Mark: Have you ever felt like your spouse is slow at making decisions? Or have you ever been on the other side feeling like your voice isn’t being heard when a decision is being made? Do you ever sit down to have a discussion and end up arguing over whose perspective is right?
Jill: This is a really common dynamic in marriages. What’s meant to be a simple discussion leads to frustration and one person just “giving in” to limit the feelings of conflict. Over time, though, this leads to growing feelings of frustration and resentment. And these are dynamics we often end up working through during our marriage intensives with couples.
Mark: This is why discussions of no decision are so important for couples to learn to use. These are discussions a couple has with the intention of not making a decision in that moment. Instead, the purpose is for both people to openly and honestly share their thoughts and perspectives before walking away to let those perspectives sink in. After a short period of time, the couple can either come back to make that decision or even have another discussion of no decision as new perspectives raise up.
Jill: When you have a discussion of no decision, you’re recognizing a decision needs to be made, but you’re wanting to get all the perspectives out on the table without the pressure of a final decision being made right then and there. This reminds you that you’re a team, that you need to hear each other well, and that you can resist the urge to push your spouse into making a decision they’re not comfortable with.
Mark: There are a couple primary reasons this type of conversation is so important. The first is that often times in marriage, one person is a faster decision-maker than the other. So discussions of no decision especially give that slower decision-maker the space to think before committing to a direction. It allows them to consider all the facets of the discussion. This is part of valuing our differences in marriage. Everybody makes decisions at different paces and we need to allow for that, not belittling who they are by saying, “Why don’t you just make a decision already!?”
Jill: Also in marriage, there often is an external processor and an internal processor. The external processor is sharing their thoughts all the time. It comes naturally to them. The internal processor, however, can find it hard to make their voice heard. This is an invitation for the internal processor to get their thoughts out on the table instead of internalizing frustration or resentment for the decision that was made. We deal with that resentment all the time in our intensives as one partner has been a default decision-maker and the other has been passive or silent. They have to learn to find their voice, but they also need to have the space to make their voice heard. This is a great first step in that direction.
Mark: It’s okay to have different perspectives on an issue or a decision that needs to be made. It’s not uncommon for a husband to sit at Point A and a wife to sit on the other end at Point B. But the conflict usually comes out when one or both parties don’t feel like their perspective has been heard or valued.
Jill: You can use these for all sorts of things. It could be around schedule. Big purchases. Where you want to go on vacation. What to do for holidays. Where your child should go to school. Or it could be as simple as how you spend the weekend. For example, maybe on Friday night, you’re trying to figure out what to do over the weekend. One spouse may suggest a few activities and one spouse may prefer to stay home because they’re exhausted from a big week. A discussion of no decision would help both spouses come together, share their perspectives, and then make an actual decision that night or the next morning.
Mark: These discussions usually end one of three ways:
- Agreement. One person may see that they hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of their spouse, and there is agreement for how to move forward once they understand their viewpoint.
- Proposals. It also may end with a new solution. “What if we met in the middle?”
- Discussion. You may come back and need to have a second discussion of no decision to chat through some new thoughts about the topic at hand that one or both of you have discovered after putting all perspectives on the table.
Jill: There are also a few things to keep in mind for a successful discussion of no decision:
- Listen to understand. Don’t listen to discuss or debate or try and get your partner over to your side. Listen to understand their thoughts, perspectives, and emotions. They have important things to say for you to consider. Be grateful that there are two good brains thinking this through.
- Listen to learn. Resist thinking that your way is the right way. Set your thoughts aside and really come with an open heart to hear a perspective different than yours.
- If you do say anything, use reflecting listening. “What I hear you saying is ______. Is that right?” or “Tell me more about why that’s important to you…” Be curious. This makes your “discussion of no decision” a safe conversation.
Mark: The goal is not only to make the decision, but to hear what each person is saying so they feel understood and that their thoughts are important. This really helps both people make the best decision for the team and feel valued in the process. We want to encourage you to try out discussions of no decision in your marriage this week! See if it makes a difference in how you’re able to communicate!
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