February 1, 2011
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -Valentine's Day is upon us, bringing with it flowers, chocolate and many romantic sentiments. But if a couple is not feeling particularly amorous, the annual holiday celebrating love and affection may not be appealing.
"Keeping the love in a relationship is about understanding who the other partner is and working extremely hard to keep the lines of communication open," says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Klapow says a relationship is doomed if the communication is not there. And with the National Center for Health Statistics reporting that an average of 47.9 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, it may be time to start talking.
"Very often it's the little things, the daily hassles and decisions that couples need to make that lead to bigger problems; learning to make decisions together is critical for the survival of your relationship," Klapow says.
Klapow recommends these five SMART steps for making decisions together:
- Set a specific goal
"What do each of you want? Make sure you are very specific. Eating dinner out is not a specific goal. Going to a restaurant where you can get a steak, your partner can get grilled shrimp and you both can relax in a quiet booth is specific. The more specific you are the better."
- Monitor your discussion
"As you are discussing the decision at hand, make sure you are staying on track. Often couples will start discussing a goal and stray to some other topic, which can lead to frustration. So, if you notice yourself or your spouse getting off the subject, come back to the specific goal."
- Arrange the situation for success
"Decision making doesn't work well when someone is tired, hungry, short for time or pre-occupied with other activities. Before you start the discussion, make sure each of you is in the right frame of mind and you have the time. If not, table the discussion as it is likely to go awry or fail."
- Recruit support from one another
"A collective decision means that sometimes there will be compromise. If you are going into the discussion to win, then you are not making a collective decision; you are fighting a battle. Remind each other that you are a team and that you are in it to win collectively, not necessarily individually."
- Treat yourselves
"Celebrate the success of a decision together. A hug, a celebratory reward, anything that acknowledges that together you have accomplished this task will help keep you motivated to make decisions together again."
Klapow notes while it is sometimes hard for an individual to make a big decision, it can be even more challenging to make a decision collectively. He says this is why these steps need to be taken every day and not just on this romantic holiday. "If you approach each decision with the same game plan, then over time you will become experts at decision making," Klapow says.
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is the state of Alabama's largest employer and an internationally renowned research university and academic health center; its professional schools and specialty patient-care programs are consistently ranked among the nation's top 50. Find more information at www.uab.edu and www.uabmedicine.org.