Who has the Power as the Decision Maker in Your Relationship?

What happens when one partner has to make all the decisions? The Sugar Doctor and Kia Handley talk about whether it is okay to delegate decision making, and what to do if you want to change who is the decision maker.

[Full Transcript Below]


You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

[Original recording on ABC website here]

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let's Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

Episode Transcript:

Kia Handley:

Who makes the decisions in your house? Is this a conversation that you hear quite a bit?

"I Dunno, ask your mother."..."I don't mind, you pick"

On the surface. It can seem minor, no big deal. That one person is the decision maker, but can it become a little problematic? That's what relationship coach Tara Whitewood wants to discuss with you this morning.

Good morning!

Tara Whitewood: Good morning, Kia

Is it Common for One Partner to be the Decision Maker?

Kia Handley:

How common is it for maybe one partner to make more decisions than the other in a relationship?

Tara Whitewood: 

It can be super common. It's almost across the board. That for one reason or other, some types of decisions are left to a particular partner, and that can happen for a whole bunch of reasons.

You know, sometimes it's because you don't want to be involved in that area or you're just not interested, but sometimes it's more around the way that people make decisions, and then how that plays out with a couple.

A pair of yellow sneakers with a series of arrows drawn on the ground in front pointing different directions.
Image from Canva.

Do We Naturally Fall into Decision Making Patterns?

Kia Handley :

Do we fall into these patterns quite naturally?

Tara Whitewood: 

Yeah, we all have a natural kind of bent toward making decisions in a certain kind of way. And when it comes to decision-making it's really all about the resources that you have in your relationships. So whether those resources be time or attention,the energy you have, the money you have between you, and then the way that you approach those will will be different according to your natural behavioral style.

So one of the big issues that I just see as a recurring theme is in a relationship when one partner perceives themselves to be the logical decision maker, and they see their partner as being the emotional decision maker. And then they make that mean that they're the better decision maker. And that can be a huge source of conflict.

What are the Pros to Personal Decision Making Styles?

Kia Handley :

All right. We are going to get into the conflict very soon, but are there, are there positives for finding that decision-making pattern that works?

Tara Whitewood: 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, natural behavioral styles are all really valuable and helpful and they're simply... They're lenses that we look at the world through. So the more lenses that we have, the more flexibility that we have to take different perspectives and look at different elements of a decision that needs to be made, the better we're reacting to the world.

[Read more about What Drives Human Behaviour?]

And the more functional we are in lots of different contexts, because what can happen is, you know, you take your particular decision-making style and then you find a career or you find environments where it's really functional and it's the best in that particular environment. But then we generalize that to make that mean that we're good at decision-making everywhere we go.

Kia Handley: [Laughs].

And it's very different. Like sometimes we can be in jobs where our job is to make decisions fast and furious and quickly and not think about it, but at home... We can almost be different people.

Tara Whitewood:

Yeah, you're exactly right. And so that's sort of generalizing across contexts of, you know, in this context I'm seen as being the best and most consistent decision maker. And therefore that means when I go home to my relationship, that should be my role in our relationship. And that's just not the case, that causes serious, serious issues.

A line of red flags against a blue sky.
Image from Canva.

What are the Signs That This is an Issue?

Kia Handley:

All right. So what are the signs that there might be an issue even if you haven't thought about it until this very moment?

Tara Whitewood: 

So some of the signs is really about the, your perception of your partner as a decision maker.

So, you know, perhaps you see your partner as being insensitive and that they don't take your thoughts and your feelings into account. And from the other side, perhaps you see your partner and you think that they're over emotional and they don't make good fact based decisions.

I mean, it's also, the sense in your relationship that you get gridlocked over the bigger decisions that you need to make in your life, like, do we buy this? Do we take this job? Do we go here? You know, the bigger decisions, if you're gridlocked in those, or you find that one of you, tends to sort of have the final word on all of those big decisions. Then that's probably an indicator that you're having problems in this area.

What Does "Decision Maker" Conflict Look Like?

Kia Handley:

How can these create conflict? What might that look like?

Tara Whitewood: 

I mean, it depends how long it's been happening for, Kia, in terms of how it plays out.

But let's fast forward 20 years...

So what it looks like is one partner feels like they've been marginalized and like their opinion doesn't matter. And like, they are not a part of a team.

And the other partner feels like they're being unfairly judged and vilified. And like they're taking care of what's most important and they're not being appreciated for that.

Because it's not an error in logic when those decisions are being made unilaterally. It's more of an error in strategy. And what, what I mean by that is if you're looking only at the problem in isolation and then applying logic to that, yes, the decisions that you've made are really, really good ones they're, you know, the best decision you could possibly have made. But if you zoom out and you take into account, how's this impacting my marriage or my relationship, and how's the future of that look,then perhaps there's some criteria that you're missing... Like your partner's miserable, right?


What are the Myers-Briggs Thinker/Feeler Differences?

Kia Handley:

Some of us do just approach things differently right? Based on our personality styles.

Tara Whitewood: 

Exactly right. So one of the contrasts that I like looking at, or the elements that I like looking at is the Myers Briggs - the thinker /feeler.

