Monday, July 20, 2009

How Endowed?

I’m back now and ready to write a bit more about the endowment effect. To recap, this is a well-known, potent mechanism wherein people come to value things they already have more than they would value them if they did not have them. It applies to anything but I’m applying it to romantic relationships.

Let’s focus on the downside of this. As I noted in the prior post, the upside of this is that, in good marriages, this effect adds to the total forces of commitment that help you keep on doing what you promised to do—in ways that benefit you, your family, and your children. On the other hand, let’s think about all the relationships, like dating relationships, where some people get stuck with a not very good thing.

What the endowment effect means, in part, is that it’s easy to be biased in thinking that what you have is better than it is. Don’t get me wrong. If what you have is really good and maybe has a wonderful future, nothing I or anyone else is going to write or say will change your mind about it. In fact, don’t give it another thought. But think about a person who’s hanging around and dating someone who’s really not very good for them. It could be that the partner is just not the right type of person or even that they are dangerous in some way. Sometimes people overlook things that really do matter in terms of how their future could turn out as a couple. What might one overlook?

• Drug addiction or abuse
• A lack of a desire to have children when you know that you really want to have children sometime
• Differences in religious beliefs that you think don’t matter but you kind of know it might in the future
• Problems being responsible with money
• Completely different desires for how to spend free time

These are just a few of the types of things that relate to long-term happiness together that some people try very hard to believe just won’t matter. By the way, it’s possible that you are reading this and you realize that you are the one who brings more problems to your relationship and that maybe it’s your partner who should be thinking carefully about you. If that sounds like you, problems in your own life are things that you can work on. It’s possible to change. There are a lot of ways to get help, including religious organizations, community agencies, community mental health centers, jobs services, so forth.

Back to my main point: The endowment effect works on most everyone, and when you are in a relationship that has little chance of a solid future, it can be just one of the factors that makes it hard to get an accurate picture of what your future really would be if you married this person. Does the relationship have real value or is it just a mirage?

Safety note: It’s possible that someone who reads this is in a relationship that is dangerous. If you are in a relationship with someone who can be dangerous or who is highly controlling, you should know that the time one leaves such a relationship can be a particularly dangerous time. If that’s you and you are thinking through your options, find a way to make contact with local or national domestic violence workers who know how to help people increase their chances of staying safe. The national hotline number is: 1-800-799-SAFE(7233)