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Saturday, June 23, 2012

In my last post, “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions,” I made the provocative assertion that in the rare case when prayer, discussion and waiting has not resulted in agreement on a decision, the husband should take the responsibility to make the call, using his best judgment, which includes consideration of his wife’s needs, opinions and expertise. I see that as part of his leadership role. 

If you recall, the quote that got me talking about this topic is something that Dr. Willard Harley (author of “His Needs, Her Needs”) calls his cardinal rule of marriage: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.

I have just a few more thoughts to share on this important and somewhat controversial topic of decision making.

The Problem With a “Rule” of Joint Agreement

Let me reiterate that joint agreement (even enthusiastic join agreement) is a great goal and is something to strive for, but I have a problem with the idea that you should do nothing without it. 

My principle objection is that such a rule gives all the power and authority in the relationship to the one who says no. Essentially, one can prevent the other from deciding anything or doing anything simply by disagreeing.

For example, say the car breaks down and needs an expensive repair. He thinks they should fix it; she thinks they should operate with one car instead.  The rule of “do nothing” without agreement means she holds all the cards.

Here’s another example where the rule of joint agreement doesn’t make sense. He wants to go the beach for vacation; she misses her parents and wants to go see them instead. Assuming they can’t do both, do they simply stay home because they can’t agree?

Let’s say she wants to put $200 a month into savings, but he doesn’t. The do-nothing rule says he gets his way. Similarly, let’s say he wants to have a regular, active sex life but she couldn’t care less about sex.  If the couple subscribes to the idea of doing nothing without enthusiastic agreement, then he is doomed to a sexless marriage.

I realize that these are somewhat simplistic examples and that I didn’t give any background, but hopefully you see how a universal policy of joint agreement seeds the balance of power to the objector. While I don’t think that’s Dr. Harley’s intent, my concern is that it could easily be the result.

Can’t We Just Compromise?

I’ve read quite a bit about what Dr. Harley says about his POJA (see more on his POJA here),  and I realize that his point is to get couples to consider each other’s needs, negotiate in good faith and find a compromise that both parties can get behind wholeheartedly. These aren’t bad ideas, but I don’t think they always necessarily lead to the best solution. 

I’ve said before that I’m not a big believer in compromise, at least not as it is defined by caving in to keep the peace or backing down simply to keep your spouse from being unhappy. That kind of compromise is an intimacy killer, because it requires you to forgo your personal integrity, to pretend be someone you are not or feel something you do not. I think this is probably why Dr. Harley added the “enthusiastic” qualifier to the need for agreement. Shrinking back from expressing what you really think is not sustainable in the long run and will eventually lead to a relationship explosion.

In the case of an impasse on a decision, the better course is for both husband and wife to state their positions and reasoning clearly and without pretense, being careful to avoid using accusation or shame to try to manipulate each other. If however, through discussion and prayerful consideration, neither is convinced of the other’s position, ultimately the husband has to take the responsibility to decide the matter based on what he thinks is best. I see this as part of a husband’s mantle of leadership in the relationship. As I said in my previous post, he is scripturally required to do so in a way that maintains intimacy and protects the relationship – that’s what Christ-like love dictates.

You may think my stance is unfair and disempowering to wives; that rather than empowering the objector, I’m simply empowering the husband to make all the decisions.  Let me state clearly that I do not see the husband’s God-given role as “decision maker in chief” or the “master of all decisions.”  He is principally called by God to be “lover in chief” who occasionally will be required to break an impasse by deciding a matter, which is something altogether different than making every decision. And even in the one or two percent case where the decision is his to make in the face of disagreement with his wife, the basis for that decision still has to be love and has to protect the intimacy in the relationship

I honestly expected to get more resistance to my post than I have received so far. I have also received some good feedback via  Facebook and Twitter, but I’m still looking to hear from more couples about how they resolve the issue of making decisions when there is disagreement. 

So please leave a comment and let us know how do you and your spouse resolve an impasse over a decision?


7 comments:

J said...

