Tag Archives: Decision making

How To Negotiate The Small Stuff in Marriage

Sure, you can toss a coin, or play “Rock-Paper-Scissors,” or pick-a-card-from-the-deck-&-closest-to-Ace decides.

And maybe there are times in a marriage or long relationship where making a decision about something small using these playful things is fun, and makes sense.

But over the long haul, each of the zillion tiny decisions you make together, day in and day out over the years, is doing one of two things: bringing you and your partner closer together or pushing you farther apart.

You get closer together to the extent you learn something about yourself or your partner that you did not know before, and you share this, and you find the process of deciding things is respectful, informative, even exciting.

You grow farther apart to the extent you stay small, dig yourself into a rut, confirm a negative stereotype about yourself or your partner, and find yourself being bruised by a one-sided decision-making process.

Is there a better way?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.30.33 PMAndy and April want to go out to the movies together.

She’s keen to see Train Wreck, and he’s excited about Mission Impossible.

How will they decide?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.33.46 PM

Brian and Belle fancy eating out together.

She’s been craving Thai. He’s more wanting a burger.

How will they decide?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.39.06 PMCarol and Cindy are redecorating their living room. Carol thinks a high-color accent wall would be fun.

Cindy’s into calming ivory tones on the neutral spectrum.

How will they decide?

Couples face small-stuff decisions like this day in and day out for decades.

I mean – I’m just getting started here, right!

  • Is turning left or right the fastest route to where we’re heading?
  • The chicken or the fish?
  • Lights on or off?
  • The jazz or the classical music over dinner?
  • Walk the pup now or after doing the dishes?

Back in singles-ville you probably didn’t even notice you were making 1001 small decisions every day because no one brought you a counter point.

You knew what movie, meal, or room color you wanted and got on with it.

You knew how to get where you were going, what airplane meal to “enjoy”, what lighting and music and dog-walking preferences you had, and you got on with them.

Ah – bliss!

Here are three simple strategies (and attendant questions) for resolving these decisions in your relationship before they become deal-breakers.

Strategy 1 ~ Eyes on the prize!

Remember – we’re talking small stuff here.

In the big scheme of things, what matters most is the relationship. Keeping your eyes on the prize of a loving, happy, mutually giving and receiving relationship, ask yourself this question:

Question 1 ~

Can I freely, joyfully and lovingly accept my partner’s influence here and go with his or her choice with absolutely NO resentment? Would it give me pleasure to meet my partner’s needs in this way?

If the answer is an unconditional YES, choose that.

If the answer is more nuanced, not to worry. I get that. Here are some of the reasons these “small stuff” issues begin to look bigger.  See if any of these thoughts came to your mind as you considered question #1 above:

  • I always give in
  • It’s his / her turn to go with my preference
  • This really matters to me
  • I actively dislike my partner’s preference
  • I enjoy getting clear about how important our preferences are to one another, I don’t want to cave in just yet.

OK – proceed to ~

Strategy 2 ~ Get Curious

Being in a relationship is a great way to learn more about what matters to you, and why.  And of course, what matters to your partner, and why. It’s also a great way to clarify your values and to notice which values are most important.

Question 2 ~

Ask yourself how strongly you really feel about the options before you and then grade your preference with an A, B or C with the following criteria.

A = “Must have”. In truth there are very few “A”s and the ones we rank as A tend to have to do with core values, Bucket-List type things and one-off opportunities.

It might be you are in a city well known for it’s fabulous Thai restaurant so your desire to eat Thai food that night, whilst you are in this city with this particular opportunity, might be an A for you.

Or maybe you’ve longed to have a soft, gentle neutral living space with high ceilings and just the right touch of light, and your new homes needs to be painted so it feels so much like “now is the time” so you decide to make your desire an A.

Know that you can’t make every desire an A – it’s not fair!

Know that you need to be able to make an exquisitely compelling case to your partner for why your choice is an A to you.

