People can end up micromanaging their partners for a number of different reasons, but one of the main ones is that their partners give them the reins to do so.
In some cases, they’re unwilling to make their own decisions, while in others they’re simply unable to do so.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the reasons why your partner may struggle with indecision, and how you can help them become more autonomous.
Why is your partner so indecisive?
Does your partner struggle with even basic decisions such as what to wear to work, or what to order for dinner?
Although all of us can be indecisive at times, there are usually causal factors that can push some people to be far more indecisive than others.
One of the primary reasons why your partner may be indecisive is that they grew up in a very ordered, controlled environment in which their parents made every decision for them, and that made them feel comfortable and taken care of.
They never had to worry about making a mistake, and if there was ever a time when someone disagreed with an aspect of their lives, then they were never to blame. Since someone else made all the decisions for them, whatever was “wrong” was that person’s fault—not their own.
Some people are fiercely independent from childhood onwards and want to make decisions for themselves from day one. These are the kids you’ll see going to school in bathing suits or tutus because they despise being controlled and instead fight for personal sovereignty.
In contrast, some people are far more comfortable letting someone else “take the wheel”—they simply go along with whatever they’re told to do, and thus don’t have to contend with the discomfort or insecurity that comes with worrying whether they’re making the right decision or not.
Those in the latter group inevitably force their partners into caregiver-type roles by insisting that they take over where their parents left off, namely by making all decisions for them so they don’t have to.
This puts immense pressure on their partners and creates a parent-child dynamic in the relationship.
As you can imagine, this inevitably puts that relationship in jeopardy. The vast majority of us want partners whom we can depend upon and work with as equals, not dependent children who can’t use deductive reasoning, or who fall apart if someone isn’t giving them instructions.
Another reason why your partner may be indecisive is that they may have a paralyzing fear of making mistakes.
If they’ve made poor decisions in the past, they may be harsh on themselves and thus second-guess any decision they try to make now.
Alternatively, they may not have made any poor decisions at all, but instead had incredibly critical parents who punished them for any perceived error or shortcoming.
These are the types of parents who hover while their kids do their homework and yell if an error is made, offering nothing but criticism and condemnation.
Children raised by parents like these grow up to be adults who find it easier to avoid making any decisions at all, rather than risk negative fallout from making a “wrong” one.
They may also suffer from anxiety or panic disorders, which can cause intense stress and discomfort in decision-making situations.
The fear of making a bad decision—especially in a world where there are more choices than ever before—can either paralyze them or cause debilitating panic attacks.
The fact that a perceived “wrong” decision can have potentially damaging fallout doesn’t make things any easier, especially when it comes to public opinion on social media and the subsequent ripples a faux pas may cause.
10 Ways To Encourage Independent Decision-making In Your Partner
Since few people dream of overfunctioning and parenting their partner, knowing how to encourage independent decision-making can make everyone’s life better.
By utilizing some of the following tips, you can help to empower your partner to be more decisive, while alleviating responsibility from your own shoulders.
1. Start small.
While throwing someone into the deep end of a pool for a sink-or-swim exercise can certainly test their mettle, it’ll also create a situation in which trust is either severely damaged or lost forever.
Similarly, if you try to force your indecisive partner to make huge, potentially life-altering decisions after years of relying on you, they might implode.
As such, ensure that the decisions you entrust to them are small to begin with.
These shouldn’t have any potentially negative consequences, such as having no “wrong” answer. Furthermore, don’t put an immense amount of importance on them.
Let’s say you’re grocery shopping together. When you get to the snack aisle, ask if they’d rather have chocolate chip or sandwich cookies. If they try to defer to you, don’t get frustrated or upset, simply tell them that you need to look for something in the soup aisle, and to meet you there once they’ve chosen.
By removing yourself from the immediate vicinity and giving them a small task to decide upon, you’re alleviating the pressure of having to make a decision under duress.
Instead, you’re giving them space to decide and preventing them from insisting that you make the decision for them.
2. Let them know that you have faith and trust in their decision-making abilities.
Expanding upon the cookie example above, when your partner does show up with cookies in tow, accept their decision without hesitation.
Don’t question them as to why they chose that type, and don’t suggest that you or the kids might have preferred the other.
Instead, when they show you which one they chose, simply say “Okay, great!” and move along. Don’t direct any more attention to what just occurred, and instead change the subject to something entirely different.
It’s likely that they felt anxiety about potential judgment or wrongdoing when they showed you which they chose, so by not reacting with anything other than absolute non-judgment and acceptance, you’ve likely healed something in them a little bit.
This may not seem like a huge step to you, but every grain of acceptance and approval they get is one step toward greater self-confidence in making decisions.
Even if they brought both bags because they couldn’t decide between them, that’s still a great decision on their part. Good call! Move along.
3. Ask for their opinion and perspective, rather than specific questions.
You may have noticed that your partner freezes up or blanks out if you ask them directly to make a decision.
This is usually because there are so many different possibilities to consider that they get overwhelmed and don’t know which direction to follow.
Most indecisive people prefer open-ended questions that they can contemplate and discuss, rather than those that require a firm answer. As such, asking them for their opinion or suggestions about a topic can encourage them to be more decisive.
For example, let’s say that the two of you would like to go out to dinner for date night.
Avoid direct questions such as: “What do you feel like eating?” or “Would you prefer Italian or Japanese food?”
Instead, aim for: “Have you been craving anything in particular lately?” or “Have you heard good reviews about restaurants that you’d like to try?”
This allows them to analyze data and take their time to consider how they’re feeling, rather than being put on the spot with pressure or demands.
Additionally, you can suggest that they take a look at online menus to see what looks good and figure out which they’d like to try first.
Letting them know that there will be other opportunities to try different things also alleviates the pressure they may feel about either making the wrong choice, or somehow missing out.
4. Determine the manner in which they process options the best.
When you need to make a decision about something, what process do you use to figure out the best option?
Do you make a pros and cons list with all the beneficial and detrimental details for each? Or do you use your intuition to guide you? How about reading other people’s reviews of the options, or doing research about every possibility?
People make decisions in different ways, and what works for you may not work for your partner.
As such, it’s a good idea to find out which methods appeal to them the most, and then work with them to figure out a protocol for them to follow whenever a decision has to be made.
This empowers them to be more decisive rather than turning to you to make these decisions for them.
It may take them a while to figure out which methods work best for them, and they may use a combination of a few different approaches.
For example, they might enjoy the thrill of randomness that comes with pulling two different options out of a hat, but then deep-dive into researching both of those options to figure out which they prefer more.
Try to be as supportive as possible as they explore these techniques, even if they’re completely different from what works for you.
If it helps them to make their own decisions, then that’s all that matters.
5. Phrase things in a way that implies they’re helping you.
This is one technique I learned with an ex of mine that proved to be remarkably effective.
You just need to ensure that you don’t default to this approach all the time, but instead use it as part of your repertoire in helping your indecisive partner become more self-sufficient.
When a decision must be made that involves both of you, approach your partner and let them know that you’re having trouble deciding between both options, and then ask their opinion.
Let them know that you value their research abilities, and if you can help them check out other people’s reviews about the topic, that would help inform your own decisions immensely.
In a situation like this, there’s little to no pressure on your partner regarding making a decision for themselves. After all, the onus isn’t on them to decide: they’re helping you do so.
Furthermore, they’ll likely leap at the chance to help the one they love, so they’ll delve into the topic, research it thoroughly, and then offer you all the information they came up with.
In situations like this, 99 times out of 100, they’ll even tell you which they think is the better option.
By choosing that option and telling them how much you appreciate their help with the decision-making process, you’re showing them that their opinions have value, and are worthy of trust.
Over time, this will help them make their own decisions, since they’ve proven to both you and themselves that their technique—and by extension, their advice—has real merit.
6. Give them time and space to decide, without pressure.
As mentioned with the dessert aisle example, leaving your partner alone so they can figure out what they think or feel about something is a great way to encourage them without any kind of stress.
They might have been raised in environments where they were forced to adhere to harsh deadlines, so now if they feel that they’re working against a ticking clock, they can get emotionally paralyzed.
Instead of being able to make a good, honest decision, they simply freeze up (or have an anxiety attack) and might even run away so as to avoid a potential error.
Since your goal is to encourage more decisive, confident behavior in your partner, avoid giving them short time constraints.
