Thoughts on Marriage and Game Theory

June 15, 2012, In: Family Life

I read an article earlier this week on The Daily Beast that talked about marriage and it didn’t quite sit with me. The piece compares marriage to game theory where two people have to essentially compete to get what they want. The author describes game theory as

“the study of how we make decisions in strategic situations. Classic examples: the Cuban missile crisis (PDF), soccer penalty kicks, and the first scene of The Dark Knight. When you find yourself debating whether to wait for the bus another minute or give up and walk, you’re facing a game-theory dilemma. Same when you’re browsing the profiles on a dating site.”

She goes on to talk about a fictional couple that is at a stand still over grocery shopping. The husband feels it’s the wife’s turn because he’s been to the store the last 5 times. And the wife doesn’t want to go to the store because she does several other chores around the house. It’s a pretty hostile environment with neither one willing to budge and no visible winner in this scenario.

Thankfully, the author steers the article toward talking about a “cooperative strategy,” in which two parties work together to come up with a reasonable solution versus a “non-cooperative strategy,” where it’s every man for himself. In the end she breaks down three game theory strategies that can help improve the outcomes of potential conflicts with your spouse so at least there was a silver lining.

The article starts off pretty bad – painting an ugly picture of marriage – but it ends with some decent advice so I’m having a hard time putting my finger on why this rubbed me the wrong way or why I’m still thinking about it a few days later. Maybe it’s because I saw a younger me in some of the example couple. Brett and I dated for 10 years before we got married and for some of those selfish years in my 20’s I’m sure I played a few stand-off games of my own.

Now, after growing and progressing together, I can definitely say we are more mature as individuals and have a much stronger relationship. I think the real reason the article puzzled me was because it still pits husband and wife against each other. In my eyes when we got married, we became a team. It’s no longer us against each other. Now it’s us against the world (in theory anyway). My thinking has shifted to an “us” mentality.

Little Green Bow Wedding Photo

Of course, there will still be nights when we disagree on what movie we want to watch or where to go to dinner, but those are trivial. I realize that we are on the same team and instead of fighting with one another, we need to figure out how to get what we both want. Now we each have a partner for life.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the author and think all couples play game theory too? Or do you disagree? I’d love for you to read The Daily Beast article and let me know what you think in the comments below.

  1. Reply

    That's an interesting read, Deanna. I think the game theory is indeed true. Not only in the marriage scene though but generally in life. I also didn't like how it sounded at first. Maybe because a lot of people already see marriage as a death sentence or similar to that. But in reality, its how you, as partners, deal with your marriage to make it work – as a team. :)
    My recent post Our First Real Setup of the 2007 Season

    • PlayDatesParty
    • June 19, 2012

    Came through SITS, and so glad I did! Just about the only things we play those kinds of ‘games’ about are dirty diapers and cleaning dishes vs. giving the toddler a bath…and we don’t really argue about it. Most of those arguments aren’t worth it. Your perspective on becoming a team is fantastic. If only more people would think this way!
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  2. Reply

    {Melinda} I completely agree with you! Divorce is so prevalent because many couples can't get past it all being about "me." So many times you have to choose to do things because they are best for the other person, even when you're tired, or you feel like it's not fair, etc.

    I've been married 20 years and I know we wouldn't have made it if we didn't view ourselves as a team that is willing to do what it takes to make our family succeed (regardless of whose "turn" it is!)

    Thanks for posting this — found you through SITS!
    My recent post Featured MOMtor: Learning Lessons From Trailblazers

    • tracyann
    • June 18, 2012

    Great thoughts about marriage and I think that many will benefited from it. Love your site always for sharing great topics. Thanks for sharing it.

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