Risk-averseness within a relationship
September 1, 2014 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Anyone in a long term relationship or marriage where the partners have notably different levels of comfort with risk?

I'm not talking about where one partner wants the other to try sky-diving and the other disagrees. :) I'm talking about more day to day situations where opinions about how "careful" to be might be different. In a nutshell, I can be overly cautious, fearful and hesitant, whereas my boyfriend is not as fearful, anxious and concerned about avoiding risks (maybe sometimes too much so).

Any advice/sanity checking on this would be appreciated - I don't really care what kinds of specific experiences you had as long as they pertain to my question. Again, where one partner tends to be a little overly cautious and the other partner really leans in the other direction, what are ways of converging to a healthier in-between?
posted by Tess to Human Relations (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this is perhaps a little further along than you are, but among my friends with little kids, i see the playing out with things like Do you hold hands crossing the street or not? Do you buy the travel insurance or not? and they generally manage by one party just ceding control on that particular area. Like one parent doesn't think it's nec to hold hands, but they do recognize the importance of consistent rules, so they do it. Or one-half of the couple is the one that always books the travel plans, and builds in his/her emergency back-up plans to eliminate risk.
posted by Ollie at 9:56 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Could you please provide some specific examples from your situation as well as perhaps details about your relationship in general? If you feel comfortable sharing, I think it'd really help us answer you better. Thanks!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:58 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a risk taker, Husbunny is risk averse. In fact, he's an actuary, so he can be SO BORING about it.

But, because we have common goals, we work it out.

For example, he hates to drive, so we keep his driving to a minimum, and I do most of the driving for the two of us.

I do the investing because he'd keep everything in no-risk investments, which would not yield us a comfortable retirement. He stands over me when I play slot machines hurffing and durffing until I give up and go back to the room.

I've opened his horizons, he keeps me grounded.

I will say that either I'm the more persuasive of the two of us because I don't feel that my wings have been clipped at all. I just feel safer and happier than ever.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:02 AM on September 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

My husband is more risk averse than I am and I admit it sometimes drives me crazy. Things like making sure all appliances are unplugged at the wall when not in use, getting to places ridiculously early from fear of being late, not wanting me to go scuba diving as it's too dangerous, never leaving the house if he washing machine is running, etc. However he is willing to compromise and try things my way (all the time mumbling "this is going to be a DISASTER"). And I find I don't have to worry as much about anything as he will have already thought of it and prepared for it.

Basically, I love him enough that I accept it and work around it quite happily, just as he does with all the things that drive him crazy about me. I sort of think he has the worst end of the deal, though, as he is so anxious a lot of the time. I hate to do things that make him anxious so I try to tailor my behaviour to his comfort level where I can without compromising too much. Hopefully your partner realises this and does the same for you. It's all about working out how best to make the other person happy while still getting most of what's important to you.
posted by hazyjane at 10:22 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Together almost 15 years now... I am Lock The Door Culture and husband is Never Met A Stranger Culture.

If you want balance, try some compromise - you ask that your partner make you happy by being slightly more cautious/thoughtful in some situations (but not all - pick your top 3, maybe), and you can try and be less worried or whatever about their top 3 more reckless (to you) activities.

If it is your issue alone, then you can take care of it yourself (i.e., I check all the windows and doors before I go to bed) if it does not inhibit them from doing their thing - BUT they are not allowed to make comments, snicker, or roll eyes (or say "No one is going to rob the house!") as you are making yourself comfortable this way.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:57 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

In our marriage it goes both ways. My husband wants to buy and ride a motorcycle, which I am dead set against. I beg and plead but at the end of the day, if we had the money to burn, I would have to let him do it as I am not willing to divorce him over it. He also doesn't wear a helmet on his bike unless he's mountain biking, which drives me nuts because he does this when he rides with our daughter. For this transgression he gets one lecture every time we go for a family bike ride, to set an example for our kid, then I let it go.

