From time to time something comes along where you have a decision to make that has a big impact on your life together. This could be something you are choosing that will improve your life together such as moving home, having another child, replacing the car, sending kids to public or private school. It could be something forced on you by life, such as losing a job, illness, a parent coming to live with you, winning the lottery etc.
Big decisions affect many parts of our lives and usually require us to use a good part of our financial resources. They are also hard and costly to correct if we get them wrong – so we really want to make sure the decision is a good one. This means investing time and energy in exploring the decision and making it.
I’m going to assume for the rest of the article that your relationship is one where you want to decide together and not one where only one of you will make the big decisions. In other words, a relationship where the power is shared and you want to take into account the preferences, ideas and wishes of both of you.
The Easy Big Decisions
If you are both fully in agreement about what to do then it’s easy. It may be something that is just obvious to you both, or one where the decision makes itself because there is only one viable option.
In this case, just get on with it.
Decide, implement and move on.
The Not-So-Easy Big Decisions
If you have different ideas, how do you approach it in a way that is good for you both? How do you avoid turning a decision into a conflict or a rift in the relationship?
A common approach is to separate the decision from the relationship and focus on the merits of each position. In its simplest form this means to draw up a list of pros and cons for your preferred option and a similar list for your partner’s preference. I find this rational approach rarely works and usually ends up simply adding contradictory reasons on both sides that entrench preferences even further and create more confusion than clarity.
While it might be fine for small decisions where the stakes are much lower, there are two reason I think this approach doesn’t work for big decisions:
- Making decisions purely on the basis of logic ignores a whole range of other important considerations
- Big decisions, by their very nature, cannot be separated from the relationship itself.
While an algorithm (or logical approach) might be tempting, I firmly believe that, unless you are telepathic, you need to talk it through.
Here are some tips to prevent this talk turning into a fight or from going round in circles:
Getting to the Core – the Why
When you can both see and agree on the core reason for the decision then it gives a great way to measure the effectiveness of different options. Does an idea solve the ‘Why’ of the decision?
A way I find especially helpful is to focus on the needs you are seeking to take care of.
What needs will be served by this big decision? For example, if you are thinking about moving home, the needs you might be wanting to serve could be, for example, connection with nature, comfort, space or convenience. If you are deciding on a new car, it could be needs of reliability, comfort, safety or being seen.
The best solution is the one that cares for as many needs as possible – ideally all of them. Not my needs or her needs but our needs. Focusing on this helps loosen attachment to ‘my way of doing things’ and I often find that we have the same needs, even though different ways we would like to meet them.
Who Else is Involved?
Consider who else is impacted by your decision and what is important to them. If it makes sense, involve them in the decision directly by inviting them to the discussions. Leaving out key people who are affected by the decision risks missing some important factors. They may also seek to sabotage the decision that was taken without their involvement.
Put aside, for a moment, the discussion about reaching an agreement and focus instead on dreaming together. This will allow you to access a different energy. It is an energy of creativity, possibility and togetherness. Imagine walking hand in hand into a future you wish to create together.
Imagine you both go to sleep and wake up in 6 months time. The decision has been made and implemented and any struggle is behind you. Not only that, but it turned out better than either of you could have possibly imagined. How has this decision changed your life? What do you notice about this future? What was the decision you took that turned out so well?
Acknowledge the Emotional
I subscribe to the view that we often make decisions emotionally and then later justify them rationally. It is almost as though we don’t fully trust our emotional world so we feel the impulse to rationalise. I find it important to own and acknowledge the feelings involved in big decisions. Excitement? Anxiety? Worry? Confusion? Joy? How do you each feel about your decision? How does each option being discussed land with you emotionally?
Connected with this, also hear each other’s feelings without attempting to rationalise them away. Of course, feelings don’t always make sense. It doesn’t mean they are not worth listening to. The language of feelings is far older (in evolutionary terms) than our logical brain so contains valuable wisdom – albeit expressed in ways that are somewhat mysterious to the rational part of us. Acknowledge the feelings involved and give them space.
What Do You Know About Yourselves?
You know each other pretty well, I imagine. You know your strengths and your qualities. You know what worked for you well in the past and what you learned from those situations that didn’t work out so well.
Putting all this together, what do you know about yourself and your partner that gives you trust and confidence that you’ll make a really good decision together? What can you draw on to help you make this big decision to be the best it can be?
Two Choices is not Really a Choice
When the decision is between 2 choices – yours and your partners – then you constrain and limit your creativity. Step back from ego attachment to your idea and search for other alternatives together. Maybe this is a combination of the two ideas or maybe some completely new ideas might emerge.
Decision making should not be a competition between two sides but a partnership search together for the decision that serves you best.
What is the Smallest Step Forward?
Big decisions often come with a host of smaller decisions and actions that need to made. This can get a bit overwhelming when deciding in the first place. When you consider everything involved it can easily paralyse your process.
It is rare you need to solve the entire situation in one go. What is the smallest step that will take you forward?
Big decisions taken together in a creative and collaborative spirit that gives space to all the important elements can bring you closer together and make a positive difference to your life together.