Tag Archives: Gottman

The “Fun Factor” in Agreements [Tip #4]

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.

In keeping with my WNFIN / NaNoWriMo  goal (mentioned in yesterday’s post) to finish a draft of my Agreements Workbook, here’s the next installment in the Agreements Workbook, Tip #4:  “Pay Attention to the Cost/Benefit Ratio” (aka The Fun Factor), which  is about creating balance, especially when one or more partners are being asked to give something up whether temporarily, or longer.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about these Agreements Workbook entries, feel free to contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box.

~♥ Dawn

PS: Want to talk more specifically about your own situation? I’ll be happy to do a mini-session for you for free. 🙂 Just drop me a line!

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4) Pay Attention to the Cost/Benefit Ratio

Face it, some things are just more fun than others. And giving up something fun in exchange for doing something less fun, isn’t fun! While fun certainly isn’t the only thing in life, and may not be the best measure of the worth of a particular activity, it is important to consider when making Agreements. It’s especially important if one person is being asked to give up something fun — whether temporarily, or longer-term — in order to support their partner’s (or partners’) comfort or needs. As I discussed above [p. ____], the relationship needs your needs. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try to keep some balance by making sure that the cost/benefit ratio and/or “fun factor” is sufficient to make it possible to keep the Agreement without a lot of stress or a build-up of resentment.


Balancing everyone’s needs can be challenging!

One way to go about this is to substitute something else that’s as much or more fun than the thing you’re doing without. For instance, you might decide that, although wheat gives you a rash and therefore you can’t eat pie or cake, you don’t have problems with chocolate or ice cream, and so you substitute one of those for dessert. Each one is relatively the same amount of “fun” and so you’re unlikely to feel upset at getting one, but not the other. Conversely, substituting a coconut macaroon for a chocolate-chip cookie is not going to work as well if you don’t like or can’t eat coconut. The cost outweighs any potential fun of eating the cookie.  You might decide to forego the cookies altogether, and maybe feel deprived about it, or resentful.

Why is this important?  Because resentment leads to bad feelings, an imbalance in the “Magic Relationship Ratio,” and eventually to the destruction of the relationship, according to John Gottman, a prominent researcher on relationships. [refs] While it’s possible (and in fact necessary) to overcome relationship “glitches” with “repair attempts,” if resentments and deprivations and an overall feeling of “out of balance” persist long enough, they will be toxic to the relationship. Consequently, it’s best to avoid creating the resentments in the first place, if at all possible.

Similarly, it’s best to avoid making Agreements that are difficult to make, or lead to the relationship feeling like a “chore.” This also will lead to an imbalance in the Magic Relationship Ratio, and the eventual erosion of the relationship.

Let’s look at an example in negotiating a safer sex Agreement.  It’s possible that, for various reasons, one lover might ask another to forego having intercourse with a new lover, a particular lover, or lovers who are not inside of a “condom compact” or other Agreement. However, the people making the Agreement may have mutually decided that tantra/energy sex, or BDSM/kink activities are allowable with that partner or partners.  Or maybe it’s the reverse, and sex is ok, but only one person ever calls this person “Master.” Whatever the “fun” things are, only those involved with the relationship can decide which things are of more or less equal “fun” value. But if everyone agrees that they are of equal value, and agrees that the substitution is ok, then it’ll make the Agreement easier to follow.

However, if one person tries to dictate to the other/s based on their own “fun” scale, without consulting their partner/s, it’s less likely to work well. It’s important to remember that things aren’t of equal value or fun to each person, and therefore the cost of giving them up may not be the same for any two people, even if it appears on the surface to be “fair.”  For instance, giving up “Penis in Vagina (PIV) intercourse” might be easy if you’re a Kinsey-4 bisexual woman, but much more difficult if you’re a straight male who doesn’t much like oral sex (I’ve heard tell there are some like that! ;). So making a blanket Agreement to have “only oral sex with outside partners” would place a greater burden on the hypothetical straight male, than on the K-4 bisexual woman. His selection of partners might be significantly affected, while hers might not be affected at all, or only slightly. The cost/benefit ratio of this Agreement will not be the same for each person, even though the Agreement otherwise appears to be “fair.”

The 12-Step programs utilize this cost-benefit ratio in some ways.  One way is by substituting going to meetings, instead of engaging in the addictive behavior. For most people in these programs, drinking (for instance) is going to be a lot more fun than going to meetings, on a case-by-case basis. It’s not that the meetings are no fun at all (hanging out with friends can be great, in fact), but relatively speaking, the addiction is likely to seem more fun to most people, especially in the early stages of recovery. However, the “fun” side is not the only factor in the ratio. Over the long term, the cost of drinking (in terms of money, relationship issues, work problems, etc) is going to be far higher than the cost of attending the meetings. So the eventual cost/benefit ratio is favorable enough to many people to make it worth the effort of letting go of the former behavior.[1]

The point of this section is not so much to dictate any particular behaviors or things that “should” or “should not” be in whatever Agreements that you make (that will be as individual as you are), as it is to remind you to keep the cost-benefit ratio in mind when you do make potentially “imbalanced” Agreements.  Sometimes you can work around an unfavorable cost-benefit ratio by “sweetening the pot” (e.g., “I’ll make dinner for you on the day after I have an overnight date”.) Other times you might choose to experiment with a Time-limited Agreement (e.g., “I don’t feel comfortable doing that for a month, but I might be able to do it for 2 weeks, and then we can revisit it.) [See p. ___ on Time-Limited Agreements.]  However you choose to address it, it will be easier to keep the Agreements if you’ve thought about these things in advance, and if the cost-benefit ratio is generally fair, and not skewed against one or more people in the Agreement.


[1] (This is, of course, a gross simplification, and not meant to minimize the effort of quitting an addiction, which is usually a very complex issue, and highly individual.)


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[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.

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