Tuesday 29 January 2013

Thinking out loud: Marriage as a Business

While the rate of divorces has apparently dropped over the past decade, the rate stands at 40% or 50% depending on the source of information. Marriage counselling seems to be a booming business. If I do a Google search on "marriage counseling", I get over five million hits. How could something which starts out so wonderfully in this ethereal cloud of romantic bliss end up being Hell on Earth? Women complain about men by saying that "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (The Righteous Brothers 1964). Men complain that women suck in the bedroom (or not). Why is it that expectations about the relationship have gotten completely out of kilter with reality?

In business, two parties have a contract. The contract clearly spells out what product and/or services are to be provided for at what price. Before anybody commits by signing on the dotted line, both parties negotiate until they fully understand all aspects of the arrangement and are satisfied with terms of the agreement. Everybody knows who does what and when.

Anything wrong with a situation where everybody knows who does what and when?

Several years ago I took some ballroom dance lessons. I had never done this before so it turned out to be quite the eye-opening experience but on more levels than just one. I, the man, ask you, the woman, if you would like to dance. You can accept or refuse. If you accept, we walk out onto the floor, I take your hand and we dance. There are rules. There are steps. There are roles. Yes, each of us has a role to play and it is only through the coordination of those two roles that we arrive at being a couple, a dancing partnership. It's synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We are both there voluntarily; we both want to dance. We both participate; dancing as a couple only works with the full involvement of both people. Is this a metaphor? Is there a lesson to be learned here?

Romance, starry eyed, sail off into the sunset, life is beautiful my pretty little poochy poo. But who takes out the garbage? Who walks the dog? Are we sticking with the national average and having sex once a week? How much of a relationship is left unsaid and how much of it works itself out more by random chance than by a deliberate meeting of the minds?

But we're all going to be mature adults and we're going to be open and honest with each other, right? I repeat: The divorce rate is at 40% or 50% depending on the source of information. Ah, do I say oops? Are we all being open and honest? Are our expectations being met? Have our expectations changed? Maybe we started the marriage by making a trade-off and now that just ain't cutting the mustard.

This breakthrough half hour comedy series, a spin-off of All in the Family, ran from 1972 to 1978. I refer to Season 3, episode 13, "Walter's Ex". (see below for embedded videos)

Maude and Walter may finally be able to take their dream trip to Japan, as Walter's ex-wife Marta has informed him that she will be remarrying, allowing Walter to stop with alimony payments. Maude's rich Uncle Henry has also announced that he will be remarrying. Walter and Maude realize Marta is going to be marrying Henry and, knowing Marta's history via Walter, immediately become concerned that she is only marrying him because she's a gold-digger.

The humour of the show centers on Maude coming to the realisation that Marta is after Henry's money and Maude's growing need to warn lovesick Henry about Marta's true intentions. She tries to keep quiet but the outspoken Maude can't keep her mouth shut and the show's climatic scene has Maude speaking her mind to Henry in front of Marta. (In the video part 2 below, this occurs at 3:25) The amusing results? Henry is fully aware that Marta is after his money. He knows it and he accepts it.

Maude: I have to say it because of all the happiness you brought me as a kid, for all these years I've been lucky enough to be your Gingersnap. Uncle Henry, Marta is marrying you for your money.

Henry: I know that. You may be a Gingersnap but I'm not a fruitcake.

Maude: But Uncle, I...

Henry: Let's face it Maude. We have an understanding. Why else would a gorgeous girl like Marta want to marry an old futz like me?

Marta: Henry dear, don't talk like that.

Henry: But it's the truth sweetie. We do have an understanding. Look at it this way, Gingersnap. She's marrying me for everything she can get her hands on. And that is exactly why I'm marrying her.

Marriage as a Business
Do a Google search on this phrase and you get over two million hits.

In Psychology Today, Alex Lickerman, M.D. starts his 2009 article "Marriage As A Business Proposal" with the question, "What can the corporate world teach us about personal relationships?" He talks about the difference between a merger, where both parties are equal, and an acquisition where a more dominant party takes over the other.

The Free Dictionary defines "Standard Operating Procedure" (SOP) as: Established procedure to be followed in carrying out a given operation or in a given situation.

Lickerman, in referencing SOPs, lays out eight strategies for long-term success in partnerships. This seems less lovey dovey and more common sense. Does a business approach bring some objectivity to the table?

In the 2011 book Spousonomics, the authors in studying the application of economic principles to a marriage, suggest treating a marriage like a corporation and to think like an economist.

The Time article "How to Make Marriage Work: Treat It Like a Business" gives a taste of the book by offering five Spousonomics principles to help your marriage prosper. Making time for sex, hating to lose a fight to your spouse, and becoming complacent and taking your partner for granted are framed in business terminology like "re-invest" in the relationship, "incentive" cooperative behaviour, "division of labour", and "coordination failure". Once again, does a business approach bring some objectivity to the table?

Final Word
Marriage seems like the romantic ending to the fairy tale. And they lived happily ever after. The word business conjures up all sorts of images of cold boardrooms, official sounding language, and negotiated agreements sign on the dotted line please. But does the objectivity of business bring something to the table? I want something. You want something. We negotiate. If we both agree to the terms of the agreement, we continue. If both parties are satisfied, why end the relationship?

Do we talk? Are we open and honest? Do we negotiate and do we re-negotiate?

