This is part of my series on How To Be A Good Person.

Brynn and I first met in college, and neither of us had any money. We both skimped by, eating bologna sandwiches, tater tots, and yellow death (aka macaroni and cheese). Many of our dates included the cinematic experience that was the local dollar theater. And sometimes we splurged on a dinner at the nicest restaurant we could afford: Denny’s.

A year later, we married. I had one more year of college left, and Brynn was a first-year school teacher. This was way back in ‘04, and teachers didn’t earn much. But our bank account yelped when Brynn’s first paycheck cleared—it had never seen so much money. We were rolling in the dough. I said, “We have so much money, we could eat Papa Murphy’s pizza, like, every week.”

We both come from frugal backgrounds, and despite our newfound wealth, we made a pact: “Either of us can veto any purchase that costs more than $25.” Newlyweds buy a lot of things to set up a household like dishes and furniture, and we both had to say Yes to all items that cost more than $25.

In the years since, incomes increased, and we relaxed the $25 limit. But we still have to agree on any important decision. For example, when we buy furniture, either of us can veto a piece, for any reason. Furthermore, either of us can say, “Nah, this isn’t a good time to buy any furniture at all.” Same story for cars, vacations, and electronics. This also applies to switching jobs, cell phone carriers, and insurance providers.

Sometimes one of us really wants something, but the other doesn’t. For example, I’d love to get a dog but Brynn has vetoed that, for a variety of reasons. So, no dog. And that’s ok—I don’t get everything I want.

This veto power extends to big decisions, too. Like, when and where to buy a house, when to have kids, and how to plan for retirement.

As a result, we never make a large decision—which always costs a lot of money—without first 1) discussing it, and 2) ensuring we can both live with it. We follow Brené Brown’s advice and “choose discomfort over resentment.”

Now some readers will object and label this as permission-seeking. But it’s not. Instead, we play an infinite game, where the goal is to perpetuate a happy marriage, instead of fighting to get our way on everything.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what I want: a happy marriage that is stable and free of hostility. We’re not perfect, by any means, but we’ve avoided countless arguments because either of us can veto any big decision.

Recommended Reading

  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown