I have had a lot of experiences in life when I made a decision to do something that I knew my partner didn’t want me to do. Each time, the satisfaction of getting what I wanted was short lived, followed quickly by fights and upsets that lasted for weeks or months. It took longer than I would have liked, but I eventually learned that moving unilaterally to take care of myself at the expense of my partner’s needs and desires didn’t work in the long run. When my partner wasn’t happy, neither was I.
As a result of my learning, Sonika and I decided at the start of our relationship to not move ahead with any decision unless we were both on the same page about it. In concert with that intention, we agreed to not move ahead with any decision until we reached agreement on a win/win solution that took care of us both. Sometimes that meant not taking action on something for months until we eventually came to a resolution. But the result of moving this way with each other has resulted in a harmonious relationship devoid of power struggles and held resentments.
We have stuck to this agreement – we might also call it a commitment – since we got married. We apply it to pretty much any significant decision: what kind of car to buy, how to run our business, where to go on vacation, whether or not to implement a consequence with our kids, how to landscape our property, and what to spend our money on.
To learn our process for getting on the same team and creating win-win solutions, check out our mini-workshop, How To Be On The Same Team.
Of course, we have some wiggle room in what we consider “significant”, but as a rule of thumb, we’re not talking about what kind of hamburger to get at the restaurant. We’re talking about decisions that will have an impact on our daily lives, our relationship to our kids or family, our finances, or our relationship.
To some, it sounds like a painfully slow-moving process to always get on the same page before making a decision. But let me share a few stories from clients we’ve worked with over the years, and you can make up your own mind about it.
A couple with two little kids shared this experience: He wanted to buy a boat so they could take the kids out on the lake for weekends. She wanted to use their extra money to start saving for the future in a retirement account. They didn’t see eye to eye on what was important. One day, he’d had enough of waiting and talking about it and he simply went out and bought a boat.
You can imagine how she felt about that. She was livid, she felt betrayed, and it seriously decreased her trust in their relationship. He, on the other hand, was shocked at her response and felt hurt she didn’t give him any kudos for his decisiveness.
What’s more, they didn’t have enough money to actually gas up the boat and take it to the lake. So it sat in their driveway, immobile, as a constant reminder of their lack of partnership. It was a giant monument to their failure to get on the same page before taking action.
The husband didn’t want to wait any longer to reach agreement. In the end, he did get his boat, as he’d wanted, but did he really get what he wanted? He had a boat, sure, but he also had a pissed-off, hurt wife who wouldn’t talk to him; plus a marriage strained to the busting point. He also had a boat he couldn’t afford. They now had a serious issue that haunted them for a long time.
Contrast this to another couple that also started out on different “positions”. Their dishwasher had broken down and needed replacement. They both agreed on buying a new one. He wanted to buy a cheap new model to save money. She argued for buying a high-end model, as she figured it would look nicer and also save money on repairs in the long run.
Once they were in the appliance aisle at Home Depot, it didn’t take long for this disagreement to break out into full force. Pretty soon they were yelling at each other about which dishwasher to get (have you ever meet a couple like that in Home Depot? I have).
Unlike the couples mentioned above, this couple had heard us talk about our agreement model: to not move forward with a decision until both parties are aligned and on the same page about what they want (they had also learned our process for creating win-win solutions).
So they pumped the breaks, decided to postpone the purchase and went home to talk. It took 2-3 hours, though they were okay for it to take even longer. Once they went through the process and got on the same page, they decided to buy a dishwasher that wasn’t as pricey but great quality – neither of the ones they had originally argued for!
Which particular dishwasher they bought is less important. What is important was that they felt super proud of having reached a solution they could both embrace. Their new dishwasher in the kitchen became a reminder of their collaboration, their willingness to listen to each other’s desires and concerns, and their ability to bridge a gap and come up with a solution that worked for them both. It was a monument to them being a successful team!
Sure, they had to delay the purchase initially. And to some, that’s impractical or even frustrating. But do you think it saved them time in the long run? Did it save them heartache and arguments and broken trust? (I’m hoping you’re nodding your head emphatically at this point).
For Sonika and I, our commitment to agree before we decide is formed by our definition of marriage (or long-term relationship). To us, being married means that we take on each other’s concerns and desires as our own. To me, Sonika’s concerns are as important and valid as mine – not more, not less. I won’t betray her concerns to take care of my own, nor will I betray mine to take care of hers.
We have a firm belief – and the communication skills to back it up – that we can both get what we want every time. It is totally fine for us to disagree and want different things – that’s inevitable! But if she gets what she wants and I don’t, or vice versa, or if one of us ends up angry or unhappy about the result, then WE both don’t win. As a result, I want her to have what she wants as much as I want what I want! Our willingness to give to ourselves, and to each other, makes it possible for this agreement to work. We never stop at saying “no” or withholding our support for something that really matters to the other.
Over the years of our marriage, we’ve experienced many situations where, at first, we vehemently disagreed about something, then took the time and care to arrive at a win-win.
There was the time when we couldn’t figure out where to live, because I lived in Denmark and Sonika lived in California. It took a while before we both happily moved in together in California where we live to this day.
The Big, Fast, Small, Sensible Car
Or how about when I wanted our new car to be a fast, big, fun car and Sonika wanted a sensible, small one. It took a while before we discovered a third option no one had ever heard about: a V6 Toyota Camry! Who’s ever heard of a V6 Camry XLS? I sure hadn’t, but I love driving it, and so does Sonika.
Then there was the time when I wanted to upgrade our website and after much research found the perfect agency to do it, with a sticker price just shy of $10,000. Sonika didn’t want to spend that much money. Once again, we landed on a different solution that was completely outside our initial ideas list, but totally solved our problem.
We have loads of other examples, each one of them strengthening our trust and resolve. These stories provide grounded evidence to us both that we are a successful team; that we can count on ourselves to solve difficult problems and lovingly take care of ourselves, and each other.
My father used to always hammer into my head: “Don’t be in such a hurry to get it done. Instead, do it right!” As a kid I got impatient with his lectures, because I really did want to just get it done (whether homework, fixing my bike, or mowing the lawn). Now, however, I see the wisdom in his insistence on “doing it right”. Except, I don’t think about it as right or wrong anymore. I think of it as doing what works – for you, me, and us.
Taking the time to get on the same page saves time and heartache in the long run. I am grateful for the harmonious relationship I get to enjoy with this knowledge and accompanying skill set.
I want that for you too.
To learn how to be a team and create win-win solutions, take our virtual 2-part mini-workshops series, starting with How To Be On The Same Team. You can take one or both parts, they’re stand-alone mini-workshops.