This may be difficult for you if you’re a very no-nonsense person who can analyze information quickly and easily. Things that may seem blatantly obvious to you might take someone else a while to observe and process, so this is where patience and compassion come into play.
Ensure that whatever decision you’re leaving in their hands has plenty of time to be mulled over.
For example, in the spring or summertime, you can let them know that they get to choose your couples-themed Halloween costume this year. This allows them a good four to six months to come up with different options, instead of being put on the spot and panicking.
As mentioned before, be prepared to go along with whatever they come up with so they feel more confident about making decisions again in the future. A “no” from you will be construed as criticism and roll your progress back significantly.
Please note that you won’t have to always be so accommodating. Accepting without challenge or argument is just during the first stages of encouraging them to make their own decisions.
Eventually, you’ll be able to negotiate other options without them construing this as criticism. For now, however, just rock that bee costume with grace.
7. Create situations in which they need to be self-sufficient.
This one may be frowned upon by some, but it can be an invaluable learning and growth opportunity in the right circumstances.
If your partner relies on you for pretty much everything and thus has forced you into overfunctioning, then remove yourself from the picture temporarily.
Honestly, few things work better to help you stop taking control of your partner’s life for them than to give them no choice but to do things on their own.
For example, depending on where you’re employed, ask if there are any opportunities for you to work out of town for a few days. Maybe you can attend a conference to represent the company or get some additional training to help you work toward a promotion.
Alternatively, you can go help a friend or family member move or help take care of their new baby.
As a result, you literally won’t be around for your partner to lean on or defer to.
You’ll still be reachable in case of an emergency of course, but those little choices that they turn to you for help with on a daily basis will be under their own governance.
They’ll get to choose what to eat, what to wear, when to go to bed, what to watch, and so on. Even if they choose to live on cereal while staring at a wall the entire time you’re gone, that’s a conscious decision on their part.
8. Be sure to use positive reinforcement and praise.
When and if your partner shows initiative and makes a decision on their own, be sure to respond with positivity and encouragement.
In the same way that you show gratitude when they help you to make a decision, let them know how much you admire their deductive reasoning abilities when they decide things for themselves as well.
Your partner has likely had a lot of focus placed on everything they’ve done wrong, and very little positive reinforcement or praise when things have been done well.
This was likely part of their upbringing, as a lot of parents and authority figures use correctness as the default expectation, and harshly criticize anything that doesn’t fall under that umbrella.
Take every opportunity to be positive toward your partner to let them know that their choices and decisions are valued and appreciated.
This doesn’t mean that you need to lavish false praise on them or be over-expressive in your positivity. In fact, being overly saccharine or praising them too much can be detrimental.
A simple phrase of sincere acknowledgment goes a long way, so aim for that.
9. Suggest self-reflection through journaling.
It’s easy for people to get discouraged and fall back into old, negative behavior patterns. As such, it’s important to keep track of one’s progress as tangible evidence of personal growth.
Encourage your partner to choose a journal that they like, and every time they make a decision on their own, they can write it down along with all the positive feelings they associated with that action.
This way, when and if they feel uncertain about their decision-making capabilities in the future, they can flip back through all the times that they made great decisions without any negative repercussions whatsoever.
Having a tangible record of the things they’ve done right can go a long way toward reassuring them when and if they worry about getting anything “wrong.”
10. Be patient.
Please, please remember this one above all the others.
Most people aren’t intentionally indecisive, nor are they being difficult just to irritate you.
In fact, most of them feel an immense amount of shame and self-loathing about their indecision, especially if it’s associated with unfounded anxiety.
Try to remember that their indecisiveness may stem from past traumas, and they truly wish they could snap their fingers and break free from their programming in an instant.
Unfortunately, this issue—like most other trauma-based responses—will take some time to heal from. As such, it’ll require patience and understanding on your part, especially if they backslide in their progress on occasion.
When and if this occurs, try to be positive and encouraging rather than frustrated and condemning, even if you’re screaming on the inside.
When backsliding occurs, reassure your partner that you have full faith in them, and that you’re there for them no matter what.
Then go through these techniques again and overwrite their current challenge with the approach that works for them.
These regressions will lessen over time as they become more self-confident and learn that they’re fully capable of making their own decisions without negative repercussions or condemnation.