Monday, February 28, 2011

Thinking About Relationships Long Term

I've boasted regularly about the new blog and book, Spousonomics. Whether it's date night, conflict, or marriage in general, economics has a lot to say about marriage. The authors recently requested questions on the Freakonomics blog, and mine got accepted. Here the question and answer:
Q. How do you avoid the counting-favors game? -Harrison Brookie

A. Or put another way, how to stop score-keeping? An excellent question and one that applies to virtually every couple, partnership and business relationship on planet earth. Research on incentives shows that counting favors is a double-edged sword. Say you’re trying to construct an agreement for how to pay an employee (or spouse). You could count every little thing he or she does or doesn't do, and pay for or punish each one. But this signals a lack of trust: Why else would you have to keep such close score? Evidence has shown that when a partner feels a lack of trust, he or she is more likely to cheat the system and less likely to volunteer to do something on his or her own. This is called “crowding out” of intrinsic motivation.
There are clear benefits to counting favors, you get the other to do more. But I'd never considered the costs. Like Dan Ariely stated in his book, there two different kinds of exchanges, market and social. When you treat a relationship like a system of platonic exchanges, the intrinsic desire to help disappears. If you plan on being in a relationship long term, which I certainly do, it's probably better for you to stop keeping count.


  1. Your name is on Wow!

  2. Apparently you can also search my old comments too:

    And don't forget about my Bachelor Pad Game Theory plug:


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.