Decision Making in the Marriage Relationship

Don Stoner and Debbie wedding

by Donald W. Stoner (REV. 2007/9/12)

The previous topic in this series (posted here) attempts to explain a major difference in the way the male and female minds work. The consequences of this difference turns out to be extremely interesting. In fact, as we examine it more closely, it begins to look like this strange difference in design might be necessary to make society work at all (if not always perfectly smoothly). One goal of this paper is to provide some practical advice on using this understanding to avoid various problems; but to get there, we first need to see how this difference plays into the dynamics of society:

Society's Contract:

Woman: All you men care about is our bodies.
Man: All you women care about is our money.

These two statements are cliche (in very crass terms) of one major difference between men and women. A man really is looking for someone who will take responsibility for meeting his physical, emotional and other needs; and a woman really is looking for someone who will take care of her physical, emotional and other needs.

The difference in what "physical needs" means to each is tied (at least partly) to the level of resource investment in procreation. The man can invest as little as a few minutes, the woman typically invests most of her productive life. Both want something from the mating relationship, but the harsh reality is that they view what they want from very different perspectives.

Don Stoner and family

Since mating is extremely important, at least from the perspective of the next generation, society has designed a contract between the sexes whereby they can procreate in a controlled and manageable manner (if not always a completely civil one). This contract, takes into consideration the fact that the pregnant, nursing, ... etc. mother has a sufficient fraction of her resources directly consumed by child raising (if done with sufficient concern) that she has virtually nothing left to support herself. For this reason, society expects the father to provide the necessarily missing support. The father is expected to do whatever is required to provide support for those who will be otherwise helpless. This is called responsibility. But what else comes with responsibility?

Authority and responsibility are inextricably linked in human morality and law. If a parent is to be held responsible (financially or otherwise) for the acts of a child, it is understood (or should be understood) that the parent must have the necessary authority over that child in order to shape it's behavior. Likewise, since a man is held responsible for what happens with his automobile or firearm, it is understood that those who are granted the privilege (limited authority) of using them are under that man's authority (regarding use of those items) while they are enjoying the privilege.

For this next section we will concentrate on logic (the man's "high road," as explained in the previous post) - keeping in mind that we will return to the woman's "high" emotions (her "higher road," also explained in the previous post) as soon as we understand the simpler of the two models.

Who Will Make the Decisions?

In the family-producing relationship (hereafter designated by the traditional/Christian term, marriage) between a man and woman, the man assumes responsibility for the woman and their children. Beyond merely supporting them on a day-to-day basis, he must also assume any other kind of responsibility. If the woman carelessly wrecks the family car, her responsibility to her children prevents her from being able to replace it or to make restitution for any other damage she has done. The responsibility must fall to the man. For this reason, society (traditionally) has granted the man authority over his family.

Since the family is a joint effort, it is natural to raise the question of how much authority the woman ought to be given in decisions which effect the whole family. There is a quite surprising answer to this. Instead of just telling you, I'll show you the reason for the answer, and let you see the answer for yourself.

scatter plot of decisions

This diagram (left) represents the decisions which a married couple will have to make. The twenty-five dots depict twenty-five specific choices: For example, What will we have for dinner? Which car should we buy? Should we move to Alaska? (the Alaska question is the point highlighted in the lower right) Which shirt should I wear? etc. Other potential minor and major decisions are represented by the blank space within the border where other dots might be located. In this example, the highlighted choice (the Alaska one) is expected to be the most important one; this is the choice with which both parties happen to be the most concerned.

scatter plot man decides

Let us presume, for the sake of argument, that the man has graciously decided to allow the woman to make eighty percent of the decisions; he will choose a mere twenty percent of the time (represented by the shaded area in the diagram to the right). In theory, this looks like the perfect situation for the woman. In practice, the woman will notice that the five dots in the lower rectangle include "which car to buy" and "whether to move to Alaska." Her dots include things like "what's for dinner" and "which shirt to wear." If the man always chooses who makes which choice, the woman's choices tend to become mere token choices. In order for the woman to have any real voice in directing the family, she must also be given a voice in deciding which "choices" she can make, at least part of the time.