From my blog: Michele Weiner-Davis: The Divorce Buster
[According to Weiner-Davis], hopelessness is the number one killer of marriages. She admits that not every marriage can or should survive, but does say that many more would survive if couples can be given hope for a future where things can be different.

from my blog: Does divorce make us happier?
Two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later.

Back in 2011 (Telegraph), news outlets reported on a proposal in Mexico City for temporary marriage licences. In a city where 50% of marriages end in the first two years, the idea was to offer couples a temporary commitment which could be renewed if the couple decides it is happy. The contract would cover the handling of property and children and have a minimum period of two years. The purpose was to avoid the tortuous process of divorce. I do not see if this proposal was in fact adopted but it does make one think about a more business-like approach to the romance of marriage. I want something. You want something. We negotiate. If we both agree to the terms of the agreement, we continue.


Psychology Today - Oct 29/2009
Marriage As A Business Proposal by Alex Lickerman, M.D.
What can the corporate world teach us about personal relationships?

Google search: "marriage as a business"

Amazon: Feb 2011
Spousonomics by Paula Szuchman
Are you happy in your marriage—except for those weekly spats over who empties the dishwasher more often? Not a single complaint—unless you count the fact that you haven’t had sex since the Bush administration? Prepared to be there in sickness and in health—so long as it doesn’t mean compromising? Be honest: Ever lay awake thinking how much more fun married life used to be?

If you’re a member of the human race, then the answer is probably “yes” to all of the above. Marriage is a mysterious, often irrational business. Making it work till death do you part—or just till the end of the week—isn’t always easy. And no one ever handed you a user’s manual.

Until now. With Spousonomics, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson offer something new: a clear-eyed, rational route to demystifying your disagreements and improving your relationship. The key, they propose, is to think like an economist.

That’s right: an economist.

Economics is the study of resource allocation, after all. How do we—as partners in a society, a business, or a marriage—spend our limited time, money, and energy? And how do we allocate these resources most efficiently? Spousonomics answers these questions by taking classic economic concepts and applying them to the domestic front. For example:

• Arguing all night isn’t a sign of a communication breakdown; you’re just extremely loss-averse—and by refusing to give an inch, you’re risking even greater losses.
• Stay late at the office, or come home for dinner? Be honest about your mother-in-law, or keep your mouth shut and smile? Let the cost-benefit analysis make the call.
• Getting your spouse to clean the gutters isn’t a matter of nagging or guilt-tripping; it’s a question of finding the right incentives.
• Being “too busy” to exercise or forgetting your anniversary (again): your overtaxed memory and hectic schedule aren’t to blame—moral hazard is.
• And when it comes to having more sex: merely a question of supply and demand!

Spousonomics cuts through the noise of emotions, egos, and tired relationship clich├ęs. Here, at last, is a smart, funny, refreshingly realistic, and deeply researched book that brings us one giant leap closer to solving the age-old riddle of a happy, healthy marriage.

Time - Feb 7/2011
How to Make Marriage Work: Treat It Like a Business
Few couples like to think of their marriage as a business, but treating a relationship like a corporation may actually give it the best chance at long-term success. That's the message behind Spousonomics, a new book by Wall Street Journal editor Paula Szuchman and New York Times education reporter Jenny Anderson. Researched and written over the last two years, Spousonomics uses case studies, focus groups and exhaustive data to illustrate how economic principles can help troubled marriages survive and healthy marriages thrive. ... Admittedly, Spousonomics doesn't bother much with the lovey-dovey part of marriage. This is a book about marital mechanics, not romance. "We suspect our readers already love their spouses," Szuchman says. "We're helping them build a framework for that love to flourish."Herewith, five Spousonomics principles to help your marriage prosper."

Wikipedia: Prenuptial agreement: Premarital mediation
Premarital mediation is an alternative way of creating a prenuptial agreement. In this process, a mediator facilitates an open discussion between the couple about all kinds of marital issues, like expectations about working after children are born and saving and spending styles as well as the traditional premarital discussions about property division and spousal support if the marriage is terminated. The engaged couple makes all of the decisions about what would happen in the event of a separation or divorce with the assistance of the mediator. They then draft either a deal memo or a premarital agreement and have it reviewed by their respective attorneys. An agreement developed via mediation is typically less expensive because fewer hours are spent with attorneys because the couple has made all of the decisions together, rather than one side vs. the other.

What Can and Cannot be Included in Prenuptial Agreements
A prenup cannot include personal preferences, such as who has what chores, where to spend the holidays, whose name to use, details about child rearing, or what relationship to have with certain relatives. Prenuptial agreements are designed to address financially based issues. Any prevision discussing nonfinancial issues will not be upheld. Judges grow uncomfortable when they see private domestic matters included in a contract, and will often view the document as frivolous, striking it down. If you and your spouse do want to have an agreement about such things, do it in a separate document, with which the court will not have the power to intervene.

Wikipedia: Maude (TVseries)
Maude is an American television sitcom that was originally broadcast on the CBS network from September 12, 1972 until April 22, 1978.

Wikipedia: List of Maude episodes
Season 3, episode 13: "Walter's Ex"

Uploaded on Sep 3, 2011 by musicfan12647
Maude - Walter's Ex (Season 3, Episode 13) 1/2

Uploaded on Sep 4, 2011 by musicfan12647
Maude - Walter's Ex (Season 3, Episode 13) 2/2
[The dialogue mentioned above starts at 3:25, 3 minutes and 25 seconds.]

my blog: Negotiating: Take what you want or get what you want
“The only people with whom you should try to get even with are those who have helped you.”
-John E. Southard


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