Decision Making in a Relationship

When making decisions as a couple, there are certain aspects you should take into account if you want to guarantee the success of your relationship and avoid conflict. Let's take a closer look.
Decision Making in a Relationship

Last update: 31 March, 2022

In all relationships, there are times when decisions have to be made. Some may be more important than others, yet they all generate situations in which negotiation is required. In fact, although you probably get along very well with your partner, as a rule, it’s normal that you don’t agree on everything. Therefore, there are often differences between you when making decisions. In addition, decision-making in your relationship involves more than simply positioning yourself as for or against something. It’s actually a test of the solidity and harmony of your union.

In this article, we’ll try to identify the variables that influence decision-making in a relationship and the problems that can arise. We’ll focus on the most important and frequent decisions in which conflict may occur.

  • If there’s a relationship crisis or when you’ve been together for some time and your feelings aren’t the same, doubts may arise about whether to stay together or separate.
  • Whether to live together.
  • Spending time with each other’s family. For example, a weekend at your in-laws’ house, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.
  • Getting married.
  • Having children.
  • Your children’s education.
  • A change in jobs, a long-distance relationship, or a house move.
  • Infidelity or a disagreement regarding other elements of your relationship. For instance, whether to have an open relationship or take up polyamory.
  • The time for yourselves that you have.
Couple turning their backs in bed

The influences on decision-making in a relationship

Within a relationship, decision-making will be influenced by the following factors:

Confidence in yourself

The image you have of yourself and the feeling that your opinion is valid both play an important role in the decision-making processes in your relationship. For example, if you’re a self-confident person, you’ll have enough support to defend what you believe in and influence the final decision.

Indeed, if you’re self-confident, you’ll play an active role in the decisions that you make as a couple. However, if you’re insecure, you’ll find yourself in the shadow of your partner and whatever they say or decide.

Likewise, self-confidence helps you not to keep quiet for fear of rejection. Consequently, when dealing with sensitive issues as a couple, rising above your fears is key to you having a say in the decisions that are made.

On the other hand, if you’re insecure, you’ll sacrifice your ability to influence in favor of looking good. That’s because you’ll tend to say what others want to hear or what avoids conflict.

The position of your partner

When you have to make a decision as a couple, one key aspect is the role that your partner plays in your future plans. In fact, your decision-making process as a couple is based more on the future than on the present.

The potential you see in your partner plays a really important role. For example, whether you see yourselves as living together, getting married, and having children. As a matter of fact, decision-making in a relationship is based more on the expectations in your mind than on your current shared reality together.

In his theory of love, Robert Sternberg proposed that three components are necessary for there to be a complete and mature love. One of these components is commitment. Nevertheless, it doesn’t refer to commitment at the legal, fidelity, or relationship level, but to the commitment to the future of the relationship.

Therefore, for decision-making to be a successful process, there must be a commitment. You must work as a team to achieve your common goals.

Decision-making in your relationship is based more on the expectations in your mind than on your current reality with your partner. 

couple holding hands

Your communication skills and your partner’s ability to understand you

Good communication skills are essential in order to share your fears, doubts, hopes, and desires. Therefore, verbalizing everything that comes to your mind and that contributes something to the pre-decision reflective process will have constructive potential.

You don’t have to say everything you think, but you do have to think and feel everything you say. Otherwise, you’ll give way to an ambivalent and unclear communication in which there’ll be far too much room for interpretation. Without a doubt, this would be dangerous for your life together as a couple.

Furthermore, your partner must be able to understand what you want to convey to them. This means that, as well as understanding what you say, they must know why it’s important to you. In this sense, non-verbal communication also plays an important role.

It’s impossible not to communicate, and in the context of decision-making in a relationship, it’s necessary that what you say is consistent with the rest of the elements that you express. That’s because any inconsistencies can generate misunderstandings. For instance, being happy to plan a wedding yet, deep down, continuing to think that marriage only leads to failure.

It’s impossible not to communicate, and, when making decisions in a relationship, you must ensure that what you say is consistent with what you exhibit.

Recommendations for decision making in a relationship

It’s important that the following aspects are taken into account in any decision-making process in a relationship:

  • Take the time you need to decide. Although there are no specific measures for each and every situation, it’s important that you both avoid making hasty decisions. Especially when it comes to vital issues.
  • Keep in mind that you’re both different people and may have different perspectives. In fact, you don’t have to agree on everything. The most important thing is that you know how to recognize this reality and reach agreements that benefit you both.
  • Avoid assuming what your partner believes or thinks. Never take each other’s opinions for granted or make decisions without discussing them. The fact that you know someone well doesn’t mean that you’ll know exactly what they’re going to want at any given moment. It’s always better to consult them and decide together.
  • Be respectful. Avoid criticizing and judging them. Just because they think differently doesn’t give you the right to devalue their perspective.
  • Assess the entire situation before making a decision. This implies considering all possible outcomes, learning about the subject, consulting experts, etc.
  • Don’t get carried away by false expectations. Bear in mind that some decisions will be easier to make than others. The fact that one decision was easy to make doesn’t mean it’ll always be the case. Inevitably, some decisions will be more difficult than others. This is perfectly normal.
  • The level of commitment in both of you must be even. Because if one takes the process more seriously than the other, future conflict will be possible. If something is important to your partner, ideally, you should always give it the relevance it deserves.

A shared process

Finally, decision-making in a relationship has to be a process that’s shared by those who are making it. In this regard, research has been conducted by  Kamp Dush and Taylor (2010) at Ohio University (USA). They suggested that shared decision-making is a predictor of longer and more satisfying relationships.

Finally, it’s also important to make an effort to limit the external influences that may enter into your decision-making as a couple. Therefore, you must prioritize what you and your partner feel, leaving the motivation of making others happy in second place.

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  • Kamp Dush, C. M. y Taylor, M. G. (2011).Trajectories of Marital Conflict Across the Life Course. Predictors and Interactions With Marital Happiness Trajectories. Journals of Family Issues, 33: 3. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X11409684

  • Queen, T. R., Berg,  C. A., & Lowrance, W. (2015). A Framework for Decision Making in Couples across Adulthood. En Thomas M. Hess, JoNell Strough, Corinna E. Löckenhoff, (Eds.) Aging and Decision Making. Academic Press.

  • Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Triangulating love. En Oord, T. J. The altruism reader: Selections from writings on love, religon and science. West conshohocken, PA: Templeton fundation.