Girl Game: When You’re Smarter Than He Is

Reader question… and a huge messy answer… I’ve been neglecting the ladies with the Girl Posts for a day or two.
“Speaking for myself and a few of my friends it seems that men who marry wives who are much geekier than them eventually feel frustrated by their wives bookish ways. When one spouse is a life-long reader who likes to gain as much knowledge as they can on every topic and the other is more of a “doer” type who learns through life experiences eventually a hierarchy is formed. This can be beneficial when the “smart” one is the man, but when it is the woman the hierarchy can be problematic.
Is there a specific way a woman can contribute her researched knowledge without being intimidating or taking on the role of the Captain?”
They have to work on their communication skills and verbally express understanding of their roles and abilities.
The smartest person does not have to be the leader. The leader provides decision making. The smartest person provides insight. The smart person can provide the leader with insight and the leader can agree with the input and decide for it (or not).
The majority of leading does not require mega-smarts, but critical choices do require smart thinking. So the leader can lead without consulting over much a fair bit, but should actively poll the smart one for advice for the critical choices. A lot of time critical choices are between two good things, rather than a good thing and a really bad idea. A presentation of her thoughts on available options – in an even tone of voice – and open discussion about them is extremely helpful. Then let him make the final decision and abide by it without verbalizing second guessing on it endlessly. (The difference between asking to review a decision and ranting that he’s an idiot is a helpful distinction here.)
So the framing for the smart-wife leader-husband set up is both of them have to be able to verbalize and agree that yes indeed she is the smarter one of the couple, but he is the leader of the couple. So when critical choices come up, he can comfortably ask for input, she can give it freely, and he can agree with her suggestion, without reversing roles where she becomes the leader. Most wives don’t actually want to make the final decision on the really big stuff, but they do want to be able to give input into the decision.
Think of the Kirk-Spock Captain and First Officer partnership. If there was ever a more Doer-Leader coupled with a Thinker-Support pairing, I don’t know what else there is. Doer and Thinker are skills, Leader and Support are roles. These aren’t perfectly male or female skills or roles either. Some marriages work perfectly with a female Captain and a male First Officer – there’s not a moral imperative in my mind to have a male head of household – I’m just saying that for the majority of couples, this is what ultimately works best.
And seriously… do not say “I told you so” after you told him so and something went wrong. It’s important to support the team and take a united front together. Just fix the problem together. Not everything is going to go perfectly in your married life and sometimes their will be unintended bad decisions and accidents. Sometimes your team will win, sometimes your team will lose, but you win and you lose as a team.
It’s not wifely smarts that pisses the husband off, it’s the going turncoat on him and the contempt.
Even being the smartest as the husband doesn’t get you an automatic right to lead without her input. In our marriage, I am the smartest one. Jennifer is a bright girl to be sure, but I get the Jimmy Neutron brain blasts thing happening. But Jennifer is far better grounded and more stable than I am. So even though I’m smarter than she is, I very much want her input on the big decisions. I make better decisions for her being around. I’m the lightning and she’s the earth. We’re a team.
Sometimes I’ve made just truly awful decisions and she has gotten extremely stressed out in the aftermath, but never reached for the contempt and mutiny options when she could very well have. That’s golden. Loyalty is a key Beta personality trait for both sexes.
Going back to the Star Trek theme of Captain and First Officer… a couple of lines to use.
Captain: “Options Number One?”
Translation: “I want your input here and I am actively listening to you.”
Captain: “Captain’s Prerogative Number One.”
Translation: “Okay I heard all that and I’ve come to a decision and we’ll be doing this. For the moment at least the discussion is closed.”
Captain: “You have the Bridge Number One.”
Translation: “Your choice / you’re in charge of X / whatever you do here is fine … and I will back you up.”
Captain: “Make it so.”
Translation: “That was a damn good idea! Let’s do that.”
Most importantly… there is an element of the Captain and First Officer approach being a way of us playing together as a couple. It’s 99% of the time a playful sort of shorthand with communicating with each other. The other 1% of the time is a critical decision discussion.


  1. The great love of my life is practical and I am into the theory. I have the ideas and he implements. We are magic together!

