As a Christian marriage and family therapist, I have the privilege of seeing the “ins and outs” and the “behind the scenes” of how things happen in many marriages. What is interesting is that for all the diversity in the demographics of the couples that I help with in my office, some key patterns exist in nearly all relationships universally. One of those commonalities all couples share is the way in which decisions are made.
While there are many different aspects of how decisions are made in marriage, in this blog post, I hope to help clarify an important distinction in regards to the degree of involvement both spouses have in actually making the decision. The three types of decision making I now present are:
When spouses use the “informing” style of decision making, one spouse is likely just telling the other what they are planning to do and basically just giving the other a heads up. Some of the real examples of the “informing style” I have heard in my office are, “honey, I’m going to be a few hours late tomorrow because I’m going golfing after work” or “I invited my parents over for the holidays, consider yourself warned!”. Now there is a lot of value in the “informing style”, especially when you consider the type of direct, hopefully loving, assertiveness it takes to inform another person about what, why, how, when, and/or where something is going to take place. However, I have learned that if a couple only “informs” each other about the different things in their life, they usually become more or less like roommates who often are like two ships passing in the night, not really coordinated towards a common goal or direction.
The second style I often see with couples is the “conferring style”. When spouses confer with each other, they typically take an additional step to the “informers” and ask their spouse follow up questions like, “what are your thoughts about my idea?” or “how do we want to work together on this?”. Just like in a conference meeting, the “conferring style” of decision making requires two individuals who are willing to provide and receive information in a collaborative way that will help them to arrive at a decision that is somewhat mutually beneficial.
Now, the third style of decision making is what I consider the “deferring style”. I can always tell when either or both spouses are using the defer method because either one spouse will passively concede and give in to whatever their spouse just suggested (or informed them about), or neither spouse is capable of making a decision because both are stuck in an endless game of deferring which ends up sounding like: “what do you want to do this weekend?...I don’t know, what do you want to do?...I don’t know…” and so on and so on. Again, there is a great value in being loving, considerate and kind enough to defer to your spouse on both big and little decisions in marriage. However, as you can imagine, if a spouse were to only defer, either it sets up one spouse to be the only one in charge or else it is very unlikely that anything gets decided upon and often leads to life just happening to them rather than the couple leading with conviction and unity (see a future blog post about “deciding versus sliding” in your marriage).
As you read this, there is a high likelihood that you can relate to one, two or all three of these styles….I know I sure can. The good news is that in a healthy marriage, we truly need to develop the ability and wisdom of knowing how and when to use all three. Thankfully, we are called to marriage not just for enjoyment or convenience, but rather to be “trained in righteousness” (see Hebrews 12:11) by a God that both began the Bible with marriage and ends the Bible with a marriage.