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Apr 26 2012

Interviews with Interesting Jews: Paula Szuchman

By at 9:35 am

paula szuchman interviewWe all know that marriage is no easy matter. But what if there was a simple solution to some of those every day problems, like who does the dishes?

Enter Paula Szuchman, who co-wrote the book Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes.  The book, which is being re-released in paperback this June under a different name–It’s Not You, It’s the Dishesis a must read for any married couple. We sat down with Paula to talk about the economics of child-rearing, balancing a busy career with motherhood, and visiting sex clubs with her husband.

What compelled you to write SPOUSONOMICS? Was there a single point in your marriage when you thought, ok, we need to figure something out?

More like a series of points. I’d only been married a couple of years when I had the idea for the book. Mostly I wondered if there was an easier way to resolve ongoing conflicts. We would argue about the same thing, and we would each argue in the same way: me talking louder and repeating my points over and over again, assuming at a certain point, if I made my case super clear, he would ultimately relent and say I was right; him curling up into a fetal position praying it would all end soon. This was 2008 and the U.S. economy was going bust. I was working at the Wall Street Journal, and economics was everywhere. There were some incredible parallels–overconfidence, booms and busts, loss aversion, etc., that fascinated me. So like any good reporter, I turned my life into a story.

Since writing this book, do you think of yourself as a marriage expert? Does it put more pressure on your own marriage?

Yes to the pressure, no to the expert. Because I wrote a book, other people see me as a marriage expert, which adds to the pressure. Like I once got a call from a writer doing a piece on nagging, and she wanted to know how wives can stop nagging their husbands. I came up with a reasonable suggestion–but not one I seem to be able to apply in my own marriage (just ask my husband).

it's not you it's the dishes paula szuchmanCan you apply any economic tactics to raising children? (The supply and demand of mac n’ cheese, perhaps?)

Yeah, when they demand something, don’t supply it. I’m kidding, sort of. The first thing that comes to mind is the theory of comparative advantage, which, in this context, means each parent specializing in the task that he or she does best, relative to other tasks. For example, my husband will never care about how the kids’ clothes are organized or whether or not they use bibs when they eat or that they’re belted into their strollers. So I handle all that stuff–because I care about that stuff, I tend to pay attention more. On the other hand, I’m not very good at–or interested in–legos. I’d rather lie on the couch and watch my kids entertain themselves than play with toys. My husband definitely has the comparative advantage not just in legos, but in shadow puppets, trains, and soccer balls. I just think it’s good to be realistic about what each of you enjoy and are good at, rather than trying to do everything 50/50.

Besides writing this book, you’re the Deputy Managing Editor of Newsweek, as well as the mother of a 2-year-old and a newborn. What does your typical work day look like?

It’s pretty great right now because I’m on maternity leave. But when I was at the office, pregnant, with a toddler, my days were hectic. Wake up, spend about an hour with my kid and my husband, spend about an hour and fifteen minutes commuting to work, and then a blur of meetings, emails, snacking, phone calls, strategizing, brainstorming, snacking, editing, headline writing, snacking, fielding questions, writing, pitching stories, schmoozing with the art and photo departments, and then racing home for dinner, bath time, reading “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Sight” and a stiff drink.

We’ve got to mention the piece you wrote for Elle, in which you and your husband visit a sex club together. Can you fill our readers in on the thinking behind that?

Oy vey. Okay, to be clear, it was an erotic dance party (after which, presumably, people go home and have group sex). And when you’ve been married a few years, things can get routine, right? So I thought it might spice things up. And then I mentioned it to Elle and they said I had to write about it, and next thing I know I’m committed–not just to going to a cheesy midtown Manhattan club to prowl for swingers, but to telling America about the experience. It’s definitely the most open I’ve been in my writing, and that was scary, but I can’t tell you the number of people who wrote to me afterward saying they’ve had the same questions and fears and desires in their own marriages and they were reassured and even motivated to learn they weren’t alone. So that was gratifying.

How does your husband feel about all the writing you do on marriage and sex (clubs)?

He is way more tolerant than I would be. I guess he knew he was marrying a big mouth.

Paula Szuchman is the co-author of Spousonomics, which is being released in paperback this summer as It’s Not You, It’s the Dishes: How to Minimize Conflict and Maximize Happiness in Your Relationship. She is the deputy managing editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.


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