The Debrief: Five Tips for Making Joint Decisions as a Couple
Caitlin on her honeymoon in Croatia

Caitlin, 29, just moved from East Boston to Dallas, Texas. A public health professional with a background in health policy and communication, she writes about creative productivity, healthy living and purposeful growth at Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

There I was, swallowing my panicky phobia of heights. “C’mon! You can do it! I’m right behind you. Check out this view!” Josh (my spouse) and I had just helped anchor the sailboat and were climbing a rocky ledge near the island of Vis, Croatia. My fear melted as I looked back at Josh’s smile. When we’d planned our honeymoon, I learned that Josh dreamed of sailing on the Adriatic Sea. In that moment, I knew he was getting just what he had been wanting.

We were lucky enough to spend the first two weeks of married life traveling in Croatia. The trip was filled with romantic meals, active adventures, relaxing hours on the beach and amazing cultural experiences. I would love to say that our honeymoon’s magical success happened organically, but it didn’t. It happened by design.

Our nerdy decision-making is extreme. We have used intentional decision-making strategies to help us make career choices, find an apartment, choose destinations for family vacations and even plan for long-term financial purchases. Our process isn’t perfect, and it’s certainly evolved over time. There have been times when we’ve felt overwhelmed and frustrated; there have also been times when we’ve felt empowered and close.

Here’s how we decided on our honeymoon:

We started out by scheduling time for the decision. We roped off a few hours on a weekend. After an hour of initial discussion, we realized that one of us thought this was a preliminary brainstorm (me), while the other thought we’d be able to make the decision in one afternoon (Josh). Once we discovered our different expectations, we regrouped and came up with a more specific purpose. We decided that the time would be spent brainstorming answers to five questions:

  • What do we see ourselves doing on this honeymoon?
  • What type of setting do we think is ideal?
  • How much do we want to spend?
  • What other factors are important to us?
  • Are there places on our “bucket list” that we could visit on this trip?

We dove headfirst into brainstorming answers to our questions. The answers eventually became criteria for choosing our honeymoon destination. For example, we decided that social responsibility was important to us as we celebrated the beginning of our marriage. We wanted to find a place where we felt we were truly contributing to the local economy and immersing ourselves in a new culture. So we used this criterion to help us decide our destination.

In addition to social responsibility, criteria from our brainstorm included:

  • Eco-friendliness
  • Relaxation
  • Travel time to our destination
  • Cost
  • Outdoor activities
  • Yummy local food

The locations we brainstormed included:

At the end of our first decision-making session, we had devised a honeymoon location rating system. The seven criteria made their way to columns of a spreadsheet, and the 10 locations became rows. We wanted to rate each location by the seven criteria. For example, how did social responsibility “score” in Sicily vs. Costa Rica? What about the travel time to the Maldives vs. Viña del Mar?

We knew that to move forward, we needed to gather more information about each location in order to rate them. Unfortunately the investigation took two rounds because we weren’t clear at the beginning about how much information we needed to gather. Another lesson on the importance of communication!

After realigning our expectations, we were finally able to use our rating system to narrow our decision to three locations. By the time we had narrowed it down, we felt well-informed and were able to have a healthy discussion about how we saw ourselves spending the two weeks. We ultimately decided on Croatia because it allowed us to experience outdoor adventures and local food, and also would provide ample opportunities to relax.

While the process took time and effort, it was worth it. Our decision to travel to Croatia was a success because all of our concerns, ideas and questions had been considered. And knowing how much Josh was looking forward to sailing made that day even more amazing as I connected to his excitement and wonder.

You can use these same strategies for something as simple as deciding where to go on a date, or as complex as a major purchase. The level of complexity (and time you spend) depends on you and on the decision.

1. Schedule a time for discussion
Scheduling a chunk of time for discussion communicates to your partner that you are committed to collaborating and that you see value in your partnership.

2. Set a purpose
In addition to reserving time, it’s also important to be clear on why you are coming together. Is it simply to brainstorm? Do you expect to arrive at a final decision?

3. Brainstorm
Take time to gather ideas from each other. The No. 1 rule of brainstorming: there are no bad ideas! Create an environment where you both feel invited to be innovative.

4. Gather more information
You might need to do research before you can make an informed decision. Split tasks so each of you has a chance to contribute. If you need it, schedule another time to share what you’ve learned.

5. Narrow it down
Based on your research, eliminate options that no longer make sense. With your two to three best options, have a collaborative, respectful discussion on your preferences. Yup, you can’t strategize your way around clear communication!

If this all sounds too nerdy or intimidating, consider this: being a little more intentional about making decisions with your partner might help bring you closer together. When you and your partner listen to each other’s perspectives before making a final decision, you learn something new about each other—and that’s a fantastic feeling!

What decisions have you made successfully with your partner? What strategies did you use to make those decisions?

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