Unequal but Fair Decisions:

To Text or Not to Text During Breakfast

Willard F. Harley, Jr., PhD


"It bothers me when you text while we are having breakfast together."

"You do it, too.  Why should what I do bother you when you do the same thing?"

Sound familiar?  Ever since I wrote the book, His Needs, Her Needs, I've been confronted by those who feel that I'm wrong in suggesting that the rules for marriage should be different for a husband and a wife.  What's good for the goose should be good for the gander, they insist.

Technically, my rules for husbands and wives are the same.  For example, the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse) applies equally to men and women.  But the outcome of specific decisions is often applied differently.

In the example I used, the spouse that is bothered by texting during breakfast is not enthusiastic about texting.  So, the POJA would grant that spouse the ruling that there should be no texting by the other spouse until an enthusiastic agreement is found.

The other spouse, however, is enthusiastic about texting during breakfast, regardless of who does it.  So, the ruling in that spouse's case would grant the other spouse the right to text.

It's fair because the issue of texting relies on the reaction each spouse has to the other spouse's texting, and not the issue of the morality of texting itself during breakfast.

Reactions in marriage are extremely important to understand.  And the more they are understood, the easier it is to see that husbands and wives often react very differently to the same experience.  As a psychologist who has spent my adult life studying human reactions, I am convinced that one of the most important achievements in marriage is for spouses to adjust to each other's reactions—doing what creates positive reactions and avoid doing what creates negative reactions.

My advice regarding romantic love is based on the assumption that positive reactions to a spouse's behavior create it, and negative reactions destroy it.  I use the Love Bank to illustrate how it works.  When one spouse experiences good feelings to what the other spouse is doing, Love Bank deposits are made.  The experience of bad feelings makes Love Bank withdrawals.  If enough deposits are made, an account breaches the romantic love threshold, triggering the feeling of romantic love.

But the same case can be made for caring love.  If one spouse cares for the other spouse, they will do what it takes to make that spouse fulfilled, and avoid what makes that spouse unhappy.  In other words, they will adapt to the reactions of that spouse if they care.

Going back to the texting illustration, texting during breakfast makes Love Bank withdrawals for one spouse, but not for the other.  So, to avoid the loss of romantic love, it's incumbent upon only one spouse to avoid texting.  The reason it's fair is that our reactions in marriage are all important, more important than the equal application of texting rules.

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