[Mind] Games

Applied to Marriage

There are many ways in which game theory can be applied to interpersonal relationships. Take marriage for example. There are always sacrifices and compromises that must be made in order to keep the balance. The book Spousonomics, by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, relates game theory and the economy to complicated situations that arise in a marriage. Game theory is all about strategizing. It really could be handy when trying to figure out how to deal with an argument or situation. It is best to use a cooperative strategy, or one in which the two players work together to get the best outcome for both, instead of a non-cooperative strategy, one in which one player tries to get what's best for his/herself. It is important not to get into a strategic polarization, or a situation in which both players are inflexible and one-sided. According to Spousonomics, some game theory strategies for maintaining a balance are: 
  • Giving up things for yourself to make your spouse happy. For example, once the ball is rolling during a fight, it's hard to stop with the comebacks. Most people figure that since they are already fighting, they might as well bring up every little detail about their spouse that bothers them. Jenny Anderson realized that this was incorrect. She found that keeping her mouth shut and going to bed angry at her husband after a small disagreement worked better than having an all out brawl about everything. The result was that she woke up in the morning thinking about coffee, not the fight. Another example would be giving up something sentimentally important to you that would cause discomfort in a marriage. Paula Szuchman had a La-Z-Boy she really loved, but her husband hated. He wanted to get rid of it, but she wanted to keep it. She asked herself, “Are you losing a La-Z-Boy, or gaining a happy home? Are you losing something sentimental or gaining a chance to buy something beautiful?”. In this way, there were no more fights about the La-Z-Boy, and a more harmonious 
  • Don’t take fairness into account. In the long run, everything will work out to be an equal share of work for both people. Therefore, it is best not to obsess over whether or not you and your spouse are even in accomplishments and work load/stress level. For example, the husband may not be so great with the kids when they are babies and the wife may get stuck doing most of the housework. However, when the kids are older the husband might love to go to their sports games, which the wife could hate. In this case, everything evened out in the end. 
  • Szuchman and Anderson compare marriages to insurance policies. Your spouse is, "the one that says you’ll be taken care of in sickness or in health, if you lose all your money or win the lottery, if things get better or take a turn for the worse." DO NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR INSURANCE. 
  • Although it doesn't seem romantic, or what should be expected in a marriage, sometimes it is necessary to take household tasks and divide them up in a list or chart. This way, there will be less to fight about in terms of division of work. This way, the work will get done, there will be less fighting, and there will be more time to spend with each other. 
  • Trade-offs may be successful in many cases. One married couple had been doing date nights every week, to the point where it just became routine, and they didn't have fun anymore. They talked about work. Instead of weekly date nights, they decided it would be better to do one big, fun activity once a month. They found this much more rewarding and fun. They had more fun doing this than their repetitive dates. 
  • Avoid moral hazards, or a situation you get into that has no consequences. The risks a couple takes may damage the relationship; take care of the relationship. Just because you're married doesn't mean you can lose all the things you maintained while in a relationship. For example, continue to stay fit. 
  • "Think of small changes that can have a big impacts." Don't take that extra 15 minutes to do work; it will make a difference. 

In this way, the uncertainty factor of game theory definitely plays into marriages and how they function. Below is a quote from an article that Jenny Anderson wrote explaining more about game theory:
"Take game theory, the study of strategizing and negotiation. If my husband tries to anticipate my reaction to something (say, his travel for business, leaving me with small and sick children for a week) and takes my reaction into account when thinking about how to present the idea, he will get a better outcome for both of us. (He makes the trip, he acknowledges how hard it will be for me, and we have a serious discussion about how I need solo travel time, too.) In my book, that’s pretty romantic."