I have noticed three decision-making procedures commonly used in relationships and I have decided to describe them.

Egalitarian. In an egalitarian relationship, decisions typically are made by consensus: when all people involved agree to make a certain decision, it is made. As long as no consensus has been reached, the people have to keep talking about it. And talking about it. And talking about it.

The basic mindset necessary for an egalitarian relationship is that both of you are on the same team. Don’t think of it as PvP, where you win by getting what you want instead of your partner getting what they want; think of it as PvE, where you win by both of you getting what you want in spite of the constraints imposed by your environment. You’re in the right mindset if you’re willing to say “okay, it looks like there’s no way we can both meet our desires, and you care about this more than I do– I guess I’m making the sacrifice now.”

You have to be able to trust your partner in an egalitarian relationship, because you have to trust that your partner is also approaching discussions in good faith: that they’re trying to find a mutually satisfactory outcome, not to win.

Non-Egalitarian. In a non-egalitarian relationship, one person has the final say. That isn’t to say that the submissive partner doesn’t have a role in decision-making, of course. The submissive partner often serves as a sounding board. If they disagree about any questions of fact, the submissive partner has to explain their point of view. And, of course, the submissive partner must be honest about their needs and boundaries.

The submissive partner is not being kept as a slave; the only reason he’s in a non-egalitarian relationship is that he wants to be. For this reason, a non-egalitarian relationship really doesn’t work unless the submissive partner genuinely, in their heart of hearts, wants their partner to make the final decision and is willing to accept whatever decision is made. Ideally, the submissive partner should feel gratitude and relief that someone else is in charge.

You have to be able to trust your partner if you’re a submissive, because they’re the one making decisions! If they make bad decisions, or ones that aren’t respectful of your needs, then you’re going to be screwed over.

It’s easy for a dominant partner to run roughshod all over their submissive, which is bad both for the submissive and for the longevity of the relationship. For that reason, the dominant partner has to consider their submissive’s needs to be as important as their own. The “you’re on the same team” thing goes double for dominant partners. If you always get what you want, you’re probably doing it wrong.

You have to be able to trust your partner if you’re a dominant, because you have to trust that they’ll be honest with you. Making good decisions requires having all of the information; if the submissive partner regularly hides their wants (perhaps out of self-sacrifice or feeling like they don’t deserve it), you’re going to run roughshod over them by accident.

Separate Spheres. A separate spheres relationship is non-egalitarian, but both partners have the final say in different areas. The classic example of separate spheres is a classic traditional marriage (as opposed to neo-traditional marriages, which are usually non-egalitarian). The man makes decisions about the outside world like what job to take, whether to move, and how to invest; the woman makes decisions about the home like what to cook for dinner, whether to redecorate, and how to discipline the children.

In most modern relationships, separate spheres is a product of the partners having different interests and capabilities. She likes budgeting, so she is in charge of the finances; he is the best at finding deals, so he’s in charge of all the family’s shopping. It is also not uncommon for relationships to have egalitarian spheres: the couple that divides up authority over the finances and the shopping may decide by consensus which house to buy.