Communication — 17 February 2013
An effective decision-making model for couples

Making decisions is a hard process for individuals and even harder for couples. The mass of information, possibilities, hazards and potential outcomes are difficult enough for any person to sort out. Adding personality variances of pairs and their individual needs and wants exponentially widens the maze of options. Above all, couples are rarely taught tools for harmonious collaboration.

Some couples in therapy state: “I don’t know why you always have to have it your way.” “You just want to control me.” “You can’t make good decisions.” “Whatever I suggest is always wrong.” They may also accuse the partner of being compulsive, impulsive, unreasonable, irresponsible, immature or selfish.

When couples are exasperated with the process of ineffective decision-making they may resort to faulting the other mate’s character. These accusations and negative depictions are born out of frustration about not knowing how to reach the partner and close the gap of individual styles, preferences and wishes, as well as not having a method for making decisions in times of disparity.

Research about couples’ financial decision-making process conducted by Andrew Wood and Associates at The British Department for Work and Pension stated, “There was little evidence of joint planning and interaction through most financial decision-making processes: whilst couples often described their decisions as collaborative, their accounts of the decision-making process tended to indicate that it was only really at the final stage, when a conclusion was reached, that both partners were involved to a great extent.”

Researcher Rosann Spiro studied the strategies husbands and wives used in resolving disagreements concerning purchasing decisions. She found that “most partners’ perceptions of each other’s influence attempts do not agree.”

Kim Corfman and Donald Lehmann studied group decision-making and relative influence in family purchasing.  A summary of their research stated, “Results indicate that relative preference intensity and the outcomes of preceding joint decisions consistently made the strongest contributions to relative influence.”

The approach that best helps couples find a compromised solution to decisions does not come through persuasion, control, intimidation, insistence, shaming or abdicating one’s way. It requires a “CAN” approach: Curiosity, Acceptance and Negotiation.

Curiosity means being interested in what your partner thinks, feels and prefers with the three choice elements that matter to him/her the most.  Acceptance requires non-judgmental listening regardless of how different your mate’s choices are from your own. Negotiation entails the brainstorming discussion of how to best accommodate each one of your six highest priorities.

Once you have patiently and open-heartedly listened to your partner’s wishes you are likely to feel more inclined to be accommodating. This process becomes reciprocal and the compromise often ends up being a satisfying option for both of you.

To effectively make your couple’s decisions:

  •  Be curious, kind and patient in listening to your mate’s preferences.
  •  Resist feeling frustrated or judgmental when your choices diverge.
  • Accept your mate’s ideas as you did when you were first in love.
  • Use goodwill to best accommodate your spouse. Enjoy the compromise!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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