The Co-Pilot Must Speak Up

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, there’s a chapter called “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” In it, he investigates how cultural influences affect pilot behavior in the cockpit. He points to Korean Air, which had more plane crashes than most any other airline throughout the 1990s. And he attributes the problem to cultural hierarchy. The co-pilot didn’t speak up. In other words, the co-pilot knew something was wrong but felt it was not his place to correct the pilot.

As the co-pilot of the finances in our marriage, I have always spoken up. Ninety nine percent of the time I agree with Mr. Groovy’s wonderful ideas. But occasionally he comes up with some real winners! I never want to curtail his creativity, but on a number of occasions I’ve had to stop him in his tracks. And because of this, he nicknamed me, “The crusher of his dreams.”

Here are a few highlights of Mr. Groovy’s schemes that were met with a resounding “Nay Nay” from the co-pilot:

Blue Countertops

When renovating our small galley kitchen in our New York condo, Mr. Groovy fell in love with a design from Architectural Digest. He decided we must get cobalt blue granite countertops! Never mind that granite didn’t fit our $4,000 to $5,000 budget, but cobalt blue? Really? Did he think blue countertops would be a hot selling point when we put our condo on the market the following year?

He sulked for a while when I put the kibosh on his plans. We ended up going with country white cabinets and dark green Formica countertops. And to this day, we still hold the record for the highest sale price of a one bedroom in that building.

House Plans

And then there was our home building fiasco. We purchased two acres of land on a cul-de-sac when we relocated. We had plans to build a ranch home. Excellent artist that he is, Mr. Groovy sketched out the entire design and measurements. We handed his designs over to an architect to create the actual plans and located a builder we were excited to work with.

But this was no ordinary ranch (see plan snippet below). It was a 3200 SF, one-story home with an open floor plan. The kitchen and living areas were on one side of the house, and the bedrooms and bathrooms were on the other. There was also an outdoor kitchen and a screened in porch.

But the crown jewel was a chef’s kitchen, which sat under 20-foot vaulted ceilings and was framed by an industrial chic pergola!

PergolaKitchen

Initially, the builder’s estimate was within our budget. But his final quote was $50,000 above it. He made a major miscalculation on the cost of the trusses needed to support those 20-foot vaulted ceilings. Mr. Groovy still wanted to move forward, but I said no. I knew that starting over budget was a big mistake. Things would only get worse. For every decision along the way we’d be looking for the cheapest option. “Let it go,” I told him. “We uprooted ourselves away from family and friends so that we could simplify, not make our lives more difficult.”

Again he sulked, but he realized I was right. Ironically, now he’s the one trying to talk me into building an 1100 SF home when we retire. And I’m the one saying, “uh, how about 1400?” Still, it’s a far cry from his 3200 SF masterpiece with an indoor pergola.

Gastro-Park

When Mr. Groovy goes to his office in Dallas, his foodie coworkers like to take him to unique eateries. He returned from one trip all excited about a gastro-park they went to for lunch. “What the heck is a gastro-park?” I asked him. He explained it was his term for a food-truck park (here’s a link to the Fort Worth Food Park).

He was fascinated with the idea of a central gathering place for food trucks—complete with picnic tables, a kiddie park, a dog run, a music stage, and alcoholic beverages.

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Groovy began looking for land suitable for building a gastro-park! When he finally sprang the idea on me, I asked, “Are you nuts? What about our plans to retire and travel for a month each year?” He insisted we could close up shop and resume business when we returned. And I told him that was absurd. Then I asked if he’d gotten quotes on all the liability insurance we’d need for this bright idea. “What liability?” he responded.

Seriously, Mr. Groovy? What liability? That conversation ended with me putting up my hand and saying, “Don’t talk to me anymore.”

Final Tale – Island Games

This final story is not mine. It belongs to our broke cousin and her husband. And it’s a wallopalooza.

On their first day of vacation in St. Lucia, our cousin’s husband was approached by a friendly hostess in the lobby of their hotel. She took him by the arm over to a giant roulette wheel and told him, “Go on! Take a free spin!” What’s the harm, he thought. But our cousin had a really bad feeling. And unfortunately, for both of them, she never opened her mouth.

The giant roulette wheel didn’t cross their minds again until they were checking out. That’s when they were told they owed the hotel $20,000 for his spins, and they weren’t getting their passports until they paid up. They were then escorted to a back room by two burly men. Well, to make a long story short, our cousin cried a lot, and her husband had his mommy wire transfer the twenty grand.

Our cousin is a bright, capable woman. But she didn’t speak up. She knew her husband was being taken for a sucker and she did nothing. And this is a constant theme in their marriage. He looks for easy money, and she looks the other way because she’s afraid of bruising his little ego.

