Couple Crisis - Thermostat Wars

Are you and your sweetie fighting over how much fuel or gas you use? Here, we offer advice on how to restore the peace while keeping the home fires burning.

By Bob Strauss

ll across the U.S., couples are dreading the approach of winter, and not just because they’ll be stuck inside with each other during nor’easters or obliged to spend Christmas at Aunt Flo’s. No, what’s really got people's teeth chattering is the spiraling cost of energy. The average homeowner, if she’s not careful, can wind up spending over $1,000 per month on heating oil — and with the price of gasoline rising and falling unpredictably, it’s not like she can escape the problem by corralling her boy toy and
I’m always cold, and my guy’s always hot.
taking a long drive south.

How can you prevent money issues from combusting your relationship? Here are a few tips:

Know your comfort zone.
Unless one of you is fabulously wealthy, you’ve both got an interest in saving money — the trick is to figure out just how much you’re willing to endure. “I’m always cold, and my guy’s always hot, so there’s rarely a time during the year when one of us isn’t miserable,” says Kristen, 36, of New York. “But when it got so cold in the living room that I had to wear gloves to eat dinner, I insisted on a radical change.” Even so, she admits, “This year oil prices aren’t going to affect what we do to the thermostat, since we absolutely can’t conserve any more than we already have!”

If you and the person you’re dating have radically different viewpoints on comfort zones, learn the art of compromise. One weekend you sit tight, the next you drive for an hour to see friends. Or perhaps you agree that 30 minutes before bedtime you’ll cycle the heat up from 65 degrees to a toasty 70 for a full hour. Remember, it’s in the name of love.

Stick to a budget.
Splurging on road trips and toasty evenings at home is one thing when you’re just getting to know a person — “Most people will just absorb the high cost of energy into their usual dating routines, like $12 movie tickets and $5
The high cost of gas may be the least of your problems.
lattes,” says Lisa Daily, author of Stop Getting Dumped! The challenge comes when you’ve settled in with your significant other and have to choose between filling up the car, eating at a fancy restaurant or buying Christmas gifts for your nieces and nephews. Rather than shrug helplessly and max out the credit cards, sit down with your sweetie and decide, in advance, how much you can realistically spend for what. With this planning step in place, the decision-making process will be less emotional.

Don’t take it out on each other.
Heating a house during a prolonged cold snap is like setting fire to a big pile of money — not the kind of bonfire that makes for happy, burbling intimacy. Keep in mind that if the person you’re dating likes to keep their place cool, that’s a financial choice he or she is free to make. Similarly, if your beloved doesn’t want to fill up the tank to drive to see a photography exhibit 80 miles away, don’t take it as a personal affront. Remember, no matter how many sweaters you have to wear, or how inconvenient it is to take care of a week’s worth of chores in one car trip, it’s not the other person’s fault and he or she isn’t “being mean.” If you want to do something useful with your anger, trade in your SUV for a more fuel-efficient car or insulate your drafty attic.

Don’t use the cost of energy as an excuse.
As with any stress on a relationship — illness, dependency, meddling in-law — a fight over the thermostat or gas tank can be symptomatic of deeper issues. “A man who wants to hop in the car and travel during every free moment is looking for adventure or perhaps trying to escape unhappiness or emptiness,” says Debbie Mandel, author of Changing Habits. “And when a woman wants to nest, she might be cocooning — feeling a bit fearful of the world at large or unsure about her personal empowerment.” In other words, if the two of you are arguing just a bit too loudly about whether it’s worthwhile to drive 30 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart, the high cost of gas may be the least of your problems. Maybe it’s time to bundle up, have a frank talk, and unbundle what’s really going on in your relationship.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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