Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Yes No I Don’t Know

Identifying and framing shared decisions

Key points

  • The first step in applying YNIDK is recognising the decisions in play.
  • The Field Model only applies to shared decisions that need consent.
  • When couples fight about not supporting or controlling each other, it can sometimes be hard to work.
  • Every decision can be framed from multiple points of view, and the framing should help you identify whether or not the decision is shared.

 

What is the decision?

The first step in Yes No I Don’t Know is recognising the decision in play.

This isn’t always easy, because we tend not to notice all the decisions we make in a relationship—they are small, or they happen so quickly, that we just don’t perceive them, or think of them as separate decisions.

But pretty much everything is a decision:

  • Go for a walk?
  • Hold hands?
  • Share your photos?
  • Keep talking?
  • Hold eye contact?

And it doesn’t stop there! All of these decisions are made up of even more tiny decisions, or are mixed up with other decisions being made at the same time:

  • Hold hands? Fingers interlocked or kept together? Firm or soft? Stroke with thumb? Squeeze? Keep holding or let go now? What about now?  

This can get overwhelming if you think about it too much, and the point is not to overwhelm you: the point is to recognise that we are making decisions constantly, and some of those decisions are significant enough to call out for more consideration.

 

Is the decision really a shared decision? 

If you recognise there’s a decision to be made within a personal relationship, you need to consider whether or not the decision is actually a shared decision—because only shared decisions require someone else’s consent

One way of approaching this is to ask, who needs to participate in the action for this decision?

  • If two or more people are involved, then it’s a shared decision and it needs consent.
  • If only one person is directly involved, then it’s not a shared decision and probably doesn’t need consent.

For example:

  • “I want to touch your butt” is a shared decision—it needs the butt-owner’s consent.
  • “I want to go to sleep” is not a shared decision—it doesn’t need anyone’s consent.

So far it sounds obvious, right? But there’s a catch. Consider these examples:

 

“I want to go out with my friends.”

“No, you can’t. They’re a bad influence.”

 

 

“I want to get a job.”

 

 

“I’m going to wear these shorts to the funeral.”

“No, you’re not. They’re completely inappropriate.”

 

None of these examples are shared decisions, but still another person is saying no. What is the power of that no? Is it an opinion? Or is it a command?

In the Field Model, no is very powerful. It gives either person the power to shut down any action.

But if you apply that rule in a decision that isn’t shared, then you are giving one person control over another, and in a personal relationship that’s not right.

Is this a common problem? Yes, it can come up in a few different ways.

 

Fighting when your partner lets you down

Couples often fight about one person not supporting the other:

 

Demelza: “Come and help me wash the dishes.”

Ruben: “No, I’m watching TV.”

Demelza: “You suck!”

 

In this example, Demelza is angry at Ruben because he’s not helping her. She thinks it’s completely unfair that she’s doing the dishes and he’s watching TV.

Should Ruben be helping her? In a good relationship, probably—because relationships need a sense of fairness to work, and partners like to feel supported.

But does that mean he does not have the right to say no?

Let’s think about it. This is a shared decision in a personal relationship. Demelza has no formal authority over him; she can’t command him to do the dishes. And since she’s asking him to participate in an action, Field Model consent rules apply. That means Ruben has the power to say no, and Demelza needs to manage her emotions and think about her options.

Can Demelza think Ruben is a complete @$$#*^% for not helping her? Sure. Can she feel like this relationship is a waste of time and she would be better off with Bailey? Absolutely.

But what she can’t do is attack, abuse or punish him about his decision.

All couples argue about money, time and priorities, and they annoy, irritate and disappoint each other to varying degrees.

One way these conflicts can be clarified is for both people to recognise that the other person has the right to say no, and if that no is really disappointing or hurtful then they need to figure out an appropriate response—not attack the other person and make the argument even worse.

 

One partner controlling another

A different type of relationship conflict comes from one partner trying to control another.

 

Alex: “I want to join a mountaineering club.”

Henry: “No way. It’s too dangerous.”

Alex: “But I want to climb!”

Henry: “No, I won’t let you!”

 

What’s happening here?

Alex is trying to make a decision for herself but Henry is acting as if it is a shared decision—he thinks Alex needs to get his consent, so he’s applying the Field Model, which would give him the power to say no.

But this is wrong: it’s not a shared decision. Alex isn’t asking Henry to participate in anything, so she doesn’t need his consent, and Field Model rules don’t apply.

Henry might feel like he’s part of this decision because he’s worried about Alex’s safety, and he feels like he would be directly affected if Alex were to have an accident, but there’s a difference between participating in an action and being indirectly affected by it.

  • If Alex asked Henry to go climbing, it would be a shared decision—he could say no.
  • If Henry asked Alex to go for a walk instead, it would be a shared decision—and she could say no.
  • But if Alex says she wants to go climbing without any expectations on Henry’s behaviour, then that’s not a shared decision, and Alex doesn’t need Henry’s consent, even though Henry is potentially affected by the consequences.

 

This kind of controlling behaviour can become toxic because one person robs another of their freedom.

We can avoid it by reminding ourselves that the Field Model applies to shared decisions, and recognising what makes a shared decision distinct.

 

What do shared decisions look like?

Shared decisions are we, us or you type decisions: 

  • We should eat ramen for dinner. 
  • Don’t you wear those shorts. 
  • I want us to go to bed now. 
  • I want to kiss you. 

In contrast, individual decisions are I type decisions in which other people don’t feature: 

  • I want to eat ramen for dinner. 
  • I want to wear these shorts. 
  • I don’t want to go to bed now. 

But these are only clues. There are all sorts of slippery tricks we can play with language. For example:

  • I want to share this photo.

Sounds like an individual decision, right? But what if that photo belongs to someone else? The other person is hidden. The question should really be:

  • I want to share this photo of you.

That’s a shared decision to which someone can say no.

Let’s take this further.

 

Framing the decision the right way

We might see a decision as shared based on how we frame it, in particular whose point of view we frame it around. Consider this example:

  • Demelza: “I want to go out by myself tonight.” 
  • Henry: “I want us to stay home together tonight.” 

In one sense, Henry and Demelza are talking about the same thing: what’s Demelza doing tonight?

But in Field Model terms, these are two completely different decisions.

  • “I want to go out by myself” is an individual decision because Demelza is not asking Henry to do anything directly—she wants to go out, as far as she’s concerned Henry can do whatever he wants. Demelza doesn’t need consent.
  • I want us to stay in” is a shared decision because Henry is asking Demelza to do something—he wants her to physically stay at home with him. Henry does need consent.

 

If you’re ever confused about whether a decision is shared, try reframing it from the other person’s point of view, and then look at how the power to say no works in each framing.

For instance, here are two ways of framing a break up, but only one is a shared decision. Which one would the Field Model apply to?

 

Veronica: “I want to break up.”

Bailey: “I want us to stay together.”

 

  • “I want to break up” is an individual decision, it doesn’t need consent. Applying the Field Model would mean the other person has the power to say no and keep someone trapped in the relationship.
  • “I want us to stay together” is a shared decision. Being in a relationship requires consent, and one person can say no at any time and end the relationship.

 

Experimenting with framing is a really useful way to explore decisions and figure out whether or not they are shared, and whether Field Model rules apply.