Life isn’t fair, and when that unfairness rains down on your wife, everybody in the family pays the balance, which is a) totally unfair, b) not your fault, and c) something science has identified and named: it’s called Generalized Negative Reciprocity. Now, thanks to some German researchers, there’s a simple trick that might make your wife a little happier and prevent a rain of ad hominem pain.
The researchers took 1,237 20-something German women — they kept it limited to women based on the observation that women react more strongly to negative stimuli — and put them in touch with theoretical “dictators.” The dictators shared €25 with them, but only 17 percent received an even split of the cash, while the other 83 percent received €5 and the dictator kept €20. Then, the women were given 3 minutes to write a) a letter to their dictator that would be forwarded, b) a letter that wouldn’t be forwarded, or c) a letter about an irrelevant picture. Finally, all the women were asked to split €10 with a third person (put yourself in here). The women (assume this is your wife) who got a chance to express their emotions with their dictators were much more likely to share their money with you later.
You know what to do here. Your wife needs to vent a little after someone treats her unfairly, and it’s not the writing, but the expressing of emotions, that counts. So, the next time she’s been wronged, encourage her to vent and make sure she feels heard. That’s how you and your kids dodge a negative reciprocity bullet.