Meanwhile, my husband is uncomfortable with my daughter playing out front on the sidewalk by herself. I just let her and don't tell him. Dad can do things however he wants when he's in charge. He also dislikes riding his bicycle in the city and thinks clipless pedals are unsafe. I ride in the city on clipless pedals anyway. I tell him they're perfectly safe if you ride carefully in bike lanes and you probably won't die if you're wearing a helmet. He's given up.

It's not worth fighting over these things. Say your piece and let it go. For small compromises that are low impact on your life (say locking the door always, even when indoors or going out two minutes to take out trash), just do it so you never have to discuss it again. But for issues that impact happiness or quality of life, if the risk loving partner holds firm then the risk averse partner has to let it go or reconsider the relationship.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:26 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your question is so nonspecific that I have trouble knowing where to start, but: yes, this is my relationship. Neither of us consider ourselves risk seeking, but our tolerances are quite different, and this causes routine relationship friction. So when I read your description (not sky diving, just day to day differences on carefulness), I'm going to assume that it's not that your partner is risk seeking, but rather that you are much, much more careful than your partner.

In my relationship, we've done two things to help manage this friction: we've both worked on how our anxiety affects others (note: anxiety is different from risk aversion, you can work on your anxiety without necessarily changing your personal policy towards risky behaviors), and we both try not to be overly critical about our differences in perspective unless it really matters.

That said, I don't think I'm out of line to say that in our case, the more risk averse partner legitimately did have some growing up to do between age 21 and age 30, and had been raised in a sheltered, everything-is-danger mentality that really amped up their fear response to everyday situations. I can't tell if that describes you or not, but consider if it does, because if so, working on your anxiety could be one of those things that really does matter, not just for the relationship, but also for your own general well being and enjoyment of life.

The other thing you might think about is which of you is, for lack of a better word, the aggressor about risk-related friction. In our case, it was the less risk averse partner pushing the more risk averse partner past their point of reluctance out of a sense that it was "good for them," which was sometimes helpful but always stressful. But I could also imagine a situation where it's the more risk averse party who's always badgering their partner to be more careful, or a combination of both. The two of you probably aren't going to suddenly up and change how either of you think about risk, but you can improve how you talk about it.

I look forward your more specific follow-up question; this is an interesting topic and I bet with more personal details you'd get some really good advice from the MeFi crowd.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:55 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

The only time this is a problem is when one partner is constantly trying to get the other to change. Then it's a huge problem.
posted by fshgrl at 12:06 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only "day-to-day" example I can think of is driving.

I'm going to wear my seatbelt even if partner doesn't wear theirs. Or I'll step up and be in charge of getting the car inspected before a long trip even if partner thinks it's unnecessary. These are just each of us being individuals doing what makes each of us happy.

But if a partner intentionally and unapologetically drives in a way that both breaks the rules of the road and makes me feel genuinely unsafe, either that needs to not happen when I'm in the car ever again or I will end the relationship. That's one person imposing on the other without consent.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:21 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

My ex boyfriend was very against taking risks. When he stayed at my place and brought his laptop, he would put it in in his backpack and bring it out with us because he was afraid it would get stolen in the flat, even though I live in a safe area. He found me crazy because i would do things such as leave the flat while the washing machine was still on. We found each other funny.
posted by palomago at 2:44 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

In a nutshell, I can be overly cautious, fearful and hesitant, whereas my boyfriend is not as fearful, anxious and concerned about avoiding risks (maybe sometimes too much so).

I have not seen this raised so I would be interested in asking: how much if any of this is gender-specific? For example, I am generally more cautious, fearful and hesitant about safety issues than my husband is, and I am right to be because I am 3 times as likely to be mugged, like 300 times more likely to face street harassment, and 20 (40?) times more likely to be sexually assaulted than he is. My husband acknowledges this, never dismisses me as irrational, and respects me as the authority on my own safety.

On the other hand, if we're talking about something like you're afraid to try sushi and he'll eat anything, then it's a different issue.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:33 PM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am typically much more cautious and risk-averse than my wife is on day-to-day matters, though sometimes she's more risk-averse when it comes to bigger or more long-term risks.

