Valentine's Day is not so much a national holiday as it is a universal reminder to shower our loved ones with affection. Flowers, romantic dinners and seductive lingerie (usually in that order) are often the minimum requirements to demonstrate just how much we care and value our better halves. When we meet, or hopefully exceed, expectations, we consider the battle won. But not so fast... What happens on the 364 remaining days is arguably more important for the health of the relationship. That is, what we do to spoil our spouses everyday will strengthen our bonds and help ensure that we make it to our Golden Anniversaries and beyond.
More often than not, and now more than ever, financial strains are driving couples apart. Nearly 61 percent of couples surveyed by American Express admitted that discussions about the household budget are escalating to arguments. These seemingly petty quarrels often have a stealthy and, unfortunately, lasting impact on marriages. In fact, couples who argue weekly about money are 30 percent more likely to divorce than couples who only do so one or twice per month. And during these tough economic times, conflict is even more common. Couples reported a 27 percent increase in conflict from 2010 to 2011.
Ironically, these arguments rarely erupt over the important issues. For example, mortgage payments and college savings are expenses on which couples regularly achieve consensus. After all, during the courting process, we typically ensure that our significant other shares the same values and aspirations as we do. Instead, we tend to fight over the petty items -- the golf clubs, the high heels, the home entertainment center, and so on.
It doesn't matter whether the item was purchased on sale, nor does it matter whether it represents the pinnacle of fashion or technology. In the eyes of our spouse, it is a frivolous expense that does not contain any real value. Making matters worse, these frivolous purchases imply -- with my relationship as the example -- that we will be spending more time away from our loved ones at the golf course or in the den with the guys. I for one do not own NFL Sunday Ticket (a TV package that enables you to watch football games in every market) because my wife knows it will lead to Sundays devoted exclusively to football. The price is not what stops me from unlimited football; it is the product's effect on what matters most to me -- my relationship.
And yet, these diverging values on purchases are only one source of the tension around shopping. That tension escalates further when spouses decide to hide their purchases from their partners. This may be in the form of goods stashed away in the closet, or perhaps more common, secret credit cards. In fact, the American Express study reported that across the country, 24 to 31 percent of husbands and wives maintained secret credit cards, with the most doing so on the West Coast (where I happen to reside). At this point, actions move beyond differences in consumption preferences and fundamentally weaken the bedrock of their relationship: trust.
To help reduce tension and restore trust in relationships, I regularly encourage others to find opportunities to spoil their loved ones. That is, to set aside something from what we would normally consume, and instead apply it to what our spouse values (even though we may not understand it). For the life of me, I still cannot grasp why women spend hundreds (if not thousands!) of dollars on something as utilitarian as handbags. And yet, when I surprised my wife with a Tory Burch clutch, she was ecstatic beyond belief. It wasn't just the bag that moved her, but more importantly, the message that I understood what excites her and was willing to forego something (e.g., a few nights out with the guys) to make her happy.
Moreover, spoiling doesn't necessarily need to be restricted to something that exclusively benefits her. Trust me, after a stressful week of her substitute teaching, my wife wasn't the only beneficiary of a surprise massage at Bliss Spa. I benefited too. Or perhaps,when I spoiled her with a dozen cupcakes... She may have thought that I was spoiling her, but I also was satisfying a sweet-tooth craving. Win-win, baby.
The short of it is: the item itself does not matter, but rather the expression that you acknowledge the other's values and preferences. It most certainly will not save a marriage on its own standing. Instead, consider it a first peace offering or another piece of the marriage foundation.
This is what inspired me to found LoveSpoils, the first loyalty platform to reward you for your significant other's shopping. On a Sunday when I should have been watching football, I was stuck shoe-shopping with my wife. Instead of holding the remote and a beer, I was holding a purse and shopping bags. It wasn't a huge sacrifice, and sure, there were many, many other things I would rather be doing, but this small act went far with my wife. And I realized that we do this for each other all of the time. Just the week before, for example, she surprised me with a slick pair of running shoes.
As I glanced at my phone to check the score, I was hit with a crazy idea. What if every time my wife shopped, I scored points to buy what I wanted, and vice versa? And so, LoveSpoils was born. Most people do not spoil his or her significant other often enough, so LoveSpoils enables you to do so more frequently. At LoveSpoils.com, you can shop your favorite high-end brands and earn LoveSpoils, which your significant other can apply towards special deals at places ranging from Golfsmith to One Kings Lane.
Occasional spoiling is necessary, but it will never stand on its own. It should continue to lead the way to greater transparency. We need to be honest with our loved ones about what material items we value, what we spend, and how we budget. Spoiling, transparency, and trust -- together these concepts can help us understand our mutual spending and ensure that we build healthier relationships and enjoy many more Valentine's Days together in the future.