How to Make Tough Decisions as a Couple

Marnie and Tom live in a nice suburb in the Midwest with their two young children. Marnie’s mother, Elaine, lives about an hour away.

When the kids were babies, Marnie's mother used to drive to Marnie and Tom's every day to see her grandkids and help out. But lately, Marnie's mother's health has been declining, so she can’t drive over anymore.

One day Marnie gets an idea: What if she and Tom sell their house and move closer to her mother? Then the kids would be able to see their grandmother more often. Plus, Marnie would be able to keep a closer eye on her mother in case her health gets worse. Seems like a perfect solution.

There’s only one problem—Tom doesn’t want to move. Tom likes the neighborhood they’re in. He thinks he and Marnie paid too much for their house, but other than that he’s very comfortable.

Tom says no.

Tough decisions and zero-sum situations

Faced with big decisions like this, a couple will ordinarily try to compromise. But in this case, there’s really no half-way. Economists call this kind of thing a zero-sum situation. Someone’s going to win, and someone’s going to lose.

For over thirty years, I’ve watched couples struggle with zero-sum problems. Some more successfully, and some less so.

Some classic zero-sum problems for couples involve whether or not to move—often for one partner’s career—and whether or not to have another child. But there are lots of others.    

For thirty years, I’ve watched couples struggle with zero-sum problems. Some more successfully, and some less so. Today, we’re going to talk about what works, and what doesn’t, when you’re faced with one of these situations.

Three ways not to make tough decisions as a couple

 First, let’s talk first about what doesn’t work. There are three main approaches that don’t work. Unfortunately, most couples try all three:

Mistake #1 – Trying to convince your partner they'll be better off

The first mistake is to try to convince your partner that they’ll be much happier if they do things your way. In Marnie’s case, this might involve demonstrating to Tom all the wonderful things about the neighborhood she'd like to move to. Wouldn't Tom be better off there? 

No one likes to be told they’ll be happier if they just do things your way.

 Here’s the problem: No one likes to be told they’ll be happier if they just do things your way. It's better to assume each person has good reasons for feeling the way they do. And that those reasons aren’t likely to change. In couples therapy, we call this "staying in your own lane."

Mistake #2 – Suggesting there's something wrong with your parnter for disagreeing

The second thing that doesn’t work is to suggest there’s something wrong with your partner. Otherwise, they'd see it your way. If only they were less anxious, less obsessive-compulsive, less oppositional, less stuck in their ways, or less damaged by unresolved childhood trauma. Then they’d surely agree with you!

A lot of people get sent to my office for therapy by their spouses for just this reason. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t work.

A lot of people get sent to my office for therapy by their spouses for just this reason. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t work. It usually just leads to a lot of bad feeling.

Mistake #3 – Appealing to your partner's love

The third thing that doesn’t work is to appeal to your partner’s love and insist that if they really love you as much as they say they do, they’ll give you what you want. Almost every couple tries this.

Marnie is no exception.

“Tom,” she says, one night as they're getting ready for bed, “Don’t you see how I can’t sleep at night worrying about my mother? I can't stop thinking about how she’s missing out on so much of our kids’ lives. Can’t you see what this is doing to me? Don’t you love me?”

 “The answer’s still no,” says Tom. “And it has nothing to do with whether I love you or not.”

I'd be inclined to agree. Just because you love someone, that doesn't mean you're responsible for giving them everything they want. 

A better way to make tough decisions as a couple

The good news is there’s a much better method. There are three steps involved.

Step One:  Let’s make a deal

In business, this would be a no-brainer, right?  You’d never ask someone to give you something you want for free. Instead, you’d find out what their price is.  

In marriage, it’s the same thing. The main question is: What’s going to motivate the other person to do a deal?

Let’s see what happens when Marnie tries this approach.

One night in bed, just before they turn off the lights, Marnie turns over to face Tom.

“Tom, what can I give you to make you agree to move?” she asks.

Tom is silent.

“A promise to never complain ever again about you watching TV?”

Tom smiles. “It’s going to cost a lot more than that,” he says.

Marnie thinks some more. “How about if I agree to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family?”

Tom shakes his head. But now Marnie has the idea. She’s not asking for favors anymore. She just wants to do this deal.         

“I'll do all the cooking and cleanup three times a week,” she says. "And we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family."  

Tom raises an eyebrow. Now he knows she's serious. "Let me think about it,” he says, and turns off the light.

Time for Step Two.

Step Two:  The $64,000 Question

The following night, Tom is sitting at his laptop paying bills. Suddenly it hits him. “Marnie,” he says, “I think I see a way to do this. If we’re going to move, let’s get a smaller house and start saving money again. What do you think?”    Marnie’s actually been hoping for a bigger house. It’s painful to hear that this is what Tom wants. But hey, now he’s named his price. That means he’s in the game.

To me, this looks promising. Marnie gets something she wants very much. And she pays for it, fair and square. Same thing on Tom’s side.

Marnie thinks for a minute.  

“Let’s see what we can find,” she says.

Step Three: The Price is Right

Now comes the fun part.

The following Sunday, Marnie and Tom drop the kids off with her mother and start house-hunting in earnest. After a few weekends, they find a house they both like well enough. It breaks Marnie’s heart to be downsizing, but it was the only way to make things work. And it helps that once they find a place Tom likes, Marnie gets him to agree to new cabinets and closets.

Decision making builds strong relationships

 A good deal will have both of your dreams in it. That’s important, because it means you’re both fully in. You never know how a move like this is going to work out. If it goes well, you both share the satisfaction. If not, you share the blame.