For example: I will close and lock every door and window in the house if we're leaving for more than 2 minutes, which she thinks is nuts. She has more trouble dealing with things like large home or financial matters because she overthinks what can go wrong in advance and gets "stuck" unable to make a decision. Oddly enough, I have more confidence in these areas despite my conviction that getting on roller skates will lead to major bodily harm. ;-)

Mostly we agree to "let each other be crazy", in the sense that the more cautious person gets to take whatever precautions will make them feel better. I.e., I lock the doors when we walk to the mailbox a block away, and we talk travel plans over 14 times until she feels a little more comfortable with them. It's a small price for a happy marriage, and it helps that each of us has "saved the day" with our own brand of paranoia at least once.

We also have a "try it once" philosophy for small risks where being over-cautious will slow us down too much. I will go ahead and try ice skating if we're at a winter event, or we will keep going to the restaurant even after I remember that I forgot to close a window, on the condition that we'll do it my way next time if catastrophe strikes. She will call a plumber without getting personal reviews for every one in town, but if it works out badly then she gets to do enough research that we will get it right next time. Again, it mostly works out.

(I should note that my brand of crazy is much more disruptive to our routine than hers on a day-to-day basis. Somehow she still puts up with me.)
posted by fencerjimmy at 4:53 PM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am extremely about food safety, sometimes to the point of insanity; my boyfriend uses his raw chicken hands to make salads. I think the hardest part is trying to make him understand my point-of-view sometimes as he has trouble getting why I am paranoid about things he never even thinks about. So I guess that this is a good place to start--generally trying to get a grasp on why your partner feels so differently from you. I have noticed that when he's around I try and cool it a little bit and have become slightly "OMG, what will happen to meeee?," and he has made more of an effort to not do things like touch our salad with his disgusting meat hands. I don't know if this is helpful in the least, but attempting to explain what I am feeling balances us out a bit.
posted by sandwiches at 6:46 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was the less risk tolerant one in our marriage. We eventually reduced the calculation to: whose autonomy is being respected or denied, and is it bad enough to separate over? Question one usually clarified the conflict quickly, and question two clarified the answer (nope). Beyond that we sometimes rephrased it in terms of doing each other favors but with the understanding that final say rested with the risk taker: I wouldn't let myself be put at risks I wasn't OK with, and I would accept that I couldn't stop her taking those same risks herself without compromising her autonomy.

Significantly: several times I decided to take risks for myself after she stopped trying to persuade me, and I rarely regretted it.
posted by ead at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2014

My wife and I kind of take turns being the more risk averse or risk tolerant one in our relationship: she's MUCH more scrupulous when it comes to money matters, for instance, whereas my philosophy is generally that as long as I have enough to pay my bills so that nobody annoys me by coming after me for money, then life is good; on the other hand, I get mildly vexed and utterly astonished any time we're out shopping and she moves more than 3 feet away from the cart she's put her purse in - someone could STEAL it - but she thinks so long as she can see it, it's fine.

There are two things that are important to making this work for us: clear, nonjudgmental communication, and the ability to let things go when we need to. When one of us thinks the other is behaving in a way that seems worrisome, we'll talk about it, and in doing so try to remember that it's not a "me vs. you" situation but rather one where we both want to make us stronger together. This goes best when the discussion isn't an accusatory "you're doing this wrong/you're being a nagging worrywart" one, but rather one where we each try to help the other understand our point of view so that together we can decide how we want to act on the matter. She's asked that we sit down and go over our finances every month, and hey, even if that's not something I would do on my own, she's let me know it's important to her - so it's important to us (and I must admit it IS helpful). Similarly, when she steps away from her purse I may keep an eye on it, but ultimately I know that she's made the choice to step away from it and if something happens, she'll handle the consequences and life will go on so it's not worth getting worked up about.

I guess basically it comes down to respect and trust - any two people in a relationship are adults who successfully navigated their way through life before getting together, even if their approach was different. We can either accept that, or discuss what concerns us to (hopefully!) reach some sort of mutually agreeable approach.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:59 PM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

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