As a coach and as a sponsor, I talk to people about their problems with other people frequently. Plus, of course, I've had my share of problems with other people. The more I talk about it the more I see that those problems are incredibly simple - black and white - nothing complicated at all. But our irrational thinking patterns - usually developed as a result of our emotional problems - cause us to miss how simple it is.
Dr. Phil says that resolving problems boils down to finding a solution that both people can agree to. Very rational, right? The thing I've observed is that there's no way that's going to happen. Why? Because both people want their own way and they both want the other person to be the one who is the sole source of the problem. Often they want the other person punished for what they perceive as bad behavior as well. So the power struggle ensues. Too bad. No good outcome is possible. Their heads are stuck in the, "I'm right, and you're wrong, and as soon as I can force you to admit that and give me my way, the sooner I will stop yelling at you." (And I want you to suffer for your bad behavior to even things out.) Hmmm. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me that worked for them.
For example, I hear a lot about power struggles over money. Money is a black and white thing. There's income and outgo. There's building a prudent reserve for future needs in case or when we are not able to earn money or for unexpected expenses. It seems to me that fairness would be a good way for two people to work this out.
There's a book by Jerrold Mundis that outlines a simple way for two people to work out a fair way to manage their money. Since most people have unequal incomes, joint expenses would be divided proportionately to their incomes - unless, of course, one person is sitting on her/his butt and not generating any income at all, or working beneath his/her capability. Joint expenses are defined as those that both people use - shelter, food, vacations, jointly owned property, etc. Things that are not joint are individual transportation (cars, gas, insurance, repairs, etc.), child support for children from previous marriages, etc. Each person takes care of their own individual expenses. Jerrold adds in the concept of value for work - like if one person runs the household and does childcare and the other is employed or if one person does the bulk of the work running the household. The dollar value of this work is included as income. The value is decided by what it would cost to hire the work done - cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, child care, lawn care, and so forth.
It makes me sad to hear over and over that people don't want to set something like this up. It makes me think that what they are really wanting is to take advantage of the other person, or that they are too lazy to do the work. Probably, though, they are just too stuck in their emotional problems about money to do the work of finding a fair way to proceed.
But even when one person is totally unwilling to work something out, the other person can decide what he or she thinks is fair, communicate that and then proceed - for example, pay 2/3 of the house payment, utilities, property insurance and taxes, 2/3 of the groceries (up to a fair amount by his/her standards), 2/3 of all jointly enjoyed recreation and vacations (that he/she agrees to), do all yard work, see to it that cars are serviced, arrange for or repair household problems, etc. He/she will handle his/her car payment, her/his clothes, individual recreation, medical and dental expenses, etc. She/he pays 2/3 because he/she doesn't want to share in the running of the household like cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc., plus he/she makes more money. Even though there's no mutual agreement, one person has at least made a guesstimate at what's fair to both people, and lives by that. Then the other person knows what to expect.
The usual situation is that the money arrangement isn't working, but both people feel like they would be the loser if the arrangement were re-negotiated. Usually, one or both want what they suspect would be unfair and so try to use a power struggle to get what they want. So many arguments over money could be completely eliminated, the divorce rate would go way down, the happiness level would go way, way up, stress-related health problems would decrease, among other things. But no. We just keep on refusing to quit arguing from our emotional problems instead of using fairness and rationality to solve money issues. Sad.
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