Before the 2008 demise of Lehman Brothers, Wall Street investment houses were thought to be so crucial to the global economy that they were "too big to fail." Similar thinking can undermine a marriage when its key shareholders — a husband and wife — lose sight of individual consequence or responsibility. Spousonomics defines this as "moral hazard:" when the security of marriage leads to slacker-like bad behavior. Most folks, however, simply call it "being taken for granted."
Moral hazard can manifest itself both physically and emotionally — one partner neglects his health, another abandons the household duties, while both spend too much time working and too little time working on their relationship. Whatever the cause, "partners can slack off, let themselves go — yet always assume their spouse will bail them out," Anderson says.
And typically spouses do, but at what cost to the marriage? Mega-insurer AIG was rescued, but Lehman was left to perish. The principles of Spousonomics are intended to prevent bailouts before they arise — by helping partners "re-invest" in their relationships, "incentivize" cooperative behavior and develop a "new regulatory framework" for success. One way to achieve this is via "copayments" — specific everyday compromises that demonstrate a shared relationship burden. In the case of one Spousonomics couple, when the wife was busy starting her own small business, the husband learned to cook and help with family meals, and even built his wife a website for her venture.
Making demands on one another is permitted — if not encouraged. "But make them clear and explicit," Anderson says. "Never make assumptions, this is just asking for trouble." She adds: "'Moral hazard' can play out in so many different facets of a relationship."
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 (Random House), a new book coming out Feb. 8, by Wall Street Journal editor Paula Szuchman and New York Times education reporter Jenny Anderson.