3 Keys to Decision-Making Without Resentment

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

8 thoughts to “3 Keys to Decision-Making Without Resentment”

  1. What do you do when you are polar opposites? Especially on some bigger decisions? I.e. someone wants a dog and someone absolutely does not. Someone wants the beach, someone wants snow? someone is a snuggler and someone is a personal space type of person?

    1. Brian,
      You have asked some goods questions, that I am sure have been c challenging for others as well.
      First, I believe that it’s important to be awareness, as much as possible, of each differences. In making space for and towards one another to decisions which will work for you both e.g. wanting/not wanting a dog, maybe the winter can volunteer with a Pet Shelter, concerning vacations travel alternate locations concerning, snuggler vs not, maybe agree to a certain amount of time to snuggle e.g. 10 mins of snuggle time.

      There are many good healthy and safe ways to make decisions…listening to understand and “I” e.g. I need to have 15 mins of quiet time, statements are a good starting point.

      I hope this helps.

    2. Differences in a relationship are a given. Differences in personality and style make the other interesting, attractive, challenging, and provide opportunities for our own personal growth. If adequate adjustments are not realized, the relationship can be stressful. If the stress is chronic, it is probably a sign that this is not a healthy relationship, particularly if the steps suggested in the blog have been unsuccessful.
      The small to medium size differences that require decision or compromise are generally experienced in a favorable, comfortably challenging way, with the feeling that these differences compliment or complete the other on various levels. Utilizing the tools in good communication skill, the decisions, negotiations, and compromises can feel rewarding, affirming, while contributing to the process of bonding and growing together.
      Polar opposites fall on the far end of the decision/challenge spectrum. If the relationship is not at the committed level, it is important to know yourself well enough and assertively express your needs and preferences. It is OK and healthy to not further a relationship where the behavior and values of the other are “non-negotiable” for you. For example. if one finds a potential partner whos is attractive on many levels but is a smoker, and smoking is one of your “non-negotiables,” it would be recommended to discontinue the relationship rather than severely compromise your value and comfort level.
      When polar opposites materialize in the course of a committed relationship, this suggests the relationship is going to take a lot of work. In addition to the useful tools and perspectives suggested by the blogger, also consider that loving relationships require partners to sometimes get out of their comfort zone to “stretch” and “extend” themselves to be there for other in many ways on many levels. When partners can do this, it is a win-win for both. The recipient of the “stretch” experiences your validation and support, and the one who extends him or herself for the other grows in being open to new experiences and becomes a better person in the process. From the insightful words of the late columnist Dick Fegler, who paraphrased Dr. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, “…if the relationship you’re in doesn’t pull you in the direction of becoming a better person, then you are not in love.”

  2. Thank you for continuing to keep me on your “list”. We have not had many weddings. Sadly, funerals far outnumber the services of the church. Nevertheless , I depend on “Prepare and Enrich” to keep me well-informed as a pastor so that I may provide the best possible quality of services when the opportunity arises. I have had nothing but positive feedback from the couples who have gone through the computer questionnaire and 12 hours of classes that followed. Thank you for your excellence in marriage ministry!
    Pastor Jane Ekholm, Hope Lutheran of Fosston, MN

  3. There are not too many people who are totally polar opposites. I would be difficult to imagine how they would ever get into a relationship with one another if that was the case. Usually the difference is a strong preference for one thing or the other. We can live with (and even enjoy) something for some time even if it isn’t our preference. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case if we really can’t live with it, like an allergy to dogs,, but that is a given in any situation.
    When the decision is with regard to some thing that is time limited, we can allocate time to both options. Beach this year and the mountains next year. An hour of personal space before dinner and some snuggling after dinner. It could also be space limited: the dog stays outside.
    Even if we have polar preferences, often the options we have are not so polar. Beach resorts have casinos and theater, shopping, museums and parks, pubs and cafes. You could go to the a beach resort, have a great time, and never go on the sand. The same thing is true of ski resorts. You don’t ever have to go near the slopes.
    Finally, if there is something that one has to have and the other can’t stand, do it seperately for a short time and then do something more significant together.

  4. I enjoyed reading the post thank you! I was single for a long time before I met my now husband. I was used to making my own decisions and didn’t have to consider anyone else. He on the other hand had been married before and understood the decision making process between two people. When we got married We agreed to talk about all big decisions and come to a final decision. if we struggled to agree, we just cone to a reasonable compromise. If it’s a small decision that may affect one another we run it by each other (this is always the dinner conversation Lol)! There has been times we agree to disagree about something and it’s ok because we have different views or opinions about a subject. Thankfully my husband is easy going because he hates sleeping with the tv on and I love sleeping with the tv on. It took about 3yrs but I finally will set the timer so the tv go off at night!

  5. My husband wants to live in a state where I have no friends, no work prospects, family or other community ties. He is dead set on moving and , in fact, Is living & working there now. While I live and work in a completely different state.

    I feel we are at opposite ends of the spectrum and he never attempts to see my perspective.
    The only option I see is divorce.
    Our therapist has been very patient with us but I’m feeling hopeless.

    So much water under our bridge I think our connection has “snapped”.
    Decisions to leave are the hardest!

  6. A good blog! The assumption in this blog is that there are two well-meaning people trying to accomplish something together, such as making a decision. It requires both love and humility of each individual. It is so much more difficult to make decisions together when one or both people have hearts that are bitter, resentful or full of pride and self-centeredness. Then, they only want their way because they believe they are right. In these situations, counseling is recommended.

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