Group Decision Processes for Relationship and Family Planning
October 17, 2011 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Group Decision Processes for Relationship and Family Planning-Filter: How do you discuss and organize all the variables that go into making important life decisions with your partner?

My partner and I are at various crossroads in our lives, with decisions regarding where we will live, what work and schooling to pursue, and family planning issues all in play. No one ideal solution has presented itself, and so we need to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each choice with respect to our goals.

I'm used to collecting information and then making snap decisions. But with another person involved, I think we need some guidance, so we're looking for guides and processes for making complex decisions, particularly when two people's preferences must be considered.

I'm not looking for specific advice with regards to our situation, but if it adds more spice to the sauce, the big issues revolve around this being a long-distance relationship that we're looking to make a short-distance relationship. Ability and desire to work in the other person's current locale are an issue, as well as how our decisions will impact family planning.
posted by pollex to Human Relations (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You both have a veto. That's all you need to know.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:44 PM on October 17, 2011

Best answer: In situations like this, I think about the relationship having not two but three partners: me, you, and The Relationship. I give The Relationship an equal vote. While what's best for me may not always be the same thing that's best for you, one or the other is very often clearly and objectively what's better for the relationship as a whole.

The only vetoes in my house are safety vetoes, fwiw.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:55 PM on October 17, 2011 [19 favorites]

It's hard to consider the hypothetical, but since you do plan to start a family, your future children should also be a part of the decision making. Given they aren't even born yet, about the best you can do is make sure that, wherever your family lands, the school system is the best you can get. Check out for ratings by state, based on in-state test score comparisons. There is also anecdotal info on there from parents and students occasionally. If, for instance, you're deciding whether to live in Iowa or Mississippi, hands down you should live in Iowa because the education system there is leaps and bounds better than MS.
posted by wwartorff at 3:06 PM on October 17, 2011

In situations like this, I think about the relationship having not two but three partners: me, you, and The Relationship.

I do this, too. In fact, also do this with relationships that aren't romantic as well, because all relationships have their own dynamic. But it's definitely used most in romantic relationships.
posted by sweetkid at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would say the process is: don't make sacrifices for relationships when you're young (under 30). Under 30, there's no you-me-and-relationship, there's just you and your responsibility is to yourself and your own future. Make your own decisions, own them, understand and accept the risk that comes with them, and don't rely on any (esp. unmarried) partner to hold up their end of the bargain should you make a sacrifice after all. If you're not hamstringing yourself, then who cares? Life is never going to go how you think it's going to go, plans fail, values evolve, what was sooo important a few years ago reveals itself as the canard it always was. So just pull a trigger, take a risk, the counterfactual will never be revealed. If you're over 30, then you realize that rational decision making and rubrics and processes aren't really all that useful because you end up with the results of intelligent choices that aren't at all what you actually wanted and you just kindof do what you're gonna do.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 5:07 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

The best and most general advice I can give is this: First, decide by yourself what you want your life to look like. Where do you live? What kind of living situation Where do you work? What is your daily routine like? What do you do for fun? Be completely unrestrained by reality and as vague or as specific as you like (for example, both "a small town" and "1456 W 57th St in NYC" are valid answers for "Where do you live?"). Now have your partner do the same. Next, bring your answers together and see where you have commonalities and where you have differences. ("OK, you said you want to live in the Pacific Northwest, and I said a college town, so maybe Eugene or Corvallis.") If you have vast differences, don't worry about solving them now, just acknowledge them. Next, bring the real world into the equation. You may want to live in luxury in Paris but work 20 hours a week in a coffee shop. You will need to figure out some compromises and negotiate around some dealbreakers at this point. The important thing is, now that you know what you want your life (and lives) to look like, you can make your choices in life with that goal in mind. You have a destination that you can keep in sight as your lives fluctuate and change around you in the million unpredictable ways that life will.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:11 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In situations like this, I think about the relationship having not two but three partners: me, you, and The Relationship.

