How good are the two of you at handling relationship transitions? Are you deciding or sliding into essential relationship decisions?
Sooner or later, there comes a time in every intimate relationship when you both face the task of making a significant decision together.
These could be decisions about the degree of relationship commitment, or perhaps a decision together which requires a substantial financial, lifestyle, or emotional investment.
The degree of skill you have in handling major relationship transitions will not only impact the outcome of those decisions, but it will also either enhance or degrade your capacity for a deep and lasting intimate connection.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of decisions where deciding is better than sliding:
There are several reasons why spouses might individually slide instead of collaboratively decide into relationship transitions.
Some sliding spouses are conflict avoidant. They just want their partners to be happy.
They will “go along to get along.” Sometimes, passive-aggressive tendencies result in a spouse seeming to comply, but them bitterly complaining after the fact. “You always get what you want anyway…what good would it do for me to resist you? I never have any say in this marriage!”
The problem in sliding is that you are not fully showing up.
Most relationship transitions which impact a committed couple require both of you to express your feelings, discuss your values, and share your concerns and aspirations. This is intimacy 101.
Conflict is baked in the cake. You are two distinct individuals with your own thoughts and feelings. For a relationship transition to be successful, mutual respect, safety, and collaboration are required.
If your relationship is new, decision-making is the process by which emotional muscle is built.
Don’t collapse into compliance if it doesn’t feel right for you.
Your gut feelings are a valuable sign that a deeper, more generative conversation may be needed so that both of your complex, perhaps contradictory feelings, can be safely explored.
Don’t push your agenda, force an agreement, or dismiss any of your partner’s ideas out of hand either.
Deciding instead of sliding on essential relationship transitions is the bedrock of relational health.
Relationships are easy when you readily agree. It’s at times when you both want different things that your intimate bond is stress-tested, and intimacy will deepen.
Here are some indications that your relationship transition decision-making skills may need an upgrade:
If any of these issues describe how you slide or decide, your decision-making skills as a couple may require an upgrade.
1. Have a Generative Conversation and Take Notes
Generative conversations are a powerful tool to help you both build intimacy and collaborate successfully on significant relationship transitions. One of you is the speaker, and the other asks good questions, listens, takes notes, and summarizes to the satisfaction of the speaking partner.
Once the speaker feels understood you reverse roles. Allow each other to explore the decision safely. Don’t interrupt or editorialize. Listen for understanding. You might learn something powerful and meaningful.
2. Explore All Options…Then Reflect…and Explore Some More
While it’s obvious that you bost must evaluate all the pros and cons of any significant relationship decision, it’s also helpful to reflect on what you’ve learned and plan follow-up conversations. In other words, don’t rush this process.
Take time to have an honest discussion about all the possible complications and implications of this relationship transition. Respect your partner’s anxiety and concerns. Let them play the “Devil’s Advocate.” Discussing potential difficulties is not necessarily the ‘doom and gloom’ stance of a naysayer.
It might be wise to curb your enthusiasm and acknowledge that problems and issues may arise with this relationship transition. When you both anticipate possible problems in advance, you’re more likely to be able to deal with them if they come up effectively.
3. Be Patient… Take Time to Listen and Reflect
Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Keep workshopping the decision in follow up conversations. Be respectful and courteous to one another. Some couples have fun reversing their stances, arguing for or against the decision from their partner’s point of view.
If doubts persist, take time to sit with the decision and continue to explore and discuss the critical issues surrounding the potential relationship transition with your partner.
It’s hard to do this in our instant gratification culture, but a lot of good things can come by being patient and biding your time. Situations can change, new ideas might emerge, and sometimes, through the process of having a series of generative conversations, your thoughts feelings may shift over time.
Ultimately, as a committed couple, when it comes to making major relationship transitions, you both have to feel that the decision is in your mutual best interest.
If you’re always the one who makes unilateral decisions in your relationship, you may ultimately lose in the end.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.