Spouses make decisions differently


"They say opposites attract, and I suppose they do," says Stephanie, 41, a tall blonde in an ankle-skimming skirt who works part-time at a community arts center. "But maybe they can't live together."

Stephanie and John, an industrial engineer, have been married for 10 years. When they first met, she found his gentle, logical and stoic nature unbelievably attractive. But now, she says, they're slowly driving each other crazy. The fact that his company might be moving to Northern California, causing her to move far from friends and family, makes her wonder if she really wants to spend the rest of her life with him.

"Maybe for John home is anywhere he can hang his hat, but at this point in my life I can't just pick up and start over again. I feel rooted here."

Lately all they seem to do is argue, mostly about trivial things: about how he's a neatness nut and she never notices clutter; about how she is Miss Sociable and he clams up at every party; about how she yearns for romance in the lovemaking department, but, as Stephanie puts it, "John thinks romance is a three-letter word: S-E-X." Stephanie feels overwhelmed and right now can't make up her mind whether to stay in the marriage or leave.

John, 49, who is dressed in a business suit, white shirt and tie, insists that Stephanie's attitude toward the move is typical: "She's always so emotional. She blows everything out of proportion, in her highly dramatic way." The way she's been carrying on, he insists, you'd think he was asking her to move Iceland. "Stephanie is going to love San Francisco," John says, ,, "if she'll only give it a chance."

The move will be a wonderful professional opportunity for him, but he doesn't want to go if Stephanie is going to be miserable. The trouble, he agrees, is that they can't have a civil conversation about that or any other topic. "I'm logical, my wife isn't," John explains. "Try talking to Stephanie about one problem, and, before you realize it, she's thrown everything into the mix."

Stephanie obsesses and vacillates, wasting time and energy and never coming to a decision, he adds. Though they love each other, these two can't figure out how to make a decision they can both live with.

Making tough decisions

"It's not surprising that this couple is squabbling," says Rebecca Cutter, a marital therapist in private practice in San Diego. "The stress of having to make important decisions can put even the calmest person on edge."

Stephanie and John must understand how their very different styles are making their decision to move or stay even harder: "Every husband and wife brings something different to a marriage, something their partner can learn. But if they want to be happy together, they have to accept and appreciate each other's limitations, too." Once John can put himself in his wife's place, and be patient and compassionate, he will be better prepared to help her identify her priorities and decide whether or not to make the move.

If you or your partner feel overwhelmed by life's big and small choices, consider these suggestions:

* Identify your priorities. Before you can make a sound choice about any issue, you need to know what it is about that decision that matters to you most. Try to focus on what's important; cast aside what's not. Ask yourself: Will this decision seem important next week, next year?

* Gather information. Once you know what's important to you, find out as much as possible about your options. Though each decision is yours alone, you don't have to choose all alone. Stephanie, for example, can take a weekend trip to the San Francisco area, call old college friends who live there and get reacquainted or contact the community arts center there to see about opportunities for work that might excite her as much as her current job.

* Trust your gut. Facts are important but so, too, is intuition, that sixth sense we all have about whether something is right or wrong.

* Give yourself a deadline. Set a reasonable deadline by which you will make up your mind.

* Once you make a decision, stand by it. Second-guessing yourself and continuing to entertain alternatives is a waste of your time and energy and will drain you of the enthusiasm to follow through with the choice you did make.

When Stephanie thought about these points, and tackled her fears one at a time, she realized she could find work in San Francisco that was as rewarding as her current job. She realized, too, that just as she met people when she first moved to her current town, outgoing as she was, she would no doubt do the same there. By tuning in to his wife's feelings, John was able to be patient and compassionate until Stephanie finally decided not only to stay in the marriage, but that she was actually looking forward to the move.

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