My husband has what I call a bone for justice. When he hears about an unfair situation, he's liable to get worked up into a frenzy until justice is served (or until we have the opportunity to watch an episode of The Arrow). He's particularly grieved when he perceives that Kenny or I have received the short end of the stick.
Because of this, the best way to incite action from him is to make the action about justice.
Sadly, this admirable trait is very easy for me to manipulate. If I wish for Rob to do something, I simply state, "I feel that I have shouldered an unfair burden, and I would like for you to do X to relieve that burden." While the statement is an accurate reflection of how I feel and what I want done, I know that it will lead Rob into "penance" mode in order to make up for the guilt he feels.
Realizing that I had (not always intentionally) engaged the above line a few too many times, a year or so ago I resolved to only engage such parlance after doing a quick calculation. First, I would add up the value of all the things that Rob had done to add value to our household and marriage, and add up the value of all the things I had done, and only engage the line when the value of what I had done exceeded the value of what he had done.
All of you are scoffing right now because you think you're above such petty behavior, but if you had taken 3-4 more economics classes, I bet you would be nodding right along with me. Or perhaps, you are a better human being than I am and immediately jumped to different statements that I could make that would still lead to conflict resolution, but not cause my husband so much hurt.
Regardless, you are not me, and this story is about me, and only the moral should be applied to your life.
What adds value to our marriage?
As it turns out, such a calculation was not as easy as I first imagined. I started trying to compare the value of household chores and maintenance to each other, but quickly ran into a problem. Even if Rob wanted to take over meal prep, I wouldn't let him... I like to cook, and I don't prefer to eat the foods that he knows how to cook. So is cooking included or excluded from my calculation.
Rob frequently does things which he thinks are of value, that I don't really understand. Does my inability to conceive of something as a problem make it less worthwhile to fix?
Does carrying a baby for nine months count for anything? Is making sure that bills are paid valuable? How much is cabinet installation really worth?
What about mutually agreeable tasks wherein we receive unequal value. Surely Rob derives more value from sex, but it's not like I'm gaining nothing.
Suddenly the google searches that I'm about to engage seem wildly innapropriate, and more than mildly degrading to women and humanity (though if you want a PG rated recap of what's out there, I recommend this article about how to price the work you do).
Which is what led me to this important conclusion: Don't ever try to monetize the role you play in your marriage*
*Except insofar as you have to purchase life insurance.
Marriage is not about equality
In our marital vows, Rob and I said nothing about providing equal value to our marriage. There was nothing about who would earn the money, and what proportion of diapers we would change. No mention of who would be listed first on school forms.
We did mention commitment in all circumstances, forgiveness, and love that supercedes circumstances.
I'm guessing that your marital vows were somehow similar.
Equality is the basis of business transactions, and roommate agreements, and contracts. It's not the basis of love. Love is committed to relationship in the face of inequality, in the face of hurt, and it overcomes a multitude of wrongs.
What should we do instead?
If you're not going to try to monetize your marital roles in order to promote equality, then how are married couples to navigate the daily choices like who makes dinner, who drives the kids to daycare, and who earns the money? How do couples decide if she gets to eat out with colleagues twice a week, or if he gets to buy more fishing gear?
I suggest the revolutionary position that couples should manage their money together. They should view earning, spending, saving and investing decisions as "our" decisions instead of his and her decisions. "Our" decisions promote commitment which nurtures love, his and her decisions promote equality which in my opinion nurtures glorified roommate contracts.
Practically speaking, I find that budgeting is the most effective way for me and Rob to make joint decisions without having to micro-manage every decision, while other couples find budgeting leads to sub-optimal frugality (note the Frugalwoods and the Brooks from PretendToBePoor).
The huge advantage of a budget, in my opinion, is that it allows you to prioritize inequal wants and needs in a limited budget. Your shared goals trump the less important decisions, and decisions like fishing gear and lunch out are placed into their appropriate context. (Please note, I'm not above his and hers allowances though that's not something we do).
Now, before you decide that you and your spouse should suddenly manage money together when you've never done so before, follow these two pieces of advice.
1. Buy a lottery ticket and talk with your spouse about your financial hopes and dreams (sadly the expected ROI on your ticket just dropped, sorry).
2. Remember that managing finances together isn't a silver bullet. In fact, it will probably get worse first.
How do you think married couples should manage money?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.