  2. I love this blog and most of your ideas, but this one always makes me chuckle – especially the "Captains Prerogative Number One". I understand that it's not one size fits all and I'm sure many wives do indeed want their husbands to lead. In my own case I certainly don't want to be the leader to a follower husband (and I know you've talked about this before – I just wouldn't be able to respect him if he was a total sheep) but I'm no-one's First Officer. Each and every big decision is discussed and we agree how to handle it – we're a team and these things affect us both so we get equal input. It helps that we have similar views on things and take the same logical approach. If there's a difference of opinion generally the person who cares more about the issue gets their way.

    Still chuckling at the Captain's Prerogative.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the 'even tone of voice' part and the 'not second guessing' part could be a little bigger. And maybe in bold typeface. And maybe red.

    For years it was like this: wife: "Where do you want to go for dinner?", me: "I don't care." (because I really don't care and I'd rather not go out to eat anyway), wife: "Well anyplace is fine with me, you decide.", me: "Okay, how about restaurant X?", wife: "Well I don't want to go there. I hate that place!"

    Stuff like that would just shut me down and turn me into a complete mush. There was no right answer. Ladies, if a man is sure there is no right answer, he may decide to not take the test.

    Couple of times since finding this blog, I'd try pushing back and , what do you know, it seems to work.

  4. The Kirk/Spock analogy is great (I am a bit of a sci-fi buff too so I might be bias).

    I tend to be so analytical that I get decision paralysis. My husband is great at command and execution…I just sit there and contemplate all the possible ways it can go wrong.

  5. @Anonymous

    Read this for some ideas to address the issue you describe.

    Relationship Game Week: A Reader’s Journey
    which was actually written by Keoni Galt (Hawaiian Libertarian)

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think in every relationship there may be times when the non-leader person has to put their foot down about something, and I think that's okay, as long as it's done lovingly. I don't think it means that the relationship dynamic is broken, unless the couple have negotiated an actual bdsm dom/sub relationship.

    I see my sister's relationship and her husband is clearly the leader. She seems to be quite happy to follow his lead. But even she occasionally insists on certain things, and she'd probably get tired of it if he kept pulling captain's perogative.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What if he *thinks* I'm the smarter one? Still tryinto get him to see that… He does still run with the captain role, so I guess it doesn't much matter, does it?

  8. Athol Kay says:

    LJ – you can chuckle, but the Captain and First Officer stuff turns most of my female readers into a warm puddle. :-)

    It's not for everyone though… just most.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Unrelated question, Athol: do you know of other blogs (or books, etc) with advice for women that you'd recommend? Hooking Up Smart is really the only thing I've found that's not Cosmo-style girl power stuff–it's frustrating to find so much good advice for guys and so little for girls!

  10. Athol Kay says:

    Anon – Grerp is probably the best blog expounding the female Beta goodies and a little Alpha once in a while.

    More of a female Alpha (though mostly couples orientated) is Dick and Jane.

  11. Shameless plug: the Badger Hut strives to give honest but heartening advice to women, from the male perspective.

  12. Athol Kay says:

    I heard all Badger's advice was fattening. :-)

  13. I can't speak to wives, but I do know that in business, people of great intelligence are wont to think that because of their smarts, they should be the ones making the decisions. To the rest of the crew, this makes the smart people seem insufferably arrogant and entitled. (I worked for a boss like this who insisted on over-ruling the client; it was awful).

    People get into decisionmaking roles by a combination of currying favor with those above them and their own record of good decisionmaking (or simply a record of making and implementing decisions whatever their correctness).

    The secret is, in a word, game – smart people need to learn how to get access to decisionmakers to communicate their ideas,
    because those who lead will get their ideas from somewhere, and if it's not you, it will be somebody "dumber" who had the sense to court influence.

    I try to teach this idea to men wrt game and seduction – in most cases, she wants to be seduced, so it can be by a good guy like you who has learned the skills of the trade, or it can be by some PnD douchebag.

    I think Athol would say a similar thing to husbands – she can get her fix from you, or from another man, or from nobody and be truly miserable. Why not you?

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