Agreement or Impasse?
I read about some interesting research recently that relates to Finding Third Alternatives.
It showed just how much people like agreement and, even more, dislike impasse. Just labeling an option "Agreement" made people in a negotiating experiment more likely to choose it, even if it wasn't their best option. But labeling an option "Impasse" had a bigger effect, making people even more likely to avoid their best option to avoid that label.
What does this mean for your marriage? If we want to avoid an impasse with strangers, think how much more we want this with someone we love.
When we disagree on something important, like how often to have sex or whether to send a child to camp or how much to save for retirement, pretending there are only two options and trying to convince each other that ours is the better one yields a lot of frustration in the short run. And in the long run, it can yield bad choices, choices not in our best interests, simply to avoid an impasse.
When you look together for Third Alternatives, impasses are rare. You're not on opposite sides. The size of the pie isn't fixed. The only good choice is a choice that's good for both of you.
Let's say one of you is arguing for maxing out your tax-free and employer-matched retirement savings, while the other objects that this will delay owning a home (and starting to build equity in that home) by at least 7 years. If one of you runs from impasse into accepting the other's approach, what have you lost?
Well, first, the sense that the one who caved is an equal partner in your joint financial future. But second, all of the options for reaching your real goals.
Want to travel after you retire? You can do it a lot less expensively if you've spent years making friends in the places you want to visit or building a career that gives you free or low-cost airline or train tickets.
Want lots of cash when you're 66? How about investing in starting a business that exceeds tax-deferred investing rates of return?
Want to be assured of care in your later years? How about a house full of children who adore you?
Unless you go looking for Third Alternatives, unless you share with each other your real goals and your real fears driving your preference for one of those first two options, the rest of these options will never find their way to the table.