleep,” he’d say, rolling over and leaving her in a smoldering heap of fury.
At first she thought this “going to sleep” was heresy. But then she wrote a chapter about a concept in behavioral economics called “loss aversion,” meaning our strong dislike of losing. She learned we hate losing so much that we have to win $200 to make up for the pain of losing $100. Traders who are losing bet the house, for example (there’s a reason pawn shops are conveniently located next to casinos). Similarly, when Paula was losing in an argument with her husband, she dug in her heels and kept trying to win at all costs. She’s not alone: In our research, we found that two-thirds of married couples keep fighting even when they know it’s “a losing battle.”
Paula learned that a better approach was actually sleeping on it. After all, was she fighting about the turn signals or was it her loss aversion kicking in? So she’d go to bed angry and see how she felt in the morning. If she still cared, she could have a rational conversation about it. If she didn’t--and often she didn’t--well then, both she and her husband got some much-needed sleep. Another bonus: She could cut back on the tally of regrettable-things-said in the wee hours of the morning when winning is really the only objective.
I recall my husband’s original enthusiasm about the book with a twinge of nostalgia. We didn’t know our marriage would be put through the wringer, or that I’d have two kids during the writing of the book (Paula had one, too, bringing the offspring total to three). But in the end, my overconfidence was not totally misplaced. I did learn a lot of new tricks. I have a better toolkit. And so does my husband.
“Comparing marriage to a business doesn't sound very romantic. But in Spousonomics, journalists Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson make a convincing and creative case for how the dismal science can help reconcile marital disputes. Applying economic research to anecdotes from couples around the country, Szuchman and Anderson draw on concepts such as the division of labor and game theory to help readers determine who should mow the lawn or how to persuade a homebody spouse to join you at the movies. Just as technology has made it easier for countries to be flexible in the global economy, the authors propose, so has the redefining of gender roles allowed spouses to become more adaptable partners.”--Lisa Bonos, The Washington Post
“Apply economic principles to marriage and you will be happier is the message —and the more you think about it, the more it makes perfect sense.... Thinking of your marriage not as a love affair that is slowly getting buried under layers of family responsibilities, but as a start-up business that is adding skills by the day, makes everything look completely different. Rosy, even. And pretty sexy. Try it.”--Shane Watson, The Sunday Times
“Just in time for Valentine’s, two journalists, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, have endeavored to show you the way. In their book Spousonomics—complete with a big heart with a pie chart in it on the cover—they promise to teach you how to use economics ‘to master love, marriage, and dirty dishes.’ The book starts with two basic premises. First, relationships exist in a world with scarce resources: time, money, humor, patience, breakfast cereal. Second, the field of economics has a lot to say about worlds with scarce resources. Szuchman and Anderson describe 10 big economic principles and many more small ones to recognize or apply at home in service of a better relationship. ‘By thinking like an economist, you can have a marriage that not only takes less work, but that feels like a vacation from work,’ the book promises.”--Annie Lowrey, Slate.com
“Spousonomics pretty much nailed it. Authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, journalists from The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, respectively, propose treating your marital union the same way you’d treat any other business: As an operation that can only succeed if its limited resources are effectively allocated....What I love most about Spousonomics: The authors are funny, smart and relatable--and the advice isn’t just designed to make both parties happy, it’s also simple enough to work. Even if your marriage isn’t operating in the (emotional) red, consider this book a great investment.” --Jenna McCarthy, iVillage
“It’s funny, smart and breaks down complex ideas about economics and relationships into easy-to-digest anecdotes about who does the dishes and how often married folks get laid. These are authors who are unafraid to drop an F-bomb and can also tackle big words like ‘intertemporal’ without breaking a sweat. The basic premise of Spousonomics is that we can apply economy theory to our marriages, and make them better in the process. They promise readers improved marriages with more sex, less strife and smoother handling of everything from bills to bedtime routines. Sounds impressive, right? It is. The authors interviewed dozens of married couples, as well as experts in economics and relationships. They know what they’re talking about.”--Sierra Black, Babble.com
“Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson say if you only treated your marriage like the business partnership that it is, many of those issues just might solve themselves. It's behavioral finance for the bedroom and beyond. And it is both helpful and hilarious.”
--Tess Vigeland, Marketplace
"The book is grounded in solid research, makes economics entertaining, and might just save a marriage or two."--James Pressley, Bloomberg
“Spousonomics is one of the most delightful, clever, and helpful books about marriage I’ve ever seen.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
“Practical, compelling, and hilarious, Spousonomics highlights economics-based strategies for couples coping with the inevitable annoyances of a relationship. How can you coax him to do chores without nagging? Or change her mind about important decisions, quit yelling at the kids, or step away from the computer? The minute I finished this book, I started to experiment on my husband.”—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
"Spousonomics is a brilliant and innovative book. And if you’re a rational consumer, you really have to buy it: A few bucks to improve your marriage? That’s just good decision making."
– A.J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically
"This book – by suggesting that people are not rational, but irrational – turns our thinking about relationships on its head. A stimulating, must read for all of us who want to better understand and improve our love lives."
– John Gottman, bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
"Spousonomics delivers: Two accomplished journalists master a fascinating body of research I'd been hoping to learn more about, then weave it into a narrative that's a pure pleasure to read. Bravo."
– Robert H. Frank, Professor of Economics at Cornell University, and author of The Economic Naturalist and The Winner-Take-All Society
"Spousonomics lets you peer into other people's relationships, with valuable lessons for your own. A fun and breezy read for anyone who wants to be both smarter about economics and wiser about love."
– Steven Landsburg, author of The Armchair Economist and More Sex is Safer Sex
"Spousonomics offers couples real life, common sense solutions for some of the knottiest conflicts regularly experienced in marriage. Written with great wit and understanding, it is both very helpful and a pleasure to read. I recommend it highly."
– John. W. Jacobs, M.D., author of All You Need Is Love And Other Lies About Marriage