This is turning into Captain and First Officer week. Let the misunderstanding continue!
Reader: I’m a woman. I have a problem with the decision process as stated by Athol. Why does the captain (man) get to make every decision? I understand that he gets input from the first officer, but ultimately he makes the decision.
In my marriage, the person who knows the most about the particular situation at hand or feels the strongest makes the decision. There are some areas where he’s the expert and others where I am.
If I’m better at choosing investments, for example, why shouldn’t I make the call, with my husband’s input, of course. If he is better at homeowner projects and overseeing our kids’ education, why shouldn’t he make the call? Shared responsibility for the various decisions that make up our life is both efficient and effective for us.
The way I see it, Athol is making decisions (all of them!) that he may or may not be best qualified to make. And Jennifer is put in a role of having to plead her case to Athol, knowing she doesn’t control the outcome.
Jennifer’s superior knowledge and expertise on a particular subject still doesn’t allow her to take the lead. And unlike a work situation, in which she would likely have the chance of a promotion to the decision-making position some day, in her marriage she’ll NEVER have that opportunity.
I understand it works for Athol and Jennifer, and evidently many of this blog’s readers, but it’s not a model I would want to impose on my marriage.
Athol: Where did you get the idea that I make every single decision in Jennifer’s life from? Trust me, after a long day of monitoring developmentally disabled clients, the last thing I want to do is come home and turn a bright, capable, motivated woman into one of my patients. The kids make plenty of decisions for themselves without my input too. No one needs to raise their hand to go to the bathroom in the Kay family.
So back to the earlier post for a second… let me bold a critical line…
“The conscious agreement to play these roles is of value because of the way it can nearly completely eliminate serious conflict in the marriage over some of the bigger decisions that need to be made. Very frequently marital arguments are not over the decision itself, but simply who gets to make the decision. Once you remove that battle, everyone’s shields come down and you can have more of a calm discussion about the decision itself.”
The First Officer role is a capable one. The metaphor is based on being the second-in-command of a Galaxy Class Federation Starship… which if I can engage my full inner geek for a moment, has a crew compliment of 1,012. So there are a myriad of daily decisions a First Officer would make without even consulting the Captain.
Jennifer makes dozens of decisions without my input or even knowledge. She makes more day to day decisions than I do and it’s extremely helpful that she does that. I’ve got this whole smart-guy-on-the-internet writer thing going on, but that comes with a major dose of absent-minded-professor and I’d be utterly lost without her. She’s way more practical than I am and keeps my life running more smoothly that I would ever manage without her help.
There’s a reasonable amount of incidental direction that I give, asking for a particular thing for dinner for example, and Jennifer happily complies in part because she likes pleasing me, and in part because it was one less decision for her to make.
But for the bigger decisions, we do the full Captain and First Officer experience. Even then you’d be surprised how few truly big decisions there are in a marriage, as usually one major decision will create structural effects that essentially determine the need for many smaller decisions. Some examples: Which city we live in, job changes, housing changes, more children, response to medical conditions, vacations, major purchases and so on. I think we have about two or three of those major decisions a year.
Starting this blog was a major decision of that type. Jennifer and I talked about it in depth before I started it, and I decided we would proceed with it. Just one major decision, but now it’s been two years of structural effects from that decision.
When my father ran up the white flag and announced the cancer wasn’t going to be beaten, I was always going to go home to say goodbye. However New Zealand is a long way and we were faced with three options:
(1) Just I go to NZ. (+) Cheaper, (-) Me emotional and apart from Jennifer is really bad idea
(2) Jennifer and I go to NZ. (+) Athol emotional but supported by Jennifer, (-) kids very upset and missing parents for two weeks.
(3) We all go to NZ. (+) Family all supported and involved, (-) all the book promotion money is gone.
Jennifer and I discussed all those options in depth, and then I chose (3). Now as you can imagine there are dozens of other little decisions involved in throwing an international trip together; Jennifer made some decisions, I made some decisions and just about all of it was on the fly. Just two weeks later we were with Dad and mission accomplished.
It’s not about steamrolling Jennifer out of a say. She talks to me. I listen. I bounce things I’m thinking about off her constantly actively seeking her input. We’re adults.
Most of the time the big decisions aren’t a choice between something that’s clearly a bad idea and clearly a good idea, that’s easy to work out together. The trouble comes when you’re choosing between multiple good options, or multiple difficult ones. That’s the sort of thing that can get thrown back in your face for years, “Well I know that eventually worked out, but I still think we should have chosen the other good option, because it would have worked out better!” That’s more easily side-stepped when you can both acknowledge there are multiple options, and someone needs to make a decision about them.
Coming back to the reader statement though, this one stands out to me…
“In my marriage, the person who knows the most about the particular situation at hand or feels the strongest makes the decision.”
I’m not saying this is the exact case for this particular reader, but this “feeling the strongest” is exactly how many men find themselves on the persistent losing end of marital discussions, and becoming more and more Betaized. Women are typically better than men at handling and displaying deep emotion, and a common Fitness Test tactic is simply to overwhelm him with an intense emotional state – tears, anger, joy, disappointment – until he folds and gives her what she wants.
As soon as a wife discovers she can control major decisions through simply feeling the strongest about something, the husband will lose every single important discussion. Once she masters this emotional terrorism, and can win discussions and debates at will, she is the Captain…
…and a fairly nasty one at that.
Of course that immediately leads into the question of why the woman as the Captain is a potentially bad thing in a marriage. I’ll address that in my next post.
Jennifer: Athol is not a dictator. We discuss big decisions together, and there’s usually a fairly obvious solution or two, and he takes the initiative to make one of them happen. I’m good with that.