Seven Mistakes Married Couples Make

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Dr. Bradbury can you give me, and other who read your articles, some tips on how to build and maintain a happy marriage. Maybe you could give some tips on what not to do. I’m really not sure what I am asking. I’m just looking for some answers.

Answer: About four years ago, a Prevention Magazine staff writer wrote a review on a book titled Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage & Dirty Dishes by authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, who write for The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. (I have not read the book, but I ordered it online tonight, as it sounds very interesting.) According to this review, the authors of the book apply the market rules of capitalism to marriage to help you efficiently allocate limited resources such as time. I will attempt to put forth the seven mistakes often made in marriage, without plagiarizing the writer of the review.

According to the authors the first mistake is attempting to split the housework 50/50. Even though this may seem like the fairest way to divide up the chores, it fails to take into account talents and abilities. They recommend implementing a system similar to what economists call “comparative advantage.” By doing this, each becomes responsible for what the individual is best at.

The second mistake often made is waiting until you’re in the mood to have sex. Their rationale is based on a theory called the hot-cold empathy gap. Without going into the details of this theory, let me just say each may have good intentions to express their love to the other through sex, but a lot of things can get in the way between when the mood strikes and when you finally reach the bedroom. They recommend that you remember the feelings you had earlier in the day and just go ahead and “do it.” They say you won’t regret it. (You have to remember economists wrote the book.)

Third, many couples assume a rough spot in their relationship is the end of the world. Not so. There will be ups and downs, just like in the economy. Just as ups and downs can be healthy for the economy, they can be healthy for your relationship. The authors base this on a concept from economics called “creative destruction.”

The fourth mistake is staying up as long as it takes to resolve an issue, even if it takes all night. Bad decisions are made when you are exhausted. Set a time to reconvene when you are rested and your heads are clear.

Mistake number five is trying to mind-read—or expecting your partner to do the same. This mistake should be obvious, but “intuitive” spouses are always so certain that they are right, there is no way the other spouse can win, or even come out unscathed. This might be a good place for a story. Some years ago there was a man on a psychiatric ward who believed he was dead. No one could convince him otherwise. A new psychiatric intern arrived on the ward, and had an idea. He asked the psychotic man if dead men bleed. With a laugh, he stated that everyone knows that dead men do not bleed. So, the intern took a tiny lancet and pricked the finger of the man who believed he was dead. With an expression of amazement the man who claimed to be dead watched as blood came from his finger. When he spoke, he spoke these words, “Dead men do bleed.”

That’s a good example of a true psychosis, but it’s also a good example of someone who believes they know what their spouse is thinking. It’s just as crazy to expect your spouse to know what you are thinking without telling him or her. The fact of the matter is, “mind reading” is no better than chance. However, if intuitive people are right even occasionally, it only strengthens their belief that they are right all the time. The answer to this mistake is the economic principle of transparency. Give your spouse the information he or she needs, rather than expecting him to know the unknowable. And don’t read between the lines. Believe what your spouse tells you. It would be better to get “burned” and find he or she was not telling the truth than falsely accuse your spouse.

The sixth mistake is putting off kind gestures. Unless you block the time in your schedules, it just doesn’t happen. Whether it’s taking an evening just to spend with her, or to give him that promised backrub, it won’t happen unless you block the time.

These writers state that the seventh mistake made by many couples is underestimating the power of small changes. Instead of making commitments to big changes, such as yearly two-week vacations, start with one Saturday a month together. Family therapists call this the Butterfly Effect (i.e., A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and a tornado results in Texas.)

I hope it helps.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]