Marriage Minute # 25 Options and Rejections from my book, Marriage Minutes, available on Amazon.com
Warren Farrell makes a good observation in his book, Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say, when he says that one spouse may gain the job of generating all the options and the other spouse may gain the job of generating all the rejections. It makes for a lot of dead-end conversations, and one of the sad things about it is that so many people get into this rut by default. One person becomes the idea person, perhaps because they start out as the one best at doing the job. Their spouse may be content to let them do all the option generating, but may resent it later on in the marriage. Sometimes the idea person is the one who becomes resentful and they go on strike. They tell their spouse that they are tired of having to come up with all the solutions and they aren’t going to do it anymore. At this point, the other person may panic inwardly over this new responsibility. They may even balk at the job and create an impasse.
The untenable situation that Farrell talks about is one of the more insidious problems of married life. One person generates all the options and the other person generates all the rejections. The results can range from gentle competition to a cruel cat and mouse game. It is an act of love when a couple recognizes they are doing this, and they stop.
A certain skill is needed to do this. Each person needs to stop being obsessed with safety, and be able to step out of the conversation and monitor “how” they are talking. This skill comes with willingness, love, and practice.
Look with me at just how unsafe this game really is. The one who generates all the options has to always be right. (Nice work if you can get it…) Come to think of it, the one who generates all the objections also has to always be right. If these people aren’t always right, then how can they justify the exclusivity of their “role”? Thus it becomes a role fitted only for the arrogant, and, for all others, it becomes a dangerous role, ripe for criticism and failure.
This brings up another insight about how people deal with options. There isn’t just one “right” thing for most of life’s activities. If you are doing a crossword puzzle, then there is only one right answer to each prompt. Thankfully, life isn’t like this. There are some wrong answers, but there are also several right answers to many questions. Besides, who says every option has to be perfect? Getting to a goal can be half the fun of reaching it, and exploring some fun ways of getting there makes it that much more rewarding.
Both people become powerless in the game Farrell describes. In fact, the final result may be that the one generating all the options is always wrong, and the one generating all the rejections is always wrong. (All this “always” stuff can really hurt your marriage.) It may feel dangerous to be creative, open to new ideas, and to share in the process of problem solving, but it isn’t dangerous at all, when you are both committed to the relationship.