Where should we go for dinner? Who’s going to pick up the kids? How should we invest our savings? Should we allow our daughter to go out on a date? Should we get a divorce?
Couples spend much of their time making decisions about their lives together. Decision making can be challenging for anyone, but when a couple needs to make a collective decision the challenge becomes greater.
Collective decision making is a skill that can be mastered. For a couple who lacks collective decision making skills, something as simple as where to go for dinner can turn into a major ordeal.
In the end, making decisions as a couple is not so much about what you decide on, but rather how you go about the process of making the decision. Learning how to make decisions together as a couple is critical for the survival of your relationship.
Where do you start? Well—if you were starting a running program you wouldn’t start out running a marathon, right? You’d start learning how to run with proper form, how to pace yourself, how to build endurance etc.
Here is a game plan for the basics of collective decision making.
First, start with a simple decision- picking an activity for the weekend, or a movie, or anything that doesn’t have major life implications.
Then follow these SMART steps:
- Step one is to Set a specific goal—what do each of you want? Make sure you are very specific. Eating dinner out is not a specific goal. Going to a restaurant where you can get a steak, your partner can get grilled shrimp and you both can relax in a quiet booth is specific. Saving money is not specific. Saving an extra 100.00 per month from each of your paychecks through automatic deduction to pay off the credit card is specific. The more specific you are the better.
- Monitor your discussion—as you are discussing the decision at hand, make sure you are staying on track. Very often- couples will start discussing a goal and stray to some other topic which can lead to frustration. So – if you notice yourself or your spouse getting off the subject—quickly come back to the specific goal.
- Arrange the situation for success. Decision making doesn’t work well when someone is tired, hungry, short for time, or pre-occupied with other activities. Before you start the discussion make sure each of you is in the right frame of mind and you have the time. If not, table the discussion as it is likely to go awry or fail.
- Recruit support from one another—A collective decision means that sometimes there will be compromise. If you are going into the discussion to “win” then you are not making a collective decision, you are fighting a battle. Remind each other that you are a team and that you are in it to win collectively, not necessarily individually.
- Treat yourselves. Decision making seems simple, but as many couples find out it can be one of the toughest challenges a couple faces. So, celebrate the success of a decision together. A hug, a celebratory reward, anything that acknowledges that together you have accomplished this task will help keep you motivated to make decisions together again.
The key is to recognize that the decision making process is the same regardless of the type of decision. If you approach each decision with the same game plan, then over time you will become experts at decision making. Sometimes you will be tackling small decisions that have little life implication. Sometimes they will be huge decisions, but much like learning to run, remember that running is running, it’s just at different speeds and for different lengths of time- and some races are more important than others…