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It's Not You, It's the Dishes (originally published as Spousonomics): How to Minimize Conflict and Maximize Happiness in Your Relationship Paperback – June 12, 2012
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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.
“Practical, compelling, and hilarious . . . The minute I finished this book, I started to experiment on my husband.”—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
“This clever and hilarious book is really a user’s manual for improving relationships in marriage, family, business, and society in general.”—The Miami Herald
“The book is grounded in solid research, makes economics entertaining, and might just save a marriage or two.”—James Pressley, Bloomberg
“A convincing and creative case for how the dismal science can help reconcile marital disputes.”—The Washington Post
Top Customer Reviews
With ten chapters, each focused around a single idea from economics (to the three listed above, add also loss aversion, moral hazard, and several others), the authors show the reader how, by applying lessons learned from economists, they can have a better marriage-and, as they point out more than once, more sex. Each chapter has a similar format: the authors explain the concept using both textbook phraseology (although there's blessedly little of that) and examples from real life, then present several "case studies" that show how different couples actually confront the issue the chapter illuminates.
As an introduction to economic ideas it's not bad, and it might get you thinking about how you make decisions and relate to your spouse and children in a different way. Many of the couples profiled, however, were not easy to empathize with, to put it politely; some seemed downright annoying. Also, a lot of the spouses seemed...stereotypical, with the hubby obsessed by "the game" and loafing around, and the wife doing all the housework, or with one a workaholic and the other a free spirit. In the course of researching the book, the authors talked to more than two thousand people, so this might just be what they found. Maybe most people (or most people in their sample) really are that predictable.Read more ›
As expected, the book achieves two good purposes: serving as an introduction to economics while also providing sound relationship advice.
Unexpectedly (considering economics is nicknamed "the dismal science"), the book is also quite funny and often sexy.
I was surprised how much I learned, and at the relevance of the advice. It's also an easy and pleasant read.
The chapter titles illustrate the pleasures in store for readers:
Division of Labor - or, why you should do the dishes
(I particularly appreciated the explanation of comparative advantage - why it's best to share household chores, even when one spouse is better at all of them.)
Loss Aversion - or, the upside of going to bed angry
(Their 24 hour rule to see if we still feel the same tomorrow is useful in the same way as Dave Ramsey's 30 day delay rule for desired purchases, to see if we still want the same thing.)
Supply and Demand - or, how to have more sex
(It was here I finally noticed both authors are women.)
And so on for seven more delightful chapters on Moral Hazard, Incentives, Trade-offs, Asymmetric Information, Inter-temporal Choice. Bubbles, and Game Theory.
If you have any interest in either economics or improved relationships, you really can't go wrong with this excellent book.
The examples are fun and sometimes a little silly, but they really get your attention. After well over a decade of marriage, there are many of these situations I have personally experienced, even if they were only for a short time. We have found our own ways around some of these issues and it is interesting to me that some of them mirror what is found in the book.
I enjoy getting my facts in fun ways and having a book I can read in bits and pieces. I could pick it up and put it down at will, but I found myself coming back quickly for more and more info. If you like that sort of book, then this may be something you would also enjoy.
Even with a modest stab at legitimate survey techniques (the only feature that elevates this review to two stars), this book fails to deliver on the solid connection it claims between economics and marriage.
Compounding the problem are the couples used as exemplars in the numerous case studies. Overall, they can be charitably described as self-absorbed (sometimes individually, but often collectively). One example: the divorced woman who turned to online dating service, and claimed more than a hundred dates in a year. Two dates a week is an aggressive agenda for anybody, and there are probably some conclusions other than economic that can be reached based on this rate of "dating".
The book contains an overemphasis on sex as a commodity in marriage, and some of the sidebar discussions about symptoms of issues in a marriage may have seemed funny or cute to the authors, but are in questionable taste.
The authors will garner some talk show face time and will no doubt be hearing them banter with morning drive-time radio hosts in several markets. Here's my economic advice: Give those those six to ten minute interludes some of your attention. You'll get everything you need from that brief exposure when this book gets hawked, and save yourself the money and time you'd invest in buying and reading it. Then, if you're married, buy your spouse a bouquet with the savings: that's a sound economic decision you won't regret.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Spousonomics is a marriage book that appeals to the logical side of your brain, written with a lot of sarcasm and humor to make it fun to read. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jessica B.
This book has provided new ways of thinking about what it is to be "equally contributing" to a partnership or any relationship. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Nance L. Schick
This book makes some very interesting points and cleverly incorporates economics into the workings of a relationship. It is also very funny and easy to read.Published 13 months ago by Rebecca
A fun use of "economics" and a very practical approach to marital issues. Maybe not your go-to romantic read but definitely will solve the big issues. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Derek
Excellent book. I found myself at times thinking this is exactly what happens at my house. Several reviews stated that this was written for women but I never thought that for a... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Robert Sparrenberger
The authors of Spousonomics may not have set out to write a marriage book for men, but this is exactly what they ended up with in this book. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Rohit Bhargava - Author | Speaker | Nice Guy
I liked reading about the economic theories and the stories applying them to marriage. I've probably already learned most of this in 27 years of marriage already but still enjoyed... Read morePublished on May 6, 2014 by Linda P. B.