Being the best partner — 29 May 2010
Guidelines for healthy decision-making

Being in a committed relationship requires us to be accountable for every personal decision we make. How can we establish some personal guidelines to help us navigate our choices, while honoring our mate and family?

Three of the relationship-based decision making questions are: 1. Is it within the best interest of my mate? 2. Is it ethical? 3. Is it a secret?

Every personal response, choice or action we take affects our partner and family. John Bradshaw, in his PBS series on “The Family” demonstrated the inter-connectivity between family members by using a mobile composed of parts representing the mother, father and children. When any part of the balanced mobile was touched- it initiated movement in all other segments of the family.

Knowing that a choice you make will upset, annoy, or sadden your mate, can become a helpful guide for your conduct. If, for example, your spouse is annoyed by your tardiness, deciding to get just one more thing done on your way to meet him/her may not be a good option.

Markkula Center of Applied Ethics, at Santa Clara University, defines ethics, “Simply stated, ethics refers to standards of behavior that tell us how human beings ought to act in the many situations in which they find themselves-as friends, parents, children, citizens, businesspeople, teachers, professionals, and so on.” It is helpful to identify what ethics is NOT: Ethics is not the same as feelings. Ethics is not religion. Ethics is not following the law. Ethics is not following culturally accepted norms. Ethics is not science.”

The Makkula Center’s ethicists’ “Framework for Ethical Decision Making” recommends that the decision maker ask him/herself the following questions: “Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm? Which option best respects the rights of all who have a stake? Which option treats people equally or proportionately? Which option best serves the community as a whole, not just some members? Which option leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be? “

These guidelines are very helpful, yet not always decisive. For example, a mother has a choice between telling the father about their child’s drug use or keeping it a secret as the youngster requested. Using the above criteria, she will consider the best and the harmful eventualities of either option, the rights of the teen and the father, the need for treating the son and father equally, the community or family interests and her self view with either option. Her choice may still be conflicted.

Similarly, an elderly parent needs help at the same time that one’s child is participating in a school performance. The consideration of the most good and least harm is hard to foresee. Both the parent and the child merit primary consideration. Yet, one party’s benefit becomes another party’s loss.

Another tool for decision- making I term “the secrecy factor”. Any behavior that requires secrecy is probably not a good choice. With few exceptions, such as protecting another person’s safety, privacy or dignity, secretive conduct, though not necessarily immoral or ill intentioned, is unwise. It often stems from feeling shame, guilt or embarrassment, good predictors of poor choices.

If, for example, you would need to hide a certain conversation with a colleague because you know your boss or your spouse would bristle about it, this behavior is probably not a healthy option.

• Make your personal choices easier by first considering the impact of your action on those you love.
• Select the option that will cause the least harm, if your choices are evenly matched.
• Abstain from any behavior that you know in advance will require you to keep it secret, unless it is to safeguard another’s safety, dignity or privacy.
• Choose options that will enhance others and will make you feel congruent with living up to your higher values.

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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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