August 26, 2010

Decision Making in Marriage: A Hot Button Topic?

Recently I received an email question from a colleague who has a vital ministry in the marriage arena. I found his question most interesting and worthy of careful consideration. I’d like to share his email with you followed by my response, over the next few days.

My friend writes:

Emerson,

I am dealing with a tough topic that seems to be a hot button. I can’t think of a better person to bounce this off of then you.

I posted this question on my facebook:
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Question for all women: How do you want your husband to lead your family during the times you disagree with his direction or choices? This is after you have exhausted all other options and cannot come to an agreement. Should he ever move forward without your consent? If so…how? Please describe your answer.
___________________________________________________________

My friend went on to say:

While counseling many couples and training hundreds, I see a pattern where men stop leading because of conflict. When their wife disagrees with them and no compromise can be found the man gives up and lets her “lead." A pastor just told me yesterday that this cycle (crazy) describes his marriage.

I told him that occasionally he must lead without her consent. 95% of the time we can/should negotiate and compromise. Occasionally a husband must lead without his wife’s consent. He must do it with an abundance of love. She will eventually respect him.

When he submits to her lead, he becomes bitter and angry. (Pastor’s words exactly.)

How do you feel about the idea of (occasionally) leading without your wife’s consent?

Is that biblical? What is the danger of a man giving in during the 5% of the non-negotiable moments?

The response I got off facebook was overwhelmingly against the idea of a man ever leading without his wife’s consent.

They said to wait. Wait for her to “agree."

Wait for God to change her/him on the matter.

My concern is that sometimes waiting can cause great harm to the family depending on the issue.

Your thoughts?

M.

Emerson’s Reply (Part One):

Dear M,

Your question is an excellent one and deserves much consideration. Here are some of my thoughts, taken both from scripture and also from my experience counseling married couples.

Many view the historical relationship between husbands and wives as suggestive of husbands making most if not all of the decisions, and wives having no say. In fact, some contend that wives in the New Testament had no say. However, such cases (where the husband made all the decisions) are less than some think. Jesus references a wife proceeding with a divorce (Mark 10:12) and widows could marry who they wished (1 Cor. 7:39). I believe there has been more balance between the sexes than we think! Even so, to your question.

If we take the position of your facebook wives that a couple waits until both agree (when a husband makes a proposal and his wife does not agree), then technically the wife has the final authority, does she not? He must wait until she agrees.

“They said to wait. Wait for her to agree.”

In this situation, the wife is the final determiner of the decision. Few wives want to exercise veto power and final authority but practically these options put her in that position. As you know, I take this position: the husband has 51% of the responsibility and 51% of the authority. If not, we violate leadership 101 (and his headship as a husband – no wife is called to be the head) by giving her the final authority but expecting him to exercise the most responsibility. As everyone knows, the one who has the greatest responsibility (and the husband is responsible to die for his wife not the other way around given all things are equal) must have the greatest authority, otherwise we set up a person/husband for frustration. He turns passive (the #1 complaint) or aggressive and does what he thinks to the neglect of his wife. We end up blaming the husband for these extremes but do not assess the inadvertent contribution the “wait until the wife agrees” makes to the emotionality of the husband.

Tune in for Part Two of my reply tomorrow, which addresses the second suggestion from wives: “Wait for God to change her/him on the matter."

Emerson

6 comments:

k80 @ onegirlsjourney said...

I am a woman, and I agree with you. He needs to lead w/o her consent. Sometimes being a leader means doing what isn't popular. But ideally, he is a godly man, seeking the Lord, and the woman will trust that and see the value in his choice in retrospect.

Anonymous said...

"How do you want your husband to lead your family during the times you disagree with his direction or choices? This is after you have exhausted all other options and cannot come to an agreement. Should he ever move forward without your consent? If so…how? Please describe your answer."

Can two walk together except they be agreed?

I believe a better model is two walking together with an agreed purpose, values, and goals and having those guide their choices. (I am assuming we are not talking about where to eat dinner or what movie to see; however, the constant acquiescing of one spouse for the advantage of the other is not always beneficial to either.)

Anonymous said...

"95% of the time we can/should negotiate and compromise. Occasionally a husband must lead without his wife’s consent."

From where does this figure come? Why not 94.98% 96%? 97%? 97.5%? I wish a source for this figure were provided.

Anonymous said...

"What is the danger of a man giving in during the 5% of the non-negotiable moments?"

Great question.

What are the dangers for what seems like an arbitrary percentage? Do the dangers exponentially increase should the man give in 5.5%? What if he gives in 10% and so on?

What are the "non-negotiable moments"? Who determines what non-negotiable moments constitute the 5% of the time in which he should not give in? Are these agreed upon times? Do certain agreed upon issues constitute the 5% of the non-negotiable moments? Does the husband decide that the 5% non-negotiable moments are issue-based or time-based? If issue based, does he decide the issues? If time-based does he keep a record of the time expended in non-negotiable moments? How is the 5% non-negotiable moments calculated and who is responsible for maintaining the tally?

Anonymous said...

"My concern is that sometimes waiting can cause great harm to the family depending on the issue."

Without resorting to extreme examples, I cannot imagine a practical scenario where a resolution or agreement cannot be reached within a reasonable amount of time between two mature, loving adults. There are very few decisions(even none in our over two decades) that have to be made immediately wherein the alternative of waiting until resolution, compromise, or agreement is reached would cause great harm to the family. Decisions that would greatly affect the family i.e. as big move are best made when discussed over a period of time, thoroughly, and weighed against the purposes, values, and goals of the family.

Anonymous said...

Emerson:
“If we take the position of your facebook wives that a couple waits until both agree (when a husband makes a proposal and his wife does not agree), then technically the wife has the final authority, does she not? He must wait until she agrees.

‘They said to wait. Wait for her to agree.’”

Actually according to M, they say:

“They said to wait. Wait for her to ‘agree.’

Wait for God to change her/him on the matter.”

The later portion was left off. I do not see any harm in inviting God through prayer into the process. I actually believe this to be part of the process in an ideal situation.

Emerson: “In this situation, the wife is the final determiner of the decision.”

IMO, in an environment of trust where decisions are guided by agreed upon purposes, values, and goals, the ideal is for both to agree to agree or agree to defer to the judgment of the other in areas of their gifting, expertise, or knowledge.

To look at decision making as an issue or function of leading aka exercising authority is not, IMO, ideal.

Major decision making within a husband-wife relationship should be an opportunity for discussion, transparency, collaboration, negotiation, compromise, deference, etc. all which promote intimacy.

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