Unilateral Decision Making in Marriage

My husband and I were having a “conversation” recently about an old issue. You know the kind that goes underground for a while and you think it’s no longer an issue. Until a trigger comes up and you realize you still have feelings about this that are not resolved.

I wanted to go camping. He didn’t. I broached the subject with him several times and each time he shut me down. I asked him why. He said it was too much work. I’m an experienced camper and said I would help.

He said he didn’t like camping. I pointed out that he went camping with his ex-wife, his ex-girlfriend and his kids as recently as 2013.

But that was Before The Accident. My husband had a life altering motorcycle accident in 2015 that left him a paraplegic. Life is now divided into before the accident/after the accident.  

And now, all the unresolved issues from before the accident still need to be dealt with. They don’t go away because of the accident. For the first year and a half, Arthur was in and out of hospitals and rehabs. In 2015 I sold my house because, with its five levels, it wasn’t conducive for wheelchair use. In 2016 we moved into a condo. And slowly began building a new life.

Adjusting to the new reality was challenging. And continues to be difficult as we cope with grief, frustration, sadness, acceptance, constantly figuring out what he can do, what he is willing to do and what we can still do as a couple.

While scrolling through my phone in bed one night, I saw a Facebook Post for paraplegics which I shared with my husband. It showed a photograph of a large tent and a description of how the paraplegic went camping using two cots joined together with sleeping bags on top. See? He figured out how to go camping! My husband looks at the photo and asks, “How does he roll his wheelchair in?” With a plywood floor!

A few days ago I saw another post on Facebook, this time it was an able bodied friend who went camping in Maryland. I quickly looked up the spot and found that it has ADA (American Disabilities Act) cabins!  Look at this!  It’s only three hours away and has cabins that would accommodate you! Wide bathrooms and roll-in showers. I’m excited. He is not.

And so this old issue comes up. Nothing has changed. He doesn’t want to go camping. I do.

Sometimes, retail therapy is the answer for me so I left our home to calm down and clear my head. As I walk around the thrift store, my focus switched to finding a bargain, my mind begins to clear. Within a couple of hours, I realize that this disagreement isn’t really about camping. Camping is a symptom of the bigger issue – making unilateral decisions in our relationship.

That’s the real issue- unilateral decisions. Being inflexible. Unwilling to have a conversation about this decision.

Carolyn Hax, advice columnist, says, “Acting unilaterally in a marriage is the heart of all betrayal.”

Before the accident, my husband made unilateral decisions. He bought a 2nd sailboat; he bought a motorcycle that he knew I didn’t want, he vetoed our cross country trip. It bothered me. We discussed it. I explained that I wanted a marriage of open communication and making decisions together. He said things like, “It’s my money and I’ll do what I want with it.” And, “I don’t want to have to ask your permission.”

I need to go on record here saying my husband is not a bad man. He’s a good, loving man in many ways. He has taken me on trips that I dreamed of and financially supported me when I started a home-based business.

But he’s made decisions without me. Large ones and small ones. On one occasion we hired an exterminator. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. But the exterminator was good at his job and wanted a 12 month commitment. My husband and I went into one of the bedrooms to discuss it and agreed we didn’t want to commit to that financially. Then my husband went downstairs and signed a yearlong commitment. I was livid! How could he do that? It doesn’t make sense!

Until recently, I didn’t know that it was a thing – this unilateral decision making – that can break up a marriage. But after doing some research, I find I am not alone. I am not wrong for being disturbed by this. It explains why I don’t easily trust him.

Since moving in together in 2016, my husband has been consulting me on most of his decisions. I hear him on the phone say, “I need to talk to my wife and get back to you.” And then he does. That is new behavior. And an answer to my prayers. Fortunately, he finally saw the destruction his decisions made. He has many medical bills and would be happy to have the money back again that he spent on his 3 storage units or on the boat he never used. He would gladly take me on that cross country trip if we could go back in time. (I know we still can take that trip – but that’s for another post.)He sees how much pain he has caused me and our relationship.

But it doesn’t erase the prior years before the accident when I felt powerless and unimportant. When I didn’t have a voice.

And now we are working through this issue.

Team Tony from Robbins Research International, Inc.  says, “Once two people enter into a relationship, the number of decisions they should make on their own decreases significantly because their respective decision circles overlap… nearly every decision you make individually in a relationship has an impact on the other person. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, each partner must at least consider their spouse when making decisions.”

And that’s what was missing from our marriage before the accident.  He wasn’t considering me and the impact his decisions would have on me. That 2nd boat? I had the responsibility of getting rid of it after the accident. The exterminator? I finally told them it was not my decision, that I didn’t want the contract and they finally stopped calling. The decisions to wait on traveling cross country, vacationing in Hawaii or going camping, they are still affecting our relationship today.

Wake Up or Break Up: 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship By Leonard Felder, Ph.D. says, “…this attitude of “I’m gonna do what I want and you don’t have any say in the matter” may slowly drive a wedge between the two of you and cause friction, hurt feelings, and ugly scenes. In fact, it may take years or decades to resolve the anger and loss of trust that occur when you pull a fast one on your partner and make a major decision without adequate consultation.”

And that explains why I am still angry, several years later. I wasn’t respected. I wasn’t treated as an equal partner. And, even though his behavior has changed, I am still reeling from the effects of his decisions before the accident, in addition to being his caregiver, which has its own issues.

Team Tony from Robbins Research International, Inc.  says , “When the foundation of a relationship is built upon the pillars of communication, respect, and trust, then it is bound to succeed. “

Now that I have identified the core issue, we need to figure out how to move forward, continue to build trust and how I can let go of the past.  And with the Grace of God, we will get through this!

How do you work through these issues in your relationships?

Angela Di Cicco


2 thoughts on “Unilateral Decision Making in Marriage

  1. Angela, now that you mention it, I realize our ongoing issue in our marriage has a name…..unilateral decision making! My husband has made a few purchases without discussing such as buying a horse and a car. However, the issue we have is his not agreeing to move forward on things I’d like to get done around the house such as rooms that need painting, a shed that needs fixing or a door that needs to be replaced. It has created stress in our relationship and I have not figured a way around it yet 😏. His excuse is he can do this so why pay someone however it never gets done.


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