Monday, December 31, 2012

Spousonomics: Using economics to master love, marriage, and dirty dishes

Spousonomics: Using economics to master love, marriage, and dirty dishes
By Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

Although appropriate, the title of this book may put people off because it makes the book appear, at first glance, gimmicky, light, superficial, and trite.  But the old aphorism holds true, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.”  The subtitle more accurately conveys the important message the authors have for readers.

I loved this book.  As in my reviews of other books that have to do with relationships, communication, listening, dealing with difficult people, or self-improvement, I claim that any book that offers advice and suggestions designed to improve people’s lives or relationships make a worthwhile and valuable contribution.  Admittedly, that requires that readers read the books, absorb the information, internalize it, and practice it in their daily lives.  Too often, I’m afraid, those who could benefit from the information the most are NOT those who read the books!

Having taught a course in interpersonal communication for more than twenty-five years, I discovered that the most interesting part of the course—according to student evaluations—was the section on relationship development, relationship evaluation, and relationship improvement.  It was an upper-level undergraduate course and seemed to come at just the right time when students were thinking about, planning for, or beginning serious relationships.

One of the basic principles I espoused, and one that I wrote about in my textbook, UNDERSTANDING INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION (HarperCollins), is that although the idea that a relationship is 50-50—perhaps, thought of as an ideal—it is a wrong concept and does NOT work in practice for two reasons: 1) 50-50 is a subjective assessment; thus, what is 50-50 in one person’s mind is not necessarily 50-50 in another’s, and it leaves a great deal of room for debate and disagreement.  2) 50-50 does not work in practice simply because most people do not fulfill their part of the agreement, and a relationship without full commitment cannot last.

To make a relationship work successfully, partners need to commit themselves to giving the relationship far more than a 50% commitment, even 60-75%.  The best approach is not to deal in percentages at all and simply say, “I am willing to give this relationship whatever it takes to make it successful.”

My wife and I have been married for well over 40 years (to each other!), and we have found that we each do everything we can (and, what needs to be done at any given time) to not just make our own life more satisfying and comfortable but to make life more satisfying and comfortable for our spouse as well.  The more satisfying and comfortable we can make life for the person with whom we are living, the better our own life is.  It is a joint effort, but it NEVER comes down to percentages or who is doing the most or giving the most effort.  So what?  We are both working for the same purpose—to make our relationship more satisfying.

Szuchman and Anderson have written a terrific book.  They are fine writers, their concepts are accurate and helpful, their case studies are fun and interesting, and their advice and suggestions are both constructive and instructive.  I delighted in the economic references, and it certainly gives the book a different slant than many others of the same genre.  

Not only did the authors offer 9 pages of notes (302 items), but they clearly stated their investigation and research methods on pages xiii through xv of the introduction.

I am totally unaffected by the fact that some of the economic applications made may not be totally accurate—as one reviewer at (Benjamin Van Kammen) pointed out—these are amateurs (and they admit it), and it is really unlikely, as Kammen lamented in his review: “I am afraid that amateurs will read this book and come away with misconceptions about the assumptions and applicability of ideas such as rationality, neoclassical economics, temporal discounting, and information asymmetry.”  Seriously?

What makes this book more readable than many others is the authors’ sense of humor.  Their “take” on the world is delightful and delightfully engaging.  You may not discover anything that is totally new to you (however, I would be surprised by that since most readers will never have considered the possibility of applying some basic economic concepts to relationships!), but you will not just find the case studies interesting, you will find Szuchman and Anderson’s deft touch and humor so captivating you may not want to put the book down once you begin reading it.

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