Compromising on Big Decisions when Opinions Differ

How many times do you and your spouse or loved ones disagree? In our family it is a fairly common occurrence, but we always embrace that “conflict” as an opportunity to see opinions that differ from our own and ultimately compromise on a solution that works best for everyone in our family. My post today will introduce a story of a hard decision we needed to make when purchasing our home, and how we worked through it by clearly prioritizing key criteria and having a system that helped us evaluate the alternatives.

Our Story

For those of you who know me, know that I like to apply some basic concepts from engineering to my daily life. I drive my husband crazy, but I honestly feel it has helped us compromise on big decisions and navigate the chaotic life together. My husband and I have a lot of similarities, but we also have a lot of differences. If I had it my way, we would live in a small $60k house, or maybe just an RV, and attempt to live on as little as possible surrounded by all of our favorite people. My husband on the other hand, appreciates his own property and land and doesn’t like being close to neighbors. I like renting and sharing my living space with strangers, and he’s a country guy who would rather live far out of town and not share anything with anyone. I like the concept of mutual borrowing/lending, where as my husband will buy something if he knows he will use more than once. He hates the idea of being “that guy” who is constantly borrowing stuff from people. While I was experimenting with a vegan diet to try and save money, and my husband bought a smoker large enough to feed 20 people at a time. Needless to say, listening and compromising are critical in our marriage so that we can find the balance, and thankfully my husband puts up with my weirdness.

When we bought our second home, we naturally had our lists of different things we wanted in our next house. Unfortunately, the options where we could live was limited. I had restrictions from my relocation package, and my husband had a commute restriction for him to be available for call outs. Go figures our new jobs were over an hour drive apart.

I wanted a lower cost home to keep the mortgage reasonable, and he wanted land, ideally 3-5 acres. I considered renting, but options were limited and my husband was strongly against it. I wanted a short commute, but my husband had to be close to work. Did I mention that there were only two small towns that could meet our location requirements? Did I mention that we were buying a home in the winter and had a desire to move in and be settled before our son was born in early May? If you don’t have much experience buying houses, no one puts their home on the market in the winter. As we were both starting new jobs, and I was still working on my MBA two nights a week (90 minutes away from my new job). We were both tired, stressed, emotional, and scared for what life with a newborn would be like. It was not an ideal time to be negotiating on our wants and needs for our next house. It was by far one of the most challenging times in our marriage and we had yet to reach our 1 year anniversary.

On the plus side, where there are strong emotions, there is a nerdy engineer in our relationship to math the crap out of it and come up with a logical way to work through what we both needed to be happy.

What did we do?

For my fellow nerds out there, the process we used was similar to what you may know as a PUGH matrix, or a QFD (Quality Functional Deployment) tool. In less fancy terms, we created a decision matrix and each listed out the characteristics in a home that was most valuable to us, ranked them in order of importance, and then scored how well (one a scale of 1-10) each option met the criteria. This method is really popular when engineers are considering what characteristics to include into their design and ensuring that what they create actually aligns with what customers want and need. They may have different options or features to consider, but ultimately it helps to score them against a set of criteria that is important to the customer and focus on the most important features of the design. Here’s how mine looked:

Now I personally like the idea of renting. I also am a minimalist at heart (don’t come visit my house, you might see otherwise) and I appreciate keeping things small and frugal. No surprise that renting a smaller home would be the best solution for me. There was one house my husband was in love with that was out in the country, 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms (as if all of us need to poop simultaneously or something). It was also over $300,000 which made my heart sink because there are so many things I value over letting my hard earned money pour into the banks pocket to cover a mortgage that expensive. Here is how my husbands ranked:

Clearly each of our top picks were not compatible, and we had to come to terms with our favorite choices being out. Luckily, we had a couple alternatives. Since we took the time to list out our key criteria, we knew that we must meet the location criteria. I was firm about keeping the cost low and preferred a good school district. My husband was strict about shed/garage space and wanting some land. While we had two other properties we were considering, they just didn’t quite hit the mark, especially for my husband. From my perspective, the two other houses seemed like a great compromise, but for him it was too much to sacrifice and we knew we had to keep searching.

Thankfully we were not in the middle of a pandemic at the time, and bumped into an extended family member at our mother in law’s retirement party. We were so specific in what we wanted in a house and that person knew a couple with exactly that even though the house wasn’t on the market. We settled for a two bedroom house, but we knew we could make it work and were happy that it met the other criteria we agreed on. It wasn’t everything that we each wanted, but we knew exactly what we each sacrificed to provide something the other loved. In the chart above, this was Option 3, or “Buy House C”.

Key Takeaways:

  • Be clear about what exactly you want and be ready to prioritize your criteria. We can’t all have everything, and ideally this technique will help find balance in each persons most important needs.
  • It’s OK to disagree and have different opinions, as long as you listen and find a middle ground.
  • Having very clear needs will help find a solution. Being able to quickly list the 3 or 4 must haves for our decision made it easier for someone else to help us. This is even more important if you have different opinions because it helps you be on the same team.
  • A house don’t need to be on the market to buy it- if you know people, reach out to them. we were really lucky that because we knew exactly what we wanted, when we discussed this in passing with a family member, they knew a couple who were considering moving who had a property with all the characteristics we were looking for. The house wasn’t on the market yet, but we were able to touch base with them an negotiate a deal.

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