This week we’re branching out, bringing you the first in a series of q & a’s with people who aren’t economists, but who know a thing or two about making a great marriage. Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a bestselling book, blog and soon-to-be NBC TV show, about the pursuit of happiness. (And if you want to feel really lazy, she was also editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal and clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor–but who’s keeping score?)
We love what Gretchen has to say about Jamie, her husband of 16 years, and about how marriage changes over time: “Now, so many years later, is it the same? Yes and no. Yes, because I still love him passionately, and more deeply, because I know him so much better. No, because he’s passed through my heart and into my soul, and he pervades my entire life, so now sometimes it’s hard to see him. Married people are so intertwined, so interdependent, so symbiotic, that it’s hard to maintain that sense of wonder and excitement.”
1. One of the 12 themes in your Happiness Project is marriage, and one of the problems you’ve said afflicts marriage is the tendency to keep score. We all know it’s bad, but we do it anyway. What’s been your best strategy for kicking the score-keeping habit?
I repeat a line from St. Therese of Lisieux: “When one loves, one does not calculate.” I should give without reserve, without worrying about what I’m going to get in return. My husband is very fair-minded and generous, which I admit makes this much easier.
2. You’ve said that taking a “snappish tone” with your husband doesn’t get you very far. In Spousonomics-speak, we’d call that a bad incentive. What incentives have you found that actually DO work to, say, get your husband to do something around the house?
Back to #1 — I try to prod myself not to think in terms of “getting my husband to do something” but in terms of behaving the way I want to behave, myself. It sounds Pollyanna-ish, but in my experience, it’s true: When I take care to behave in a way that’s thoughtful, appreciative, forgiving, light-hearted, and cooperative, my husband acts that way, too.
3. Nothing makes us more unhappy than a nasty argument with our husbands. What’s the best way to stop a disagreement from spiraling out of control?
Humor! Very challenging, but it always helps.
4. Do you remember the moment you decided this was a guy you could spend your life with?
Absolutely. I remember it perfectly clearly. At Yale Law School, in the library, my first year, Jamie’s second year. I was working at my carrel, and Jamie walked into the room. I asked my friend, “Who is that guy?” I’ll never forget it! I describe it at more length here.
5. Since you started the Happiness Project do you and your husband talk more or less about your marriage?
Hmmm…we never talk about our marriage. Before or after the Happiness Project.