I Have Always Respected My Wife’s Decisions

I know how men can wheedle and press their partners to get what they want, when they fear they won’t get it. I am not lily-white in that regard. If she says she’ll think about, or gives a “hmmm” or a maybe, whether to soften a “no” or because she really does want to think about it, that often results in him bringing up positive anecdotes, planting hints, meeting his other obligations half-heartedly, and asking what she thinks as often as a child asking “Are we there yet?” I also know many of us with a Y-chromosome have a habit of “fixing” things to be like we want, whether they need it or not, whether they’re ours to fix or not.

When we instituted our FLR, I asked my wife if there was some way I could best make a request or suggestion that would sound to her like respect for her decision-making ability and authority, and would let me know I’d been heard. She mulled, and gave me a process I could use for anything—nothing startling about it—with the understanding that once I make the request I back off. The first time I made a request, I think she asked me one question for clarification, then thought about it for maybe three days before giving me an answer. Over the years her answers came immediately or after weeks, as a definite yes or an absolute no or a “well, not quite like you asked, but like this instead,” about questions of finance, intimacy, relationship with friends and family—you name it. Every time my pride in my Wife grew—for her judgment, her discernment, her willingness to stand in what she thought best. My own pride grew, too—I was proud when she decided my idea was an improvement and implemented it (for example, a $100 limit on what I could spend without discussing it), and I was especially proud she trusted me to honor the process, even when it was a “big ask.”

The division of labor in a household is obviously a teamwork issue. On any team, the head coach or manager decides which people in which positions will bring about the best results for the team. Like in baseball days of yore, my wife was our FLR’s player-manager. I was proud to be given chores to do I knew would help the family, proud she trusted my willingness to ask and ability to learn if I wasn’t sure how to do something (like some of her clothes’ laundry care), proud of the happy way she’d say, “Oooh, clean sheets!” when sliding into bed after wash day.

I don’t know whether lots of men really get hung up over “men’s work/women’s work” or whether it seems worse than it is through overhype. But the premise of an FLR, the reason for entering it, is that the wife’s judgment will be best for the relationship. If she’s unsure (don’t managers consult position coaches and try different lineups?) she’ll ask for input, from you or other resources. If you find yourself indulging in “Why do I have to ______ but she gets to ________?” complaining, you’re hurting the team.

The last line of the Serenity Prayer asks for “the wisdom to know the difference” between what’s ours to control and what isn’t. Obviously this is important wisdom for a woman working out the terms of an FLR with her spouse, too. I had shared custody of two children from a previous marriage; when we began our FLR they were 14 and 17. They lived with us three days one week, four days the next, and their mom lived nearby. She and I had a good co-parenting relationship (it had been 10 years since the divorce), and she got along well enough with my wife.

In other areas of our life together, my wife had chosen to exercise some pretty strong “executive decision making” (with which I’d enthusiastically, if sometimes clumsily, agreed!). However, she realized what a good, long-standing situation we all had going. She realized how important the cooperation of the other parent is. She realized it would be impossible for me to be happy if my children were not. And, she realized they would not be there forever. So, she explicitly declined to exercise any authority over me in areas that would affect my kids or my ex, or to direct my (well-behaved) children beyond normal rules I’d already set up for them. I was proud of her flexibility and “big-picture” awareness, and of course all the more eager to adhere to her standards where it didn’t touch the kids.

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