B = “Strong preference.” So, it’s not an A but you really have been excited about Mission Impossible and – if you remember correctly – you went to a chick-flick last week and need an action-movie-fix.  So, it’s not a core value, or Bucket List thing, but if the decision was yours to make, it would be Mission Impossible over Train Wreck for sure.

C = “No Real Preference. As you think about the choices in front of you and really check in with yourself, you find you are genuinely open to all of them. Or maybe you are just too tired to form an opinion.

This evaluation often takes very little time and you will get better with practice.

Once you know what is true for you, go to ~

Strategy 3 ~ Negotiate using Your A, B, Cs.

Question 3 ~ Invite a mutual sharing of which letter grade you and your partner have given to your stated preferences.

An A will trump a B or C.

A B will trump a C.

Two A’s will cause each of you to have a conversation about core values which becomes an interesting game-changer.

Maybe you will both realize that these A preferences are so important you need to find a way to allow both people to achieve their A choice together – doing things sequentially for example.

Maybe one of you comes to recognize, as you listen to your partner’s rationale for why something is an A for them, that in comparison yours is really a B+. You can back down.

Two B’s will invite a conversation too of course, wherein you each get to be clear and specific as to what you each want, and why.

As you do this, remember Strategies #1 and #2: keep your eyes on the prize of your relationship prevailing over the long haul, and remain curious about one another.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That’s it!

Mark and I came up with this idea somewhere along the years and have been using it successfully for those 101 daily decisions that end up in the “small stuff” category.

Oh – hang on, we’ve got a BIG decision to negotiate. Think I’d rather go off and toss that coin . . .


How To Negotiate The BIG Stuff in Marriage


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

An Easy A B C . . .

. . . for prioritizing needs and wants

  • Are we renting Argo or Silver Linings Playbook?
  • Do I help Mandy with math or Ben with Biology first – both need me right now?
  • Shall we go with Sage or Aqua blue for the bedroom walls?
  • Shall we eat out or stay home?
  • Are we hiking or biking this weekend?

HELP! Is there a way to make decision-making both more informed and faster to effect?

Decisions large and small come up for couples and families all the time and often prove fertile ground for a good bicker or an outright fight.

Here’s what we came up with in our family. Essentially, each person involved in making the decision gets to assign a level of urgency, or a priority rating, to his or her option.

We call it simply “The ABCs.”

A = This really matters to me. I care about this choice and not getting this will be hard for me. I feel strongly about this.

B = This matters. I’d prefer this option. But if someone else has an A, I’m OK with some negotiation.

C = I’m neutral. If we’re all pretty neutral maybe I’d lean this way – but it’s all good.

Then of course, there’s the fine-tuning.

A+++ = Say no more!

A- = I feel strongly, between a B+ and A: it’s important, but I can hear all options.

B+ = It’s up there – not quite an A

And so forth.

At first this seems either “duh!” obvious, or plain silly since of course everyone will claim their choice is an A to them. But, let me explain the subtle rules and show you what tends to happen in practice.

Three key rules-of-the-game if this is to work

  • “A” needs to be your least-used priority rating.
  • Be honest with yourself, and wise in how you assign your priorities
  • When someone calls an “A”, do your utmost to honour it.

This system works when you all recognize that for the most part, without this system, everything is an A. You want what you want now – regardless of the consequences it might have for your relationships or other peoples’ choices. Essentially, you’ve always seen the A, but not discerned the B and C priority levels.

This method introduces the ideas that ~

  1. That there are grades of needs and wants;
  2. Decisions with others involve a fuller picture, a larger context
  3. In that larger context, there is a simple way to calibrate the groups’ needs
  4. Most likely, your level of priority is between B+ and C-, so chill a little
  5. Each time you process these priority levels you have a chance to build relationship by listening to each person and honoring the As.

Try it out for yourselves. Talk through how you want to describe the A, B & C options. Agree an A has to be limited and very important. I think you’ll find, as we did, that people are keen to be honest, and to only call an A when they really really need it. My hunch is this will build more self-awareness, other-awareness, restraint, anticipation and a few good doses of fun.