So one is said to be more objective logic, that's the thinker, they look at data and evidence and rational thought.

And the other is said to be the subjective feelings based decision-maker, which is more around values and morals, and the impact on people. But you know, I would argue that none of us are objective. I just don't think... We're humans, you know, we're emotion driven humans. So to say that one is more objective than the other just isn't... It's not accurate. It's more to say that it's about the criteria that we're focusing on, not the emotions of how we're approaching things.

On Myers-Briggs and White Supremacy...

Edit, Jan 2021:

Since this show was recorded I have learned [thanks to the work of Sharyn Holmes] that the Myers-Briggs system was codeveloped by a woman named Isabelle Briggs. There is conjecture about her views, and as a novelist she wrote some pretty racist shit. I have been reading and reflecting about the way that systems like this help to perpetuate white supremacy by segregating & classifying people based on this arbitrary system.

It is an area in which I am actively learning and planning. I find behavioural profiling can be reductive and unhelpful at times, and I also draw from e-DISC as well as Myers-Briggs and NLP meta programs to help to describe and explore different approaches to "doing" for my clients. I don't know yet what that will mean for the way that I work with people, but it will mean a change for sure. For now, this blog will remain as I think the content is helpful, and this reference is too.

If you are interested in learning more, you can go ahead and google "Myers Briggs White Supremacy" for yourself and do some reading.

How Do We Change the Decision Maker?

Kia Handley:

So how do we approach this, if this is an issue, if it's been, even if it's at the very start of a relationship and you want to nip it in the bud, if it's at, you know, 20 years on and you want to try to address it. So it feels like there's a little bit less of that imbalance. How do we start approaching it?

Tara Whitewood:

The first part of it is to really align on your vision, on your dreams. And, you know, that's in a business context, what everyone says, start with the why, and start with, you know, what you're moving towards.

And the reason that that's so important is that you need to sort of set the container for why you're making decisions. If you're looking together and you're saying, you know, our dream or our vision is to be financially free or financially independent by the time we retire, then that's going to be a whole different set of strategies to if your vision and your plan for your future is; I really want to feel loved and connected and experience as much as I possibly can in the world.

Can you see? Like, totally different strategies there, which are going to involve totally different criteria or decision-making throughout your life together.

Tara Whitewood: 

It's really hard to drive someone to do things differently, but what you can do is you can sit down with them and create a process of decision-making where you have those conversations. Like, how do you see, where do you see us being, do you want to be, you know, do you want the money path, or do you want the fun path, or do you want to focus on career... And then develop the criteria together.

So your criteria might be, you know, how happy are we about this decision? Do we feel relaxed? Do we feel like we have lots of time together? You could have financial criteria as well. You can have time criteria, fun criteria, whatever it is in your relationship, as long as you both create those criteria, then it's fine for one partner to be the decision maker.

I mean, you know, we can, we can get caught up on trying to get everyone to do everything. And sometimes you just have to accept, you know, that's how it's going to be in your relationship for you. You're going to do that role, but you can bring your partner in.

A closeup of a calendar page with the 6th highlighted and "Date Nite" with a heart written in red.
Image from Canva

How Do We Practice Decision Making?

Kia Handley:

And could it be starting small, like saying, all right, one day a week, you have to work out dinner from start to finish, or you have to pick; If we're having a date night, once a month, you be the decision maker and decide where we're going and I will have no input and I will not complain about it.

And you will learn that, you know, sometimes things go wrong and decisions could have been better, but is it about sometimes starting small when you are in that dynamic where one person does tend to take control whether they want to or not...or it's a mix of both?

Tara Whitewood: 

Yeah, I think so. For sure. Start small because... Well start small and be kind.

Because often what we do is we say, Oh, I want you to, I want you to make more decisions. And then I go and I make a decision and you tell me that it was a bad one. So there's no incentive now for me to do it again, because I tried really hard and I was knocked down pretty fast, you know?

So start in areas where it doesn't really matter that much to you and be willing to let go of the outcome for a while, because it's a skill, like, like a muscle that needs to be developed. And,that's not a matter of just going to the gym for one session and making one decision and then you're good at it. It's a skill that happens over time.

So like you said, pick one day a week where you might sit down and rather than sending your partner off to make a decision alone, work through it together, make it a team activity. You know, there's a decision that we want to make about dinner and, and just make it a bit funny and a bit silly, you know? "I'm trying to decide what, I want to wear next week" And you might have some criteria around that.

And if you make the environment lighter and then you practice making decisions together, and then you've built that muscle. And when you come to the time, when it's a bit more challenging then you already have some, some framework to fall back on.

Kia Handley:

Tara Whitewood there, relationship coach with The Sugar Doctor.


For full transparency you should know: This transcript has been lightly edited to optimise the SEO on my website. That means that I have substituted some words or phrases so that the article is more likely to appear in a google search. In this article "decision maker" has been optimised. I only do that in a context where the meaning will remain the same, for example instead of "...your perception of your partner. " I have said "...your perception of your partner as a decision maker".

This is a decision which I've made because SEO is one of the key factors in determining whether people do, or do not, read my blogs & articles, visit my website, and work with me.