It’s not about the nail: The psychology of decision making in property division

On Behalf of | Feb 11, 2021 | Property Division

Have you or your spouse ever said the words, “I don’t want you to fix my problem. I want you to listen to me”? Has a fight ever started because one of you did not feel supported while the other struggled to guess what the other wants?

Simply put, men and women see things differently, and their needs do not always coincide. Do these differences between men and women influence divorce proceedings? How?

It’s Not About The Nail

It’s Not About The Nail” is a modern, satirical interpretation of the age-old idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

The video begins with a young woman sharing her feelings about a problem she is experiencing. The problem sounds serious. You can sense her exasperation and lack of control as she describes the relentless pain, intense pressure and fear that it will never subside.

Then, the camera zooms out. Viewers can see that the woman has a giant nail in her forehead and a husband with a frustrated look on his face sitting next to her. Then, they start to disagree.

  • His opinion: She could solve her problem by removing the nail.
  • Her opinion: It is not about the nail. It is about how he listens and supports her.

The fact that the video short has been viewed over 20 million times on YouTube may be evidence enough for you that it is not too far from reality.

Shared experience or scientific fact?

The American Psychological Association published an article online about the psychological differences between men and women. Specifically, researchers studied the way in which men and women negotiate their property settlements. Their conclusions show that the video has a more scientific basis than you might think.

Here is what they found:

  • Men are task-oriented: They look at each decision as a task with a specific goal that they need to accomplish. Men are also more willing to take risks.
  • Women are relationship-oriented: They focus on interpersonal goals and relationships – even when they are ending or changing. As a result, they may be more willing to relinquish control over monetary assets and less willing to make risky decisions.
  • Value is in the eye of the beholder, whether male or female: When we feel a sense of ownership over an item, we often give it a higher perceived value. For example, if you drive the car to work, signed your name on the deed, put in the sweat equity to build something or select furnishings to match your dream design, you might feel yourself wanting those items in the divorce.

Of course, researchers admitted that there is more to the story. Many factors combine to make us who we are and influence how we make decisions.

Step into your spouse’s shoes, but don’t take yours off

Discussing the terms of your settlement is not an easy conversation – nor should it be. The terms to which you agree will affect your financial future. But a conflicting viewpoint and a contentious argument are two different things.

The takeaway from this discussion is that you can have a productive negotiation whether emotion, reason or a combination of both drive your decisions. Understanding and acknowledging how and why you make decisions can help facilitate a smoother negotiation, protect your interests and lead to a more satisfying result for both sides.