Minimize Transactions Costs for a Healthy Marriage

We have started a five-month stay in Bonn, Germany: my sabbatical time. It’s the first new residence we’ve set up in 13 years. Despite our lack of recent experience we instantly adopted a number of conventions that we’ve established over 42 years of marriage, all implicitly designed to minimize transactions costs in our household.

My towel goes on the right of the towel bar, my pills go to the right of my wife’s, I get the right-hand closet, etc. These choices help us avoid confusion and reduce the need to think about things early in the morning when one is barely awake.

There are numerous others, and I’m sure our marriage is typical. Indeed, I would think that the minimization of transactions costs is a major source of economies in marriage/partnership; those marriages/partnerships that are successful are those that are better able to reduce the transactions costs inherent in living together.

humor-ously funny

I like this blog- It reminds me of the do's and don'ts of how to succeed in a marriage, partnership or any relationship long-term. I will add one element to humoring the other. Laughing at yourself. Every time my husband and I go on a vacation, we have a problem. He's a backseat driver and I tend to listen to his directions even if they are wrong. And then get upset and frustrated at him (really at myself for relying on him). It's like a comedy act of errors. Next time, I am going to try my own advice and laugh. It does not get much funnier to see us battling out whatever it is that we do.


The multi-trillion dollar "The War on Terror"

Including the deaths from 9/11, 5X more Americans have died from HERNIAS than have died from "terrorism".


It all comes down to one simple mantra that my husband and I have clung to for 12 years now--humor him/her. We recently moved from California to Italy (with kids in tow) and trust me, that longstanding habit of tolerance got us through quite a few stressful situations.


On the other hand, a change to the routine can help keep your brain flexible. Small changes like switching which hand you use to brush your teeth, which side of the bed you sleep on, and the route you take to work can all be good. Big changes might wreak more havoc than do good.


None of you can possibly be married. The only thing that I have figured out after five years is that the only transaction is me doing everything my wife says.


Get it straight: yesterday's column claims progress is doable and today you basically tell us it ain't.

Going all the way to Germany and keeping everything in order (including the missus)?! Whew, good thing Georgia's not on your mind!

Please distinguish between (and read) your own freakin' economics column and your own personal limits!


I've been married 23 years and we have always had separate bathrooms and separate closets.

We just moved to a larger house and now we have enough space that my husband even gets a designated portion of the kitchen counter.

He's more O/C than I am, so if he can have a place for his stuff where it won't be disturbed or intruded upon by joint stuff or my stuff, he is happier and easier to live with.

Perhaps houses with larger square footage will become less common, but I'm here to tell you that it makes a marriage smoother to have your own designated space.


I wish you would do more of these marriage type posts - being married 40 some years means you must have a lot of advice. I'm newly engaged and am constantly on the prowl for useful advice that doesn't come from some women's magazine.

Belfast Brendy

Reminds me of the old joke about the economist explaining to his class how he was once watching his wife prepare dinner and then clear the table and wash the dishes - she makes lots of different, inefficient movements. So he starts pointing this out to her and suggesting ways she can improve her efficiency around the house...he stops there, and the class ask how efficient she is now at doing the household chores..."Very", he says - "Now I do them all!".


Mitch, Kurt:

As long as you've recognized you have exchanged your transaction costs for a capital cost. (25-35 square feet at say $200/sq ft?)


@Joel Me too man. Married on last week. Now I sleep on the left side of the bed and have the left side of the closet. Strange exception, she gets the left sink (our master bathroom has two sinks).


how do you minimize the circulation problems in your arm that arise from the adherent problems of sleeping next to another person.


You could also note that transaction costs might be labeled as bargaining or even as caring. For example, you bargain to ignore a partner's messiness with his or her clothes in exchange for your own faults. You also care about your partner enough not to bother him or her about their faults and bargain that for not being bothered about yours. You then conflict about areas in dispute, meaning flaws that can't be ignored or which have changed and thus gone against the established bargain.

Michael F. Martin

Why do you call these "transactions costs"? Because of Coase right?

If you were describe these efficiencies another way, how would you do it? It seems that "transactions costs" is kind of jargon because it's not descriptive of what's actually happening.

Christian H McClellan

Obviously Becker's A Treatise on the Family comes to mind. Becker's work on culture, discrimination and the family (along with Stephen and Steven's great book) is strong evidence that "Economics" is a woefully inadequate term for what we do.

I think the Austrians have it right:

Praxeology - The study of human action

Catallactics - the praxeological theory of the way the free market system reaches exchange ratios and prices


My wife and I started out our relationship arguing about the most inane things: who never takes out the garbage; who does more cleaning up, etc. But over the years we've evolved/created a routine where we each do the chores we hate least; or the ones we enjoy most. So she cooks and I clean up; I do the yard work and she does the laundry; I load the dishwasher, she unloads; we take turns with the kids needs, etc. It happened naturally, but now is so ingrained we can't imagine another way. She also always sleeps on the right side of any bed we share; gets the top drawer for her toiletries, and the right side of the closet. There are hundreds of other examples. These unspoken accommodations smooth out life's everyday machinations and give us a sort of yin and yang fit that strengthens our love. We just celebrated 27 years of marriage and 35 years of being together.


My husband and I have developed similar conventions, and employ them in hotel rooms as well.

I assume you'll be spending your sabbatical at IZA. I look forward to the papers that will result from your time there. Viel Spass!


As a newlywed, I am learning these things far too often...


I'm with Mitch--the best thing that ever happened to my marriage was getting separate bathrooms.


I believe you are correct Daniel, however I think energy is a better word than cost. Any partnership has a large number of interactions, physical and emotional. All of them take some kind of energy. I think the best marriages manage to expend energy where needed, and avoid wasting it where it simply gets consumed for no real benefit.