Screw that!

Two people in a relationship should make each other’s lives better (not just monetarily). Wouldn’t you want your partner to have your back? I would yank Mr. Groovy by the arm and march him out of that hotel before I’d let him fall for a scam right in front of my nose! There’s no way in hell I’d watch him make an idiot of himself and put our financial future in jeopardy. It’s my duty, as the co-pilot in our marriage, to speak up.

Maybe you recognize yourself here? Do you knowingly allow your partner to do foolish things? Or maybe you’ve been quiet for a long time and feel it’s too late to play a different role in your relationship? It’s never too late. You have a voice. Use it. What’s the worst that can happen? Your significant other sulks, like Mr. Groovy did? His or her ego gets bruised? Don’t let the pilot take down the entire aircraft—if you’re the co-pilot, you must speak up.

I’d love to hear your comments. Don’t hold back. Talk amongst yourselves. I’m a little verklempt thinking about our cousin.

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12 Comments

  1. The co-pilot should definitely speak up! Marriage is a partnership and each partner should help balance out the other, whether that means reining in a spouse’s wild ideas once in a while, or encouraging them to live a little when it’s appropriate. And it’s especially important when it comes to finances. Great post!

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thank you, Gary! You’re so right about each partner balancing out the other. Mr. Groovy always says “we’re a team”. We each have our strengths and weaknesses but are willing to learn from each other and grow together. And he’s the one who has to remind me to live a little.

  2. Love the post and Gary’s comment. Earlier in the week, I wrote about my husband and I not sharing PF as a hobby. Even so, we make $ decisions together…and he comes up with some pretty good advice! I do think any partnership is about keeping each other in check and keeping the big picture in mind. Sometimes I get too lost in the details or perseverate on one thing for way too long. I need my co-pilot to keep me moving!

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks, Penny. Yes, I saw that post of yours. It was a good one. Mutual $ decisions = mutual respect. I’m lucky Mr. G and I are on the same page because we really weren’t that smart about sitting down and discussing money before we tied the knot. But I knew we shared many personal values, which often equates to money values.

      Thanks for making me look up the word “perseverate”!

  3. Yea Dave Ramsey said that his wife would always tell him, “Whatever you want to do honey!” and so he would make decisions. That led them to bankruptcy and they had to start financially over. Anyway, now he and Sharon (his wife) make decisions together.

    I like blue and aqua counter-tops but it can be a hard sell. And I never knew what a Gastro-Park was. It looks like fun. I’m a foodie! =)

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I think when Sharon Ramsey speaks now, Dave LISTENS!
      There’s a good reason why you never heard of a Gastro-Park – Mr. Groovy made up the term (he likes doing that). We are total foodies, like you, Jaime. We took 10-12 hour road trips to Charlotte before we moved here just to check out restaurants featured on Diners, Dive-ins an drives. We have Guy Fieri to thank for our love of deep-fried pickles!

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I told Mr. Groovy I should explain this in the post and he disagreed. We’ve only been out of the country once, to Italy, and at each hotel they required our passports when we checked in. And they held them until we left. It seems to be customary. Maybe it’s too easy to sneak out without paying the bill?

  4. This is such a good reminder. Marriage means you’re partners in everything. Our money is in one combined pot, but more importantly we care about each other as people and don’t want anything bad to happen to the other.
    It’s easy to get excited about the latest, greatest scheme, but we’ve realized that yes + yes = yes, and yes + no = no.
    We both have to be on board before we move forward.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Yes + no = no. Exactly! We combine money too. I don’t get marriages with two checking accounts, etc. But to each his own. All our passwords are in one place too, including cell phones, email accounts, etc. There’s nothing hidden.

      The problems run deep with our cousin, about why she lets her husband do stupid things. It’s got nothing to do with violence or verbal battering but it has to do with his ego, and her self-esteem. She’s smart enough to know better than him, but in allowing his stupid choices to go on for so long, she’s become as bad a decision maker as he is. It’s really sad. She was doing so financially well before they married. And he was in great physical shape (she was not, and still is not). We really thought his good traits would rub off on her and vice versa. Well, they each brought each other down. She’s gotten much worse financially and he’s gotten much worse physically.

  5. “We uprooted ourselves away from family and friends so that we could simplify, not make our lives more difficult.” Reminding yourself why you’re doing something is all that’s needed to get back on track. And sometimes you need your copilot to remind you what you’re doing.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks, Ty. The pilot/co-pilot thing works for us. Mr. Groovy has big ideas and I help him shape them. The thing is, he had his heart set on this house that he designed. I was sure he would fight me on letting it go but he stepped up. Meanwhile, to this day when we pass by a pergola, Mr. Groovy feels as if it’s mocking him.

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