A psych explains how making difficult decisions at work can hinder your ability to make them in a relationship

Image: iStock / Lyndon Stratford
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It can be difficult to switch off at the end of the workday and be fully present in your personal life – especially if you’re working from home. And if you’re finding yourself unable to make decisions about your relationship, it could be because you’re already doing so much of it at work.

Psychologist Vashti Wallace, who works in organisational and employee wellbeing, explained to Business Insider Australia that decision fatigue is a common reason we may avoid making decisions about our relationship.

Decision fatigue occurs when your ability to make decisions is hindered due to the number of choices you’re faced with during the day. Having to constantly make complex decisions drains your energy when it comes time to make even simple ones later in the day. In addition, the anxiety caused by each decision wears down your mental strength and ultimately you reach a point where you don’t care anymore and can take it out on those around you. Sound familiar?

“As our day goes on, and the number of decisions made increases, our energy depletes and our ability to choose wisely decreases,” Wallace tells us. “Making decisions all day at work can lead to decision fatigue and, therefore, a reluctance to make decisions when we come home from work. For example, you may become irritable when your partner asks you what you want for dinner.”

A common effect of decision fatigue is impulse buying at the supermarket – once you’ve made numerous decisions throughout the aisles, you’re less likely to be able to resist a sweet treat at the cash register. Decision fatigue is one of the reasons Steve Jobs decided to wear the same outfit every day. By choosing an outfit that worked for all occasions, he saved himself from future analysis paralysis.

Wallace explains another effect of decision fatigue is trade-offs, where you’re faced with two options and both have a positive and a negative element. “A person experiencing decision fatigue may be reluctant to make these decisions, take longer to make them, or simply make a decision that they later regret,” she explains.

Decision avoidance is another effect and sees us avoid making decisions altogether, or perhaps choosing the ‘easy’ option rather than the ‘right’ or ‘best’ option. This also presents as procrastination, where we put off making the choice to another day or until the need to make the decision passes.

Relationship decisions can often be quite complex, with both positive and negative consequences for the options being considered. An example of this could be whether or not to stay in the relationship.

Wallace reveals you’re more likely to be at risk of decision fatigue if you make many decisions throughout the day, especially if they’re stressful or complex, and if the choices you make affect you or other people.

This can result in you becoming indecisive in other areas of your life, such as your relationship. As a result, you might have difficulty making commitments or be reluctant to take a relationship to the next level.

Another way this could present itself could be that you allow the other person to have their way rather than disagreeing with them. For example, married men often joke how it’s easier to agree with what their wife wants because ‘happy wife, happy life’.

Or it could even see you tolerating unacceptable behaviours at home and staying in an unhealthy relationship due to fears of being single and having to start over again.

These behaviours could lead to further conflict in your relationship as issues aren’t being resolved. You or your partner may begin to feel insecure in the relationship because of the perception the other person isn’t committed. Or it could even lead to infidelity.

Recognising you’re suffering from decision fatigue is the first step to make so you can then work on putting some of the suggested ideas into motion and reducing your analysis paralysis.

Ways to combat decision fatigue include:

Making important decisions first: Getting the most challenging decision out of the way as early in the day as you can help prevent decision fatigue later on in the day.

Remove distractions: If you’re spending your time scrolling through social media or watching TV, you might be draining your willpower to make decisions later in the day. Removing these distractions can help you engage with the project or task at hand and reduce fatigue.

Plan your meals: Planning your meals ahead of time can eliminate decision fatigue – and potential outbursts at your partner – by reducing the decision making and reserve your brainpower for the important things.

Take a break: If you’re physically exhausted, you’re more likely to feel mental fatigue. If you’re tired, you’ll probably make not-so-great decisions, so make sure to take a break during the day to recharge if need be – this could be a short walk or even a nap.

Consider how to best minimise decision-making when it comes to day-to-day tasks to save you perhaps snapping at your partner or making the wrong decision about your relationship, simply because it’s easier.

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