A good deal will have both of your dreams in it.

One sign of a good deal is that in the end, neither of you got everything you wanted. The final result didn’t look exactly like what either of you originally had in mind.

But hey, isn’t that the case with anything creative? Eventually you have to face reality. And in a couple’s relationship, reality often takes the form of the person next to you in bed.

Sometimes life brings you to a fork in the road, where no compromise is possible. When that happens, assume you’ll need to do some serious deal-making—as if your relationship depended on it. Which in fact, it will.

Eventually, you have to face reality. And in a couple’s relationship, reality often takes the form of the person next to you in bed.

As Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

In the long run, how you settle the issue may matter more than which fork you take.

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10 DIY Face Scrubs and Masks

Amazing scrubs

1. Chocolate-honey scrub

Who doesn’t want to cover themselves in chocolate? Here’s your opportunity with this hydrating, revitalizing scrub.

  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl, making sure to break up any lumps in the cocoa powder. Apply this luscious mixture to your skin, rubbing in a circular motion. Leave for 5 minutes, then rinse with warm water. Divine! (Leftover scrub can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.)

2. Apricot–sea salt scrub

Here’s a great scrub for smoothing out rough spots on elbows, hands, feet, or wherever you need a little extra help.

  • ¼ cup sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons apricot kernel oil
  • 5 drops apricot essential oil

Mix together all of the ingredients, then rub onto the skin. Rinse with warm water.

3. Light sugar scrub

Dry, itchy skin bothering you? Try this super-moisturizing light scrub.

  • 3 tablespoons baby oil
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 4 teaspoons brown sugar

Mix together the ingredients, making sure to break up any lumps in the brown sugar. Massage immediately into skin, as the sugar will begin to dissolve. Rinse with warm water.

4. Minty morning wake-up

This invigorating scrub is great for those sleepy mornings when it’s almost impossible to drag yourself out of bed. For best results, make it the night before and store in the refrigerator until morning.

  • 1 cup rice
  • 6-ounce container plain yogurt
  • 5 sprigs mint
  • 3 drops peppermint essential oil

In a food processor, add the rice and pulse until ground. Transfer the contents to a bowl. Then process the yogurt and mint together and add to the ground rice. Add the essential oil, stir well, and refrigerate. Then, during your morning shower, rub the mixture into your skin. You’ll feel it working!

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5. Ginger face and body polish

For beach-ready skin, try this body polish. Ginger will help stimulate the skin, salt and sugar will rub away dead skin cells, and the combination of coconut and olive oils will provide deep hydration.

  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¾ cup raw sugar
  • ¼ cup sea salt

In a small saucepan, add the coconut oil and grated ginger, and heat on low until the oil melts and the ginger has infused it. Strain into a bowl. Stir in the olive oil, sugar, and sea salt, and allow the mixture to cool. Transfer to a cosmetics jar. To use, massage a little into the face and body, and leave for 5 minutes before rinsing under warm water.

Is the skin on your elbows looking a bit rough? Here’s an easy treatment: Cut a lemon or lime in half, then sprinkle it with brown sugar. Bend your elbow and shove it right into the citrus, then twist the fruit back and forth. The fruit’s acid will slough off dead skin with the help of the sugar.

All-natural masks

6. Veggie revitalizer

This powerhouse of a body mask is loaded with vital nutrients to help rejuvenate and revitalize skin.

  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced and steamed until soft
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup honey

Mash together the avocados and carrots in a medium bowl. Stir in the milk, lightly beaten eggs, and honey. Apply the mixture to damp skin, then leave on for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.

7. Yogurt soother

Try this body mask to help soothe irritated skin. The lactic acid in the yogurt gently breaks down dry skin cells, and turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory.

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

Combine the yogurt and the turmeric, blending well. Apply to damp skin, and leave for 10 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water, then moisturize.

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8. Skin-balancing facial

Do you have acne scars or other dark spots on your face? You can use the enzymes in certain foods to help lighten them! Here’s a soothing mask to try.

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons plain yogurt

Stir together the lemon juice, honey, and yogurt in a small bowl. Apply to your face, and leave on for about 10 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

9. Pumpkin pampering

For clean, soft skin—and a clever way to use up that can of pumpkin that’s been gathering dust in your pantry since last Thanksgiving—try this facial mask.

  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ ground almonds
  • Olive oil

Mix together the canned pumpkin with the yogurt, honey, ground almonds, and a drizzle of olive oil. Apply to skin, and take a hot bath to let the steam and enzymes in the mask do their work. After 10 minutes, rinse and apply your normal moisturizer. Refrigerate any leftovers and use within a week.

10. Clarifying facial

If you have oily skin, try this sweetly scented scrub. The clay will help remove impurities and excess oil, while the oats and almonds will exfoliate and soothe skin. As a bonus, lavender is great for stress relief!

  • 1½ cups rolled oats
  • ¾ cup almonds
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender
  • ¾ cup honey
  • 1¼ cups white kaolin clay

Pulse together the oats, almonds, and dried lavender in a blender. Mix in the honey and white kaolin clay. (You can find the clay online or at stores that carry natural beauty products.) Remove a tablespoon of the scrub and mix with water to make a thick paste. Massage over the face and neck, and leave on for 10 to 15 minutes. Store the leftovers in the refrigerator in a closed container.

Have a teeny bit of Champagne or white wine left after a party? Make a face scrub with it! Wine contains tartaric acid, a terrific exfoliant. Mix a few teaspoons sugar with enough wine to make a paste, then massage into clean skin.

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