Couples have always had to navigate differences in risk. And yet, over the last couple months, the potential for explosive conflict around risk has grown exponentially. Because now, everything is risky.
Should you get a haircut? Or is that taking on too much risk?
Should you get a check up at the doctor? Is going or not going the bigger risk?
Should you let your child play with a friend? Or will that turn your kid into a disease vector?
If you're lucky, you and your partner agree on these emerging questions of risk. But, if you’re like most couples, you may encounter moments where you can’t seem to agree on which risks are worth taking.
At the beginning of a pandemic, for example, we experienced this dilema firsthand. Kaley’s family had spent several years planning an international trip with a departure date of March 13.
With schools closing and major events cancelling, Nate felt terrified by the idea of going abroad. Kaley, on the other hand, wanted to go as a way of honoring our commitment to travel with her family.
We each had a different view of risk that called for radically different actions. And so, we were stuck.
Having different risk thresholds is like living in different worlds. So the first step is to build a greater sense of empathy for your partner's world. From a place of curiosity, see if you can understand the assumptions and beliefs behind their view. Before our international trip, for instance, we spent hours unpacking the reasons behind our different positions. Neither of us changed our view. But this open line of communication helped us understand each other better.
Sometimes, consensus is impossible. Sometimes, the best you can do is to move toward each other in an attempt to find a middle way. If you have a higher risk threshold, this may mean taking fewer risks or adding additional precautionary measures when you do something that feels risky to your partner. If you are the lower risk partner, this may mean stretching outside your comfort zone or thinking about how you can (more safely) take some of the risks your partner is proposing.
In the end, Nate moved out of his comfort zone and agreed to go on the trip. Kaley moved toward Nate by agreeing that our immediate family would stick together, no matter what, and that, if anything strange or unusual happened, we would turn around.
Then, minutes before boarding our plane to Ecuador, something "unexpected" did happen. The Ecuadorian government canceled all flights to and from the United States. The choice was now clear: take this last flight from Miami to Ecuador with no path back or turn around. We chose to go home.