If you're stuck in a bad relationship, you might have something in common with the subprime mortgage mess.
Subprime lenders failed to recognize the depth of their problems and ignored them until it was too late, says Yuval Bar-Or, an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. Similarly, failing to confront troubles with a mate could make things worse or keep you in a relationship that should have ended much earlier, he says.
An unusual analogy from a business school academic, for sure. But Bar-Or's specialty is risk management. And in his new book, "Crazy Little Risk Called Love," he suggests the tools that savvy investors use to minimize their losses can help us reduce our risks in love.
He came up with the idea last year while teaching about risk. He used love as an example, which clicked with the class. Bar-Or started introducing more examples of love and risk management and pretty soon he had a book, which was published last month.
While we tend to think about the dangers associated with love, Bar-Or says the emotion has been a critical to reducing risks — for our species.
"Love served to bind us to other humans, who then provided us with the most basic needs and screened us from basic dangers that we face," he says. "The family, clan or tribe that felt an obligation to protect and defend was very much a risk mitigation."
Romantic love is a different matter. And this is where basic risk management methods can help, Bar-Or says.
Hedging, for instance, allows you to offset a specific risk, he says. Say an online dating service asks you to say whether you're interested in classical music or rock 'n' roll. Rather than narrowing your selection and running the risk of screening out a desirable mate, you check both types, hedging your bets, Bar-Or says.
Another method is diversification — not putting all your eggs in one basket. For example, the sailor with a girl in every port "maximizes the probability love will be available," Bar-Or says.
But, he adds, diversification doesn't have to lead to promiscuity. It could mean having many friends, which in turn increases the chance of meeting that someone special through their connections. Also, people tend to be attracted to those who are socially connected, so friends can make you more appealing, Bar-Or notes.
"A singles bar doesn't look as compelling as a group of people having fun and interacting," he says. "We perceive those in the group as having social skills."
And if the relationship doesn't work out, he adds, you have a support network to help you through a breakup.
Bar-Or recommends another risk management tool for everyone about to wed — a prenuptial agreement. Many people react negatively to the idea of these contracts, figuring a mate who wants one is predicting failure from the start. But Bar-Or says the sting could be removed if all couples were required by law to have a prenup before walking down the aisle.
A conversation upfront on what happens to assets if the union dissolves can be constructive, he says. It might even cause partners to realize they aren't suited for each other before making the big leap.
Of course, you can't eliminate risk altogether, nor should you want to, Bar-Or says.
"It adds spice to life," he says. "It's an important element to keep us on our toes and does not allow us to be too comfortable about love or life."
It's hard to get too comfortable these days given the weak economy — which makes for dicier times for love.
"A lot of research has shown that financial matters are some of the most anxiety-producing factors in relationships and that money matters undermine many, many relationships," Bar-Or says.
Some relationships come out stronger after financial adversity, such as a job loss. But many don't survive.
Bar-Or recommends one way to prevent finances from ruining a relationship — establish an emergency fund. This is a bank account with about six months' worth of living expenses to cover emergencies.
"Having the emergency fund can make a huge difference," he says. "If it takes four to six months to find a job, there is less stress on the relationship" with a rainy day fund to carry you through.
(Funny, after so many years of nagging readers about the need for an emergency fund, I never thought to argue that it would be good for their love lives.)
Bar-Or says we need to redefine success in love. The traditional definition is a couple married 50 or so years who say they are more in love today than when they first met. But few people actually achieve that, says Bar-Or, a 45-year-old bachelor who says he has had long-term relationships but still seeks his soul mate.
"Don't blindly adhere to the definition that is thrust upon you. Define it yourself. Have realistic expectations," he says. "If you are growing and learning in a relationship, you are successful."
And don't look at broken relationships as failures, he adds, but as opportunities to reflect on what was good and what went wrong — and then take those lessons with you into the next relationship.