I really like this formulation. It's basically what we do, but I hadn't thought of it in quite those terms. What I'd add, though, is that The Relationship isn't always an equal partner -- sometimes it has precedence, and sometimes it is clearly less important.

How do you discuss and organize all the variables that go into making important life decisions with your partner?

We try and talk about it as honestly as possible. I think a very natural thing to do is to edit what you say to fit what you think the other person is thinking. Whereas, there's a lot of power in communicating more directly. If you both admit your fears and desires, you may find that more is possible than you thought, or at least you both better understand what works and doesn't for the other.

And back to DarlingBri's description of the three partners involved, we always ask each other directly "How does this work for us?" That can be an incredibly clarifying question, and usually points the way to a good resolution in a way that staying only with your own desires doesn't.
posted by Forktine at 6:18 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

The reason I say everyone has a veto is because you cannot make another person agree with you in a personal relationship. Compromise is a must. Often you see a more glib and driven partner tend to drive the process only to be surprised at the end when the less articulate partner, less able to counter the "logic" of the other partner, decides not to agree.

Everyone has a veto. I'm usually the more glib and its taken me a long time to learn to listen to what the other person isn't good at articulating.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:55 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We picked up an idea somewhere (probably MeFi) about telling each other our "100%" instead of what we "want." So instead of me saying "I want X" and him saying "I want Y," which sounds kind of demand-y and hard to compromise from, we each say "My 100% would be..." and describe our personal best-case scenario, even if we know it's unreasonable or unfair or whatever. It lets us communicate honestly and openly about what we each really want, instead of us each trying to guess what the other one wants. Otherwise we're prone to suggesting compromises that we think will meet the other person's desires, when we don't actually understand what their desires are.
posted by vytae at 6:58 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Darling Bri says The only vetoes in my house are safety vetoes

Can someone explain this to me?
posted by pandabearjohnson at 7:09 PM on October 17, 2011

Pretty sure Darling Bri is referring to a safeword. :)
posted by Space Kitty at 10:23 PM on October 17, 2011

Since you have multiple related decisions, try to see how far you can break them up into independent choices - if you can make a decision about moving in together without having to make it dependent on having kids, where to work etc then you won't have so much pressure to make exactly the right call on everything at once.

I'm not sure what the dependencies are in your case of course, but you may well be able to make this easier by taking a series of one-thing-at-a-time decisions over the next year or two. That also allows you both some space if you need to come around to your partners view on something (or vice versa). I've had several discussions with my wife where neither of us would move on something at the time we talked, but 3 months later it didn't seem like a big deal. Often in fact, we'd forget the whole discussion until one of us came back with precisely the position we were previously arguing against. The point is: just taking time over these things lets people come to terms with a change that they might resist strongly if its pushed onto them.
posted by crocomancer at 4:27 AM on October 18, 2011

I was also coming in here to mention the idea of the 100%, which comes from this comment from not that girl.
posted by cider at 6:00 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Be honest with each other about why you don't "like" your partner's preferences: what you are afraid of, what doesn't jive with your ethics, what the underlying concerns are. Then talk about them and try to identify what would resolve those concerns.

Remember that there is likely more than one viable option.

Make the big decisions first.

Love each other.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:08 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only vetoes in my house are safety vetoes.

OK sorry, to explain that:

My husband wants to move to move back to London. I do not want to move back to London. I am however not "vetoing" moving to London; certainly, I am not moving but he can do whatever he likes. If it is crucial to him relocate, then by all means he should do that and we will find a way to make it work. Now obviously, when we look at how to make that happen, it may well turn out that it isn't financially possible for us to maintain a London household, but that is not the same as me saying No. (And in fact, I said and mean yes.)

However, having been hit both a truck and bus on a bicycle, I am no longer allowed to own or ride one. This was a condition of matrimony; bicycles have been safety vetoed. Similarly, nobody in my house will ever own a motorcycle.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:10 PM on October 18, 2011

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