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Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017 12:12 am

Is it something I wed?

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
Two of my girlfriends just got divorced. Both recently admitted to me that they knew they shouldn’t have gotten married at the time but did anyway. Just this weekend, another friend – married for only a year and fighting bitterly with her husband – also said she knew she was making a mistake before her wedding. Can you explain why anyone would go through with something as serious and binding as marriage if they have reservations? – Confused

Consider that in most areas of life, when you’re making a colossal mistake, nobody is all, “Hey, how about a coronation-style party, a Caribbean cruise and a brand-new blender?”

But it isn’t just the allure of the star treatment and wedding swag that leads somebody to shove their doubts aside and proceed down the aisle. Other influences include parental pressure, having lots of married or marrying friends, being sick of dating, and feeling really bad about guests with nonrefundable airline tickets. There’s also the notion that “marriage takes work” – meaning you can just put in a little emotional elbow grease and you’ll stop hating your spouse for being cheap, bad in bed and chewing like a squirrel.

However, it also helps to look at how we make decisions – and how much of our reasoning would more accurately be called “emotioning.” We have a powerful aversion to loss and to admitting we were wrong, and this can cause us to succumb to the “sunk cost effect.” Sunk costs are investments we’ve already made – of time, money or effort. The “sunk cost effect” is decision researcher Hal Arkes’ term for our tendency to – irrationally, ego-servingly – keep throwing time, money or effort into something based on what we’ve already put in. Of course, our original investment is gone. So the rational approach would be deciding whether to keep investing based on whether the thing’s likely to pay off in the future.

A way to avoid the sunk cost trap is through what psychologists call “prefactual thinking” – thinking out the possible outcomes before you commit to some risky course of action. Basically, you play the role of a pessimistic accountant and imagine all the ways your plan could drag you straight down the crapper.

But don’t just imagine all the awful things that could happen. Write out a list – a detailed list. So, for example, if you sense you could be making a mistake by getting married, don’t go all shortcutty, like “get divorced.” Parse out the itty-bitties, like “figure out how the hell to find a decent divorce lawyer”; “get lost on the way to the lawyer’s office and stand on the side of the road weeping”; and “start working as the indentured servant of a bunch of sorority girls to pay the lawyer’s retainer.” Yeah, that kind of detail.

Making potential losses concrete like this helps you weigh current costs against the future ones. This, in turn, could help you admit that you and your not-entirely-beloved might have a real shot at happily ever after – if only the one of you in the big white dress would bolt out the fire exit instead of walking down the aisle.

© 2017, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

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