Decision-making can be challenging for anyone, but when a couple needs to make a collective decision, the challenge becomes greater, psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow says. The key is to recognize that the decision-making process is the same regardless of the type of decision, Dr. Klapow says. “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,” he says. “If you approach each decision with the same game plan, then over time, you will become experts at decision-making.”
Dr. Klapow shares his five “smart” (set, monitor, arrange, recruit and treat) steps to collective decision-making.
Set a Specific Goal
Make sure you are very specific about what you want, Dr. Klapow says. For example, a goal of saving money is not specific enough; however, saying that you want to save an extra $100 per month by automatic deduction from your paychecks to pay off your credit card is specific. “The more specific you are, the better,” he says.
Monitor Your Discussion
As you are discussing the decision at hand, make sure you are staying on track, Dr. Klapow says. “Very often couples will start discussing a goal and stray to some other topic, which can lead to frustration,” he says. “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 of time or preoccupied 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,” Dr. Klapow says. If not, take a break from the discussion because it likely won’t be productive.
Recruit Support from One Another
A collective decision means that sometimes there will be a compromise, Dr. Klapow says. If you are going into the discussion to win, then you are not making a collective decision—you are fighting a battle, he says. “Remind each other that you are a team and that you are in it to win collectively, not necessarily individually,” he says.
Because decision-making can be one of the toughest challenges a couple faces, 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,” Dr. Klapow says.