Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Classically, the allocation of capital is analyzed in the context of corporate finance. CFOs and corporate strategists make critical decisions about how to invest and spend a company’s available cash on a daily basis. However, contextualizing capital allocation exclusively within the financial context is unnecessarily limiting. Think of the various contexts…political capital, human capital, social capital, experiential capital. What about marital capital? Let’s explore the notion that each spouse has a theoretical bank account full of marital capital to spend.

One element to note about capital is that it ebbs and flows. In finance, if the company sells a lot of product in a given month, there is some extra capital (think cash) to spend. If the HVAC breaks the next month, a little less capital. The same thing goes for marital capital.

So…what is marital capital? Is it real? How is it defined? Marital capital is a spouse’s ability to spend time and/or buy things that are primarily for the benefit of that spouse. This doesn’t mean that a spouse can do things that would definitively negatively impact a relationship; rather, these are activities/purchases that could, if inappropriately utilized or not compensated for, be damaging. Let’s give a couple of examples. Spouse A wants to buy a fancy car that is not entirely financially out of reach but is certainly a stretch and most definitely not something Spouse B wants or needs. Spouse B wants to go to a weekend getaway in the Hamptons with college friends.

Each of these have an actual dollar cost to them, but more importantly, they have a figurative marital capital cost. This is the value of Spouse B’s willingness to accept the purchase of a fancy sports car for Spouse A or Spouse A’s flexibility in managing the kids’ weekend soccer/basketball/dance/gymnastics schedules while Spouse B parties with some buddies.

The “weekend with friends” or sports-car purchase are very expensive means of spending marital capital. Of course there are far more mundane uses like a night at a bar, dinner out with friends, weekly gym classes or poker nights. Even TV show selection could be a use of marital capital.

With uses of marital capital aplenty, both Spouse A and Spouse B must figure out ways to generate capital. Planning dates or a family vacation, running the most irritating of errands, encouraging the other spouse’s use of marital capital—these are all means of building marital capital.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for the Jewish Link titled “The Best Marital Advice I Ever Received” (http://bit.ly/2oSdvW6). One passage from that piece, namely the advice, rings true in the realm of marital capital. Here is the passage:

“The intricacies and minutiae of a strong marital bond are deeply personal and develop through many years of shared experiences. All couples desire their own version of wedded bliss; the winding path to that end cannot be paved with the personal adventure of a different couple. Ultimately, the great irony is that the best advice I could provide to the young couple is to ignore the advice of everyone else.”

Is this discussion of marital capital a form of advice? Certainly not. It is simply an alternative perspective on basic principles that guide the dynamics of married life. Every couple creates their own path, defines the worth of their own marital capital and dictates the terms of its use.

By Shlomo Yaros

 Shlomo Yaros uses his marital capital on lots and lots of basketball.