We make decisions every day. In fact, research suggests we make about 35,000 choices each day as adults. That’s a lot! Decisions range from minuscule to significant. Some of these small decisions we make every few seconds are things such as taking a sip of coffee, responding to a text message, or even readjusting in our chair. More medium size decisions are things like what to have for dinner, plans for the weekend or even what color to repaint your living room – decisions we make that are fairly low risk and usually don’t require our finances to take a large hit. These medium decisions are where you may start seeking input or opinions from others. Oftentimes the first person on your list will be your spouse, especially if that decision, like the ones in our examples, impact them as well. They’ll eat the dinner you selected, likely enjoy the weekend plans with you, and of course, live in the repainted living room – hey, you may even make a decision that requires their help to execute it!
At the far end of the decision-size spectrum are the big decisions. These are the ones that are life-changing or at least feel significant because of the financial impact.
There’s variety in just how big these decisions feel, and that will vary by the individuals involved. Some of these big decisions would be adding a new pet to the family, moving to a new state, switching careers, buying a house or a car, or even expanding your family by having a baby or adopting.
Decision-making is a concept that is related to the roles and responsibilities you share with your partner. There’s some delegation that has happened – whether intentional or not – that designates who does what. And some of the things we have to make decisions about may already have a designated “owner” depending on how you’ve split up those roles and responsibilities in your relationship and household. Maybe you always make dinner, so you decide the meal each night. Or maybe your partner takes care of all car maintenance, so when it’s time to buy a new car, that decision is in their court.
Of course, in your solo decision-making on behalf of both of you, you likely still employ the “rules” that have been set – sometimes clearly defined, and other times completely unwritten. Rules such as, healthy meals during the week and indulgences on the weekend, or that you only drive pre-owned cars, so going to the dealership to purchase something brand new is out of the question. Relying on these previously defined roles, responsibilities ,and rules to execute those decisions means that some of those medium to bigger decisions get made without a lot of discussion between you and your partner.
But, when these decisions are big and hefty, and kind of uncharted territory, how do you decide?
There are a lot of different ways to go about decision-making. And of course, it will vary between couples. The decision-making process for one couple may look and feel completely different for another couple, and that’s ok! What we want for you is a decision-making process that minimizes argument and is free from resentment. Ultimately, you and your partner need to come to a decision that you both agree on and feel good making. We know this can be hard – there are often many things to consider, nuances to understand, and future circumstances to envision. It can be even more difficult if this is one of the first big decisions you’re making together. Here are our three tips for making big decisions together.
- Agree on what really matters.
As we mentioned there are a lot of factors that go into our decisions. There are the details of all your options and then there is the factor of how these decisions will play out over time. And of course, the unknown variables or things we can’t control or know when making the decision. So from what you are able to know, strive to come to an agreement of the things that matter most to you as a couple. A good approach to getting there is to first consider what matters to you personally, and have your partner go through the same thought process. Then, after you’ve both made your mental or literal list of features/components/factors, come together and share. You may learn about something that is really important to your partner that you weren’t aware of. Once you’ve both shared, then start to negotiate if your combined list is too long or if you disagree. Make sure to utilize good communication skills to facilitate this discussion – it will help a ton!
- Divide tasks and do the work.
Once you’ve decided on what matters and agreed on it with your spouse, then it’s time to start figuring out all the options you have in this decision. Depending on what kind of decision-makers you and your partner are, this may require weeks and months of research or just a few simple Googles. Either way, divide up the tasks in a way that works for both of you, and then do the work. Pick a day where you’ll reconvene to share your findings, or if you work better sharing a google doc or even just texting options back and forth, do that. Just set some expectation of when you’ll share what you’ve learned. And the key here is to really do the work. Put in the effort. If you say you’re going to look up five new cars or figure out the cost of living in two different cities or do some research on kid-friendly dog breeds, do it and be invested in the process. The whole divide-and-conquer approach to making a decision together doesn’t really work if you don’t do your part. This is also key in fending off feelings of resentment down the road.
- Trust yourself and your partner.
At the end of the process, only you and your partner can actually make the big decision. So, the best tip of all is to simply trust. Trust in your communication skills to effectively articulate your personal desires and concerns as well as to facilitate the important discussions along the way. Trust in the effort and dedication you and your partner put in to figuring out what is best for your family. And trust yourselves to make the right decision.
And quick BONUS tip – learn from the process. At some point after the decision has been made, look back at what you did together to get there. Have a conversation about it. Reflect on what went well and how you felt about it and ask your spouse those questions. Decision-making isn’t a test, and no one is going to grade you as a couple on how well you did. But there’s a lot of value is talking about and learning from the experience. Just as with most things in your relationship, your decision-making process will evolve, change, and grow. Taking time to communicate about it ensures you both stay on the same page.
Share with us in the comments your best tip for making a big decision with your spouse!