I'll pipe in here and say that my husband rarely has to exert his "right to decide" in the face of unrelenting disagreement. Why? Because one of us submits to the other (Eph 5:21) when the issue is not as important to that person as the other one, or I simply submit to him (Eph 5:22). I'm not even sure the other spouse always knows that's what happened. Sometimes, he or I find out later that the other backed down, so to speak. And there are quite a few times I let go of my selfish will and he probably didn't recognize it in that moment as submission.

This is a far cry from how we operated earlier in our marriage and a huge improvement. We have figured out that God's way is indeed superior! When we both approach disagreements with the attitude that the relationship itself is more important than any one issue, then him taking leadership and me submitting isn't that big of a deal. Plus, in a healthy marriage, the wife trusts that her husband will take her and the family into account.

Great thoughts on this subject!

tbright said...

I'm pretty sure that POJA is not about compromise. Because to have enthusiastic agreement that is not compromise. The idea is you ask the other what they are enthusiastic about or what would make them enthusiastic about what the other one wants.

Let's say one spouse wants a motorcycle. The other is against it. Why? Would anything make them enthusiastic about getting a motorcycle?

Perhaps the spouse who wants the motorcycle has many other toys, so the reluctance is due to the additional toy, costs, etc. So what would make them enthusiastic is to sell other toys to make room get the money for the new toy etc.

Or, if the reluctance is concern about a traffic accident, perhaps getting an off-road bike or something that has them not on the road is all it takes.

Or they lost a loved one and nothing would make them enthusiastic about a motorcycle, but they might be willing to go for a sporty convertible where both can go for a safer ride together.

But POJA is not about compromise, it's about learning what your spouse is enthusiastic about and trying to find the intersection of their respective enthusiasm.

For the example of wanting to save, perhaps you would approach it in such a fashion that you have a savings target, and once that mutually agreed upon target is reached, the spouse who wants to spend.

I.E. what would make the save enthusiastic about spending? Having a certain amount of savings? If so, could the other be enthusiastic about meeting that goal BEFORE spending on something else?

tbright said...

Furthermore, I see this more as a negotiation tool that encourages each spouse to learn what the other is enthusiastic about.

Remember, marriage is not a power play where you are giving power to the one who says no. The beauty of the POJA is it encourages the one who is saying no to do more than just say no. Tell us what is keeping you from saying yes and/or tell us what you would say yes to.

Certainly, a spouse playing power games could just say no. But then the problem is not that the POJA is flawed, the problem is the spouse who simply says no is not operating in the interests of the marriage or their spouse.

Again, that's not a POJA problem, it's a heart problem in the spouse failing to negotiate in good faith.

No technique addresses that. God has to work on the heart of that person.

Scott said...

tbright - all good points, well spoken. Any approach to resolving a deadlock requires some degree of good will between the spouses in order to preserve the relationship. As you say, it comes down to a heart issue, and no technique will solve that, only God can.

Dorothy said...

This is the first article I've read on this site and I absolutely agree! I am a very happy, loved wife who joyfully submits to her husband and his headship in our marriage. If we can't reach a decision we both like, he breaks the impasse (like you said) and the results are always wonderful! I'm not saying it's ok for a husband to belittle a wife's opinion or constantly rule with an iron fist, but ultimately the husband is the head of the wife; she was created for the sole purpose of serving him and God.

Elizabeth said...

I would love to hear any practical tips people, or you, Scott, could give for a situation of disagreement that is a reoccurring issue; an issue that isn't/can't be resolved by the husband making a decision (necessarily). That is, since my husband and I were married, he has become Catholic and I'm Presbyterian. How do I practically show respect when we disagree on simple things like how to teach our children theology and spiritual things? Another related question, what do you do when your husband does make the decision at the impasse and it is against your conscience to go along with it? [My husband has not asked me to raise our children Catholic, because he knows I would not be comfortable with that (and because he is a very good man).]
Thank you for your articles, the Generous Wife recommended them.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the author's suggestion on how to handle a stalemale in a marriage. It does give the husband an advantage and may often lead him to think that he can get his own way when there is an impasse, if his wife agrees to such a set up. Rather, husbands/wives should seek to defer to Ephesians 5:21 - to always seek to submit to the other; to be other- centered and not-self centered. With this in mind, an impasse should be almost non existent if each is seeking to put the other's will before their own. Of course, as long as there's no violation of scripture involved, then this practice is certainly acceptable.

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