“Moral Hazard” is an economic term referring to situations where individuals feel they have nothing to lose. People take more risks if they're betting someone else's money than if they're betting their own. Put another way: We risk more when we feel there's nothing to lose.
Sadly, moral hazard can creep into marriages. The vow “till death do us part” provides an important structure of safety to a couple's relationship. This structure creates a safe place for couples to become increasingly committed and develop a deeper sense of emotional and physical intimacy.
However, experts Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson warn that the commitment of marriage and “the selfless aspect of love, as awesome as it can be, is also the very thing that can create moral hazard.” If spouses begin to feel too safe and that their marriage will never fail no matter what they do or don't do, they also begin to feel safe to ignore it.
Szuchman and Anderson give several examples of moral hazard in marriage: “Spouses who let themselves go, get lazy, get boring, toss romance out the window, stop picking up after themselves, stop pulling their weight, or stop considering the other person's feelings.”
Moral hazard is the attitude that “I can say anything or do anything, … after all, we're married.”
Szuchman and Anderson suggest marital moral hazard can be minimized in three ways:
•First, invest in your marriage. People who have a sense of ownership do more to protect what they have. This is true in all organizations: businesses, service clubs and marriages. It's also why homeowners typically take better care of their homes than renters.
A successful marriage requires your investment of time and energy. Ask your spouse to list some ways you could put more time or energy into your relationship that would make them feel closer to you. For example: Calling if you're going to be late, or exercising more to keep in shape.
•Second, establish regulations. Your marital regulations should be coordinated with your marital goals. Regulations limit what you do today, but they help make future goals realities. If you want enough money to retire, you must regulate your spending today and start saving.
If you want good health years from now, you need to regulate your intake of junk food today. If you want an active romance and sex life when you're in your late 60s, you need to make time for romance and sexual intimacy even though you're busy during your 30s and 40s.
•Third, create positive incentives. Reward your spouse for doing what helps keep your relationship strong. If your spouse goes the extra mile to help, praise him or her.
We often neglect to thank our spouse for “just doing what they're supposed to.” But what you think is “supposed” to be done may not be obvious to your spouse. If your spouse does something that's “outside the box” for him or her, thank your spouse even more.
Szuchman and Anderson remind us, however, that “some moral hazard is key to the functioning of a marriage.” Don't take your marriage for granted, but, likewise, don't be paranoid, afraid that you can never let down your guard, never make a mistake and never allow a conflict. Part of a healthy marriage is knowing that “you can mess up from time to time, and that your spouse won't quit on you.”
Investing in your marriage, recognizing limits consistent with your marital goals and creating incentives for each other strengthens your relationship.
But have fun, and let each other know that occasional mistakes and problems don't mean your marriage is going south.
©2014, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.