Decision-making in relationships can be tough. Often, the individuals in a partnership end up coming out of any deliberation thinking they’ve given up more than their partner. There’s a feeling of someone winning and someone losing instead of a shared resolution. This is because of the competition that’s present in the vast majority of relationships. 

I’ve been on a mission for quite some time to get people thinking of their relationship as a shared resource – a shared battery and, when you’re draining or competing with your partner, you’re draining or competing with yourself (and everyone loses)! 

Decision-making in a couple often boils down to arguments that devolve into one person acquiescing or both sides thinking they’re “meeting in the middle.” In the end, no one is really happy with a compromise. 

If you believe in this new paradigm that you’re both on the same team and that everything is a “we” problem (that there are no “you” or “me” problems), you start thinking differently about how to come to shared agreements about things. 

As many of you know, I take a lot of my best tips from the business world. Successful businesses have to run on some sort of consensus decision-making in their processes if they’re going to grow and be competitive. 

Couples need to adopt this same philosophy. When you look up consensus in the dictionary, you find words like harmony, solidarity and unity in the definition. It means accordance in opinion or feeling. This is important because, even if you can’t get behind the opinion or thinking of your partner, I want you to get behind their feelings. The word consensus comes from the Latin word consentio which literally means, to feel together. 

Too often couples focus on the “facts” and don’t talk about the feelings involved. A love relationship needs to be, first and foremost, about feelings. 

In a business, consensus decision-making is a process where two or more people create and agree to support a decision because it’s in the best interest of the team, group or company. It’s a common goal they all back. Even if the outcome isn’t each individual’s favorite result, they get on board in the end. 

There are a few important components that are part of consensus decision-making: 

  1. It’s fair: everyone has equal input into the process (but not equal input into the final decision and this is key)
  2. It’s collaborative: each person’s input is actively solicited and valued
  3. It’s cooperative: it’s not about competing for individual preferences; it’s taken on with an intention of working together and uniting. 

Starting from this point of fairness, collaboration and cooperation, you can see how any decision-making is going to be better than the usual “I win, you lose” mentality we have in our romantic relationships. 

Taking these concepts from the business world to your couples’ world is relatively easy when you follow my Five Step Process for Getting to Consensus in Your Relationship. When you find yourself in any kind of argument, disagreement, stand off or gridlock with your partner, use this formula to get yourselves connecting.

Step One: Set an Intention to be Curious

You’ve got to start with setting a conscious intention/goal of being curious. Get out of thinking you’re right and, instead, truly wonder what your partner is thinking and what’s driving their thoughts and actions. You want to listen as if you’re wrong! This comes down to asking yourself, “Do I want to be correct, or effective?” Correct is you’re right and you get to bulldoze through and get your agenda passed. Effective is having a connected, loving partnership. You need to choose. 

Step Two: Ask Questions Instead of Making Statements

I’ve said this one often, you can’t SAC your relationship. Don’t make Suggestions, offer Advice or Criticize in this (or any) conversation with your partner. Instead, you’re going to be curious and ask collaborative questions with the intention of having a better understanding of what your partner wants and needs. What’s driving their thinking? What’s underneath what they’re saying they want? Try to stay away from “Why?” questions which tend to put people on the defensive. You might start with questions like:

  • Can you tell me more about X?
  • Can you say more about why you feel so strongly about Y?
  • What do you mean by X? Can you give me another example? 
  • What’s something I haven’t asked that would help move this conversation forward?

A great hack is to always look for a third or fourth choice or option. What else could you both be thinking right now instead of each “side?”

Step Three: Use I Feel Statements

Sometimes you need to make a statement because there’s something negative going on “underneath” what you’re talking about. Speak from a feeling place, not a factual place, when you’re stuck. There’s an “I Feel Formula” you can use:

  • I feel X (put a real feeling in here, not a thought – mad, glad, overwhelmed, frustrated, sad)
  • When you Y (be as succinct as possible here – “when you interrupt me when I’m speaking”)
  • And I need Z (say what you need succinctly too – “and I need you to slow down and listen”)

Step Four: Communicate Relentlessly

Don’t stop communicating. Keep going until there’s some sort of better understanding between the two of you. If this was happening at work, you wouldn’t just throw up your hands and say, “Oh well.” Keep driving towards understanding and a shared solution.

Step Five: One Person Makes the Final Decision 

Pick one person in the couple who will be making the final decision. In the end, when everything has been listened to, argued, thought out and responded to, it’s that one person’s ruling to make the final decision. Then, you both commit to getting 100% behind the final outcome. This means no passive aggressive BS, no “I told you so” if it doesn’t work out. As a team, you’ve got a final decision that you both get behind.  

This process will have you creating better ideas and solutions as a couple which will not only mean you’ll be making improved decisions, but you’ll also bond and connect (which is really what we all want at the end of the day)!