If you’re looking for tips on how to improve your relationship, you might turn to a couples therapist, or a self-help book, or a particularly sage friend — but probably not to research in consumer psychology.
And yet. On an episode of The James Altucher podcast, behavioural economist and Duke University professor Dan Ariely drew on such research to generate an easy solution to a common source of marital discord.
To make your partner appreciate you more, occasionally remind them of all the ways you’re contributing to the family.
Let’s back up to explain why this solution works.
In one oft-cited study, psychologists asked members of couples individually how much they contributed to the housework. The total generally added up to more than 100%. In other words, both partners think they do more than they really do — and underestimate how much their partner does.
(Interestingly, each person also tended to overestimate how much they contributed to conflicts in the relationship, suggesting that it’s more about egocentrism than self-aggrandizement.)
You can see how this might pose a problem, at least in the chores department. Your partner thinks she takes out the trash 70% of the time and you think you take out the trash 70% of the time, so you each end up thinking the other is lazy.
Enter “operational transparency.” In a clever 2007 study, researchers found that people shopping for hypothetical flights were equally pleased with the service they received when it was instantaneous and when it took longer but they knew why it was taking so long.
The researchers highlight certain travel sites as an example of real-life businesses that harness the power of operational transparency.
For example, while you’re waiting for the available flights to appear on the screen, Hipmunk tells you exactly which airline databases it’s searching. So you can see the amount of effort they’re putting in.
Ariely argued that you can apply these findings to the science of relationships. Your relationship might be stronger if once in a while, you remind your partner that you’ve been doing the dishes or shopping for toiletries.
Here’s what Ariely told Altucher: “When you come home, just share. Just tell people what you’re doing for them, because otherwise people don’t know. It’s very easy to take people for granted.”
It shouldn’t be obnoxious, and you shouldn’t do it all the time. But once in a while, you can tell your partner about the details of your day. Simply describe the errands you ran — first to the bank, then to the drugstore, then to the supermarket, and then to pick up the kids from school (or whatever it is that you did).
“It’s more like sharing than bragging,” Ariely said. “Here’s the complexity, and here’s how my day looks like, and so on. I also don’t think you should do it every day necessarily, but from time to time it’s very useful to give people a sense of what it is that you’re contributing to the family.”