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Thumbing Your Nose at Insufficient Generosity

In Daniel Pink's book, Drive, he reports "an experiment replicated around the world." It's a two-player experiment, just like your marriage or life partnership.

One player gets $10 and the right to choose how much of it, if any, to share with the other player. The other player decides to accept what's offered or give all $10 back to the psychologist running the experiment.

The players don't love each other or even know each other. Neither player stands to lose anything by playing. Neither has to earn the money. The only thing at stake is how the money is shared.

Most people, put in the second player's shoes, reject offers of $2 or less. They would rather turn down the offer of unearned cash than accept what feels like an unfair division of the $10. It's worth the $2 to teach the bozo a lesson on fairness.

Lots of people do this in their marriages, too. And it's not just with cash. They do it with household chores: "I might as well be single if I have to clean the house but he won't mow the lawn and take out the trash." They do it with sex: "My wife doesn't like sex as often as I do. I deserve to have a fling when I get the chance, even if it risks the marriage."

It's normal, human behavior. Walk away from insufficient generosity, even if it means getting less overall. And in a marriage, it is often a lot less. When we use this reasoning to walk away from our vow, we generally look at one tiny aspect, overlooking income to focus on chores, overlooking the emotional support behind our current career success to focus on sex, overlooking sex, shared chores, and our vital need for love to focus on how often we get meaningful conversation from our mate.

Here is the difference in marriage. The experiment gets repeated with the same two players. If you want more than $2 the next time, what do you think will work better? Walking away from the first deal, leaving both of you with nothing or expressing your pleasure at receiving $2 while your partner walks away with $8?

Our natural instincts are not always the best ones for the situations we face. As we practice a different response (picking our noses in private, for example, or sharing the road with other drivers according to a book full of rules), it becomes second nature. The benefits are worth it.

Expect Love, not any one version of it. $2 extra is $2 extra. Unfair is when you're actually $2 down from what you would have if you were single.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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