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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?
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