Briffault’s Law states: “The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place” (Briffault, The Mothers, Vol. I, p. 191). The idea entails that essentially women have power of whether or not a relationship takes place. The belief is that women search to understand if the benefits outweigh the cost. If the benefits exceed the costs, women agree to enter into a relationship. In the animal world, Briffault’s law can be seen. Some male birds display their feathers or build nests to illustrate their worth as a potential mate. Other animals like kangaroos actually fight and illustrate their dominance and strength. To understand the concept and how it could potentially apply to humans, Briffault’s law add includes several other aspects.
Even though a woman might benefit from a relationship, it does not necessarily mean she will automatically continue in the relationship. Basically, it concludes that women have to see continued benefits in order to stay in certain relationships. For example, a woman begins dating a man who fulfills her needs including emotional intimacy. However, over time, the man becomes consumed with work and the couple spends less time together. Emotional intimacy begins to fade. Even though their emotional intimacy was once strong, if that intimacy fades, the woman may decide to end the relationship.
A woman may promise to continue a relationship with a man based on the idea that she will receive a benefit from him in the present. Once that benefit is provided, her promise is nullified. For example, a woman might promise to sleep with a man once she feels he has shown he loves her. Even if the man reveals his love through certain desirable behaviors, a woman may decide to not follow through with her initial promise.
A man’s promise of a future benefit will not secure a woman for long. The wait for the benefit has to be short and it all depends on how much the woman trusts him. For example, a man asks a woman for a loan, promising that he will double what she’s given him and in turn he will be able to care for her. In order for the woman to stay in the relationship, the woman has to have trust for the man and he must not keep her waiting for long.
Briffault’s law does make some sense in evolutionary terms. However, it can sound a bit superficial. On a relational level, Briffault’s law brings up the idea of weighing cost versus benefits. Especially in the dating phase, that idea is really relevant. Individuals learn about others and decide whether or not they want to enter into a relationship based on what they see and hear. Briffault’s law also reveals an idea that can ring true: even after entering into a relationship, the continuation of the relationship is not a guarantee. The benefits outweighing the costs still exist throughout the relationship. Essentially, if needs are not getting met, people often exit relationships. Part of any relationship is experiencing levels of intimacy that meet each person’s needs. Briffault’s law specifically speaks on women having control in whether or not a relationship takes place. For some individuals, this might be the case. However, it seems the basic idea can apply to any relationship and be inclusive of other genders.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.