As the country takes a close look at the presidential hopefuls stepping up in Iowa and soon in many other states, they are offered some important take-home messages.
For most couples issues related to jobs, residence, children, socializing, religion, sex, money and more, demand decisions but often invite dissent. If you want a clear example of the type of behaviors to avoid when coping with day to day stress, unexpected challenges, external stress and the competing needs of family members, you have only to take a look at the presidential campaigns.
Recognizing that the candidates are, of course, contenders and putting aside the specifics of their platforms or the campaign engines that drive their rhetoric, they nonetheless offer a glimpse of the type of the exclusionary thinking and reactivity that erodes collaboration, jeopardizes problem solving and risks relationship success. Sometimes there are lessons to be learned from unexpected places.
Consider avoiding the following as you and your partner build the platform for your life together.
- Coming from an “all knowing position.” “ You know nothing about cars and have no experience buying them, I will choose.”
- Blaming the partner for things outside of their control. “ Why would I want to go on another family vacation when the kids always get sick?”
- Assuming the worst about your partner. “ I really want to socialize with the people from work but I know you will be uncomfortable.”
- Looking only at what the partner has done wrong with respect to an issue. “ When it comes to money, you are the last person who should have anything to say. You used to have a bad credit rating.”
- Negativity about the other in public. “ He has no idea of the kids’ schedules or what they need on a day to day basis.”
- Coming into the problem solving with a solution. “ So I have it all figured out – we will buy a two family house with my parents.”
- Refusing to see problem solving or decision making as a building process. “That won’t work, forget it.”
- Seeing each other as one-dimensional. “ You are a city person. Why would you consider living in the country?”
- Deflecting and blaming rather than taking responsibility for actions. “Whether or not I told you I had the week off doesn’t matter; you never want to plan anything interesting for us”.
- Involving outsiders in your personal problems and decisions. “ The whole family thinks that you are really interfering with the sale of the house by not making the improvements.”
- Seeing no common ground. “We will never agree on a plan for retirement.”
- Forgetting that the stability and enhancement of your relationship is the priority. “ I know you would be happier in the new job, but I want to stay with my friends and family.”
Problem solving and decision making is not easy. If partners consider each other as teammates, rather than contenders, they can harness the best of both and learn from the mistakes of the past.
Effective Couple Decision Making and Problem Solving Strategies:
Clearly define the problem or decision to be made – maybe in more than one conversation as situations often have aspects that emerge from the mutual discussion.
- Maximize your differences and different perspectives as you share ideas or make suggestions – recognize differences as assets that offer creativity.
- Try not to fall into the trap of lowering anxiety by grabbing a “quick fix” or settling for the first solution that one of you makes.
- The best decisions and solutions are fluid – i.e. workable solutions for a set time offer more flexibility given they are not permanent. Sometimes you have to try a possible solution to find a permanent one.
- Realistically defer to the strengths of one or the other for efficiency and “ divide and conquer” strategies.
- Affirmation and positive thinking enhance functioning for each and expand thinking for both.
- Leave the past mistakes or failures behind – build on lessons learned without putting down your partner.
- Decide together who else to include in your planning or consulting – outside support is an asset when it does not exclude or invalidate a partner.
- Consider that both of you are multi-dimensional and capable of change. What we don’t yet know about our partner is often a wonderful surprise.
- Use laughter as a great default position- sometimes it is the only thing that works.
- Think twice about going public with your debates!!
- Prioritize you, your partner and the bond you share.
In A Life Of Dealing With The Planned And The Unexpected, The Problems And The Possibilities—Vote For Each Other