scatter plot woman decides

If the woman were to decide who would make which decisions (assuming she is, very generously, allowing her husband to make eighty percent of the decisions), the result might look more like the diagram to the left. If the choice is hers, she will arrange the division so that it will be her turn when the decision about Alaska comes up.

scatter plot both decide

If they haven't decided which of them is in charge, what will happen is pictured on the right. Even if each is willing to let the other decide eighty percent of the time, there is still that lower right corner where both believe it is their turn to make the decision. Not surprisingly, it's the move to Alaska where the problem occurs. If anything, the fact that they have each been willing to let the other decide eighty percent of the time, will only make them more adamant that it is their turn this time. The bottom line is: authority cannot be shared. Either one has it, or the other has it. Otherwise there can be no workable contract - only fighting.

Since authority cannot be shared, and since responsibility must, practically speaking, fall to the man, it has been the historical (if not the modern) decision of both God and state that authority would also fall to the man. Furthermore, this must be "always", not merely 99.9 percent of the time. How far does this go? If it isn't one hundred percent, then the contract simply won't work. What if all a woman ever "demands" of her man is that he must tell her he is "sorry"? I'm very sorry to have to say this in front of any woman who might be reading this (remember, this is still all from the man's simpler perspective), but even that crosses the 100-percent line. If authority is ever compromised, the contract simply won't work. Either the man has the required authority, or he doesn't have it.

On the other side, the man who extracts sexual favors from a woman, in any manner, without assuming responsibility for what he is subjecting her to, steals from her, her life's productivity. Similarly a woman under society's family contract, who commits adultery with another man, steals from her man his life's productivity. And again, a woman under family contract who forcefully assumes authority, is taking from a man his life's productivity without granting him the authority he needs to fulfill his responsibility.

The two obvious rules which we can extract from this are: Women (under the marriage contract) must submit to the authority of the man. Men must respect a woman's chastity until he has entered the marriage contract (by committing to a lifetime of support).

What If She Won't Go Along?

But now (and I am sorry to have to say this in front of the men who are reading this), we must reevaluate this, while considering the additional dimension of emotion which women have. Since God and state are agreed that the woman is going to have to submit to her husband under the marriage contract, how is this going to fit in with the woman's three-level system of emotion and logic?

Men must recognize that the situation has an element which is "logically" unfair; they must understand that the woman has the same "logical" (if not the same emotional) perception he does and will see the same "unfairness" which he sees. In the example above, the man allowed the woman to make eighty percent of the decisions. Although this is a start toward reducing the perceived unfairness, as we have seen above, this is not enough to eliminate it entirely. Even so, it is still be a very good start - one well worth serious consideration. However, if the man is going to retain any of the authority (which he will really need if he is to assume responsibility for the family), there will still remain that lower right-hand corner which he will need to handle somehow.

When this impasse comes up, the man will, by his nature, attempt to use logical reasoning (his high road) to explain why his particular decision is the necessary one. However, depending on the "height" of whichever emotion might be operative in the woman, this might be taking the "low road" in her mind. Bluntly speaking, she will not be able to go along with such a "low" tactic. (So, this is not the correct approach guys!)

If the two parties were both men, "logic" would be the agreed upon "correct" way to decide the issue; but even then, they might "see" the solution differently (assuming different logical abilities or different perceptions of the situation). Since neither would be able to back off from their moral (and logical) "high road," this could lead to an irresolvable conflict. However, what might happen when one of the parties is a woman?

If the man understands the woman's emotional "high road," he would not "insult" her "moral" convictions by insisting that she follow her logical "low road" (even if he sees it as being "high"). Instead, he would need to appeal to her emotional "high road." To do this, he needs to cash in on her "high" love for him. Unfortunately, by the time he realizes his mistake, the "balance" of his "high-love account" might be dangerously close to being "overdrawn." He might need to make some deposits.

Here is my recommendation for how to do this:
1) Listen. Hear her out completely. This might take some time.
2) Don't present any logical (low road) counter argument.
3) Assure her that you understand her concern.
4) Make whatever decision you need to make.

If logic were the operative "force" here, at this point she would blow up at you completely (as any "reasonable" man would). However, if she is a woman, and if you are dealing with a "high" emotion, she will see this as the "high road."

And in the meantime, guys, do yourselves a favor and start working at loving your wives.