The Currency of Relationships

Email a Friend

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, columnist Katherine Rosman talks about her new column in the Wall Street Journal, which tackles the economics of marriage and family.

Katherine Rosman says that in any long-term couple, a ledger inevitably develops of debts and credits. These may be not about money but about parental and household duties – a solo yoga class in exchange for a weekend visit to the in-laws. Rosman will be writing a new column for the Wall Street Journal called “Checks and Balances” on marriage and finances. The column came from Rosman's own experience in her home, in which she said fights between her and her husband tend to be about a currency that extends beyond dollars.

We don’t fight about money, we fight about all sorts of things that resemble a market place… there are all sorts of commodities separate from money which really take a lot of our attention, such as time, sleep, exercise, all sorts of responsibility. I think when you are caught up in a very busy life you want to appreciate it all, of course, and these are the good problems to have… but it’s a lot to manage, and my husband and I, we barter. It’s like an open bazaar.

Rosman said some things you do for the ledger and some things you do for love. The things, such as supporting a spouse having a rough day, that people do for each other out of love are off limits for the ledger. She thinks the column is likely to be controversial but points out that she and her husband don’t keep a written tally or hold grudges, yet the ledger is almost always present in negotiations, whether overtly or subconsciously.

Some things happen inevitably, despite our best intentions, and this [column] will be a forum to talk about that.

A caller from Westchester was reminded of a birthday gift she gave her husband of coupons for items such as sleeping in or an allotment of alone time. Rosman agreed that these free things do really have value.

There is value to getting to sleep in late when you work five days a week and have kids, there is absolute value to it, and it’s a complicated thing... just because something doesn’t have a dollars and cents value doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value in your relationship.

Sex is certainly a part of the ledger, Rosman said, noting that a response she received to her column referred to sex-for-barter as the only form of legal prostitution. She said another part of the difficulty with a relationship is that each person has demands outside of their relationship which pull on them as well.

Definitely, whose career gets the family focus at what time is very much a part of the ledger.

Rosman thinks that her kids were probably not aware that parenting duties weigh negatively on the ledger, though she and her partner don’t hide it when parenting duties are tough. 

Certainly we’re not in front of our kids saying ‘this is such a pain’, and we love being parents. Like I say, these are the good problems, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not exhausting and that there aren’t a heap of things that need to be divvied out.