Making Decisions

This may come as a surprise (it shouldn’t), my partner and I don’t always agree on things. Our brains have been shaped by different DNA and experiences, and we can both look at a “problem” and come to different solutions about how to address it. Shocking, I know.

One of the benefits I’ve started seeing from therapy is that I am becoming a more understanding partner. That wasn’t my intention in seeking mental health but important relationships come up in therapy. Overall our relationship is really strong and we handle things well, but there is always room for improvement.

One of the things I’ve started to understand is how we go about making decisions and taking action. She is a perfectionist, while I am very much not. I am not making a qualitative judgement about our two ways of operating, but they do impact us in a lot of ways. Her perfectionism means she is passionate about justice, equality, and preserving our environment. When something is wrong, she wants to make it right. My lack of perfectionism often leads to apathy, laziness, and justifying bad decisions as “practical”.

Much like the importance of learning your partner’s “love language”, learning your partner’s decision making process is important in a relationship. Knowing this can increase empathy and understanding of how we can look at the exact same issue with the exact same goal and come to very different solutions.

For example, let’s take buying clothes. If I wake up one morning and realize that it is getting chilly and I don’t own a seasonally appropriate jacket then decisions and actions come almost instantaneously. Without conscious thought I figure out the likelihood that I will be at an appropriate store to buy a jacket in the next 48 hours. If I am then I will put “jacket” on my shopping list. If I won’t be, I get on Amazon on my phone and order a jacket. From realization of problem to execution of solution is less than five minutes. I have an “execution” decision-making system (there are probably psychological terms for this stuff but I don’t know what they are).

This works great for me, overall. I experience considerable psychological distress when I don’t have an action plan in place and in progress. That plan may change considerably throughout execution, but at all times I feel better if I have done all I can. Aside from easing my mind, this also means I get things accomplished very quickly. The house is often picked up. My workload is planned out and structured. I can get in shape and educate myself about stuff fairly quickly because any plan now is often better than a perfect plan tomorrow. I am also quick to cut jobs or people out of my life that I feel are toxic.

Of course, there are downsides to this. I often pay more than necessary because I don’t explore options. Items may be the wrong size, a color I don’t like, or made poorly. I respond strongly to price and ease, which means I may end up actually losing money and ease in the long-term if I have to buy the same cheap version of a product dozens of times instead of a high quality one once. I also find myself frustrated or bored with projects that require repetitive action or are overly detail-oriented.

I recognize all that about myself and I am working hard to build my decision-making tool chest and using the “execution” that comes naturally only during appropriate times (ordering food, cheap products, picking up the house, etc.), and look to systems like my partners when details and quality are of the most value. It costs me some mental energy and stress to postpone and move slowly, but the end payoff is generally better.

My partner, on the other hand, experiences greater psychological stress when she rushes into a decision without knowing her options. Picking something now without research, trying it on, etc. leads to her being unhappy with the decision. This slows down the process but it also means that purchases (especially major ones) are better. She basically saved us over $1,000 on our refrigerator because we went with her decision making style instead of mine.

So, together we end up making really good joint decisions. Generally, neither one of us are 100% happy, but we are both 90% happy… and two 90%s is better than one 100% and one 10%. The most important thing is that we recognize and appreciate the other person’s way of going through life and making decisions. We have learned to default to the other person at times and to use the other person as an example to build new systems. We strengthen each other, but only because we are aware and don’t believe the “my way or the highway” is a good system.

Very rational people can look at both simple and complex problems and come up with drastically different ways of dealing with that problem, even with shared goals. This is true both in personal relationships and between cultures. The worst thing any of us can do is to have so much hubris that we completely ignore or demonize different solutions just because we don’t understand the process.


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