When making major decisions as a couple, it is important for both to be on the same page. But, what can you do to handle disagreements?
Susana Vélez, psychologist
Ana María Ospina, psychologist
Life as a couple demands much more than mutual love. It is necessary for both people’s lives to coincide to some extent or be created between the two so that they can become plans that will work in the long term. For therapist Susan Vélez, communication is key in this process. All couples express themselves in one way or another, but they need to analyze whether they communicate effectively when making decisions together.
In her consultations, Vélez likes to recommend the book The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz to highlight some key principles: “be impeccable with your words, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.” These ideas help a more fluid and clearer process. “Before undertaking any joint project, it is important that they have already reached a level of mutual knowledge and that when they are going to make a decision, they do so in a suitable time and space, where they can talk and observe body language,” says the specialist.
Body language can reveal many things or clarify verbal language. For Vélez, it is also important to pay attention to warning signs, which arise when a partner begins to break the rituals they had together, distance themself, or otherwise change their behavior. “Before making a major decision, we must address these ‘red flags.’ You cannot undertake major projects in the midst of instability or try to fill gaps with them,” she explains.
Psychologist Ana María Ospina considers that people must go through a series of individual experiences before venturing into building a life together as a couple. It is also necessary to be clear about what they want or do not want for their lives and be able to transmit it to the other at the right time. “Leading an independent life, having a personal project, having had previous relationships, traveling, and making dreams come true provide a maturity and self-knowledge that contribute a lot to building a relationship,” she comments. The clarity of the individual as well as their tastes and goals lead to a more successful relationship, as there is less doubt.
An unpredictable journey
Doing these exercises is no guarantee of anything, and it is clear that plans and dreams can be modified over time, more so when they combine with those of others and agreements can be reached. However, individuals must have their “non negotiables” defined. When deciding to undertake a project together, the couple can do a projection exercise to see if they will meet those “non negotiables” along the way, and how they will make certain decisions, explains Vélez. “For example, if they are going to live in another country because one of them has a good job offer, they should talk about the other partner’s career prospects there over time or if they are going to have children in that country.”
For Ospina, one solution for overcoming the obstacles is to imagine the process very schematically “as if you were going to make a sandwich.” Step by step you see where difficulties may arise and think of possible solutions. Another projection exercise proposed by Vélez is to observe other couples and comment on what you like and do not like about them.
Although support networks are important, for Vélez, it is also important to keep in mind that only the two of them know the rhythm of their relationship, know how to communicate, and make such decisions, regardless of what others might think. “It is not bad to hear good advice, but reckless or provocative comments can create problems. In fact, they put pressure on the relationship. It is good for the couple to blindfold themselves, to build a bubble where they both decide what they are going to let in and what they are not. This way, they can even support each other when they find themselves in an uncomfortable social situation,” she states.
Making decisions together or creating a life together can become a power struggle, which is where we must be careful. It’s not about winning,” warns Vélez, but both psychologists agree that, eventually, one person’s idea will override the other, and it’s important that this doesn’t lead to frustrations and damage the relationship.
It is also important to keep in mind that a big decision is not made overnight. You must give yourself space to think individually and analyze all the options. “It is as if they owned a company and they are holding a meeting. Each one presents their arguments, and if the proposal is not approved, they must meet again with other perspectives to move forward,” explains Vélez. Although therapy, individual or couple, is not always necessary, it can be another resource for overcoming setbacks.•
One idea when planning projects together, such as travel, entrepreneurship, housing, etc., is to talk about your expectations and set goals and actions.