Choices define our lives & our relationships. Many of the choices we make are done without thinking or awareness because they are habits. What makes you more mentally healthy is being aware of having choices and making them. Listen & learn what choices will improve your relationship. 

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 Choices can run the gamut of large “Should we have kids?” to a more medium sized choice to punish a partner who’s done you wrong. 

Paying attention to your choices can improve your relationship, instead of knee jerk bad habits that don’t require any thinking.

Many times you hear characters on television or in books saying they didn’t have a choice, that is simply lying to yourself. While you may believe your habit of being angry easily is not a choice because it happens so fast, but you do have a choice. You have the choice to do the work of learning to interrupt the trajectory of your anger.

Many choices can not be divided simply into good or bad; many choices like where to live have tradeoffs, Every location has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. This is also true of most choices. The up side of fast anger is feeling powerful & in charge; the downside it pushes people away from you.

If you have a need to always be right or to win, then you want all the choices to flip in your favor. That is not a useful attribute in a relationship. You have to sign on to the belief that two heads are better than one. You need to be open to different ways of doing things. You need to be able to negotiate instead of demand. Adults who need to be right are often not as flexible. Flexibility is useful to relationship success. Increasing your ability to be flexible would be a great choice to improve your relationship.

Our choices define us. Our choices are how we decide what’s important. One of the choices that we all struggle with is the truth that the right thing to do is often the harder thing to do. It’s easier to lie than tell the truth. It’s easier to avoid then talk about hard things. It’s easier to believe you are keeping a secret to protect your partner or to not hurt them; when really you are protecting yourself, the secret-keeper.

It can be very hard to let your kids make their own mistakes instead of running interference. Parents making choices for kids interrupts their own experiences. Experiences including bad ones help us learn & grow. Kids need the practice.

Couples learning how to make choices together practice the skill of negotiating. This may require 25 conversations to soften the differences. The conversations help both people shuttle back & forth between both points of view; and assumes there is value to both. What couples most often do is interrupt the shuttling back & forth to campaign for their own beliefs.

The shuttling back & forth helps you to examine what’s reasonable; what’s unreasonable or what’s worth it, what’s not worth it or what’s better about each idea & what are the drawbacks. Two people who can respectfully explore each other’s ideas means you don’t have to be enthusiastic but you do have to consider your partner’s possibilities. That’s a choice that will lead to relationship longevity.

Deciding to be partners means choosing to be influenced by each other. You see that clearly evolving in the movie Green Book. The working class driver Tony Lip allows himself to be influenced by the classical pianist Dr. Shirley when he is writing letters home to his wife. The respect of allowing another to influence you is the power of partnerships.

Choices about money can be difficult. I’ve seriously challenged my individual clients who tell me they have a secret credit card with debt that their partner does not know about. It’s important to be honest & decide together what the financial priorities are. All the financial advice books will tell you to get rid of your credit card debt first & foremost.

Choices about having more stuff don’t seem as beneficial to me as investments in education & experiences. I paid $50. to the county to rent a hay ride for my kids party every October. I personally dreaded all the chaos & work of it & I also felt it was totally worth it for the memories that I was creating. I remember paying for modeling school for my daughter; very clear it was all hype & hoping it would help her experience greater self confidence.

From listening to clients & a November 2018 article in The Atlantic “ The Sex Recession”: I know people are giving up on paying attention to their sex life. 10 times or less a year is considered nonsexual according to Barry McCarthy. Not having sex or letting it slip away is not a healthy choice. Who doesn’t want an orgasm? If you’ve been neglecting sex I hope you will give a listen to episode 60 that has excellent advice from Stephen Snyder on low desire & how to rekindle the excitement.

Another choice that people do badly; is NOT dealing with problems; pretending they will go away if ignored is a favorite couples activity. What made me think of this was getting a text from someone asking for another referral because the couples therapist they are seeing is overly concerned about alcohol…..I bet you it’s a concern they are choosing to ignore. Denial is a greater force than love or hate is one of my favorite sayings. Like an alcoholic believing they can drink in moderation & believing the disease won’t sneak right back in. The bad habit of avoiding & neglecting difficult things does not work in relationships.

I have a ton of admiration for people in recovery because they learn to value the grueling process of truth & addressing hard things is not to be avoided. They practice that choice over & over & from pursuing this difficult journey.

Our culture operates out of fear & fears interfere with making better choices. Take a moment & look back on the last time you made a fear based choice. You let something go unspoken; you decided to drink when you knew you had enough; you didn’t go after a better job; you didn’t take a risk that you wanted to; or that you avoided doing something because you were afraid to make a mistake ???

Manipulation is a choice, allowing yourself to be manipulated is a choice, playing games to get what you want is a choice, or deciding you deserve to be loved no matter what is a choice that leads to loneliness. Exaggerating your feelings to get what you want is a choice that you may not be aware of to begin with but you sure can learn about it & change it, if you want to. What would be the opposite of all these bad choices? Learning to share power.

Sharing power while not easy is a key to relationship longevity. We all want to win in some primitive part of our brain; our amygdala hijacks us. We have to be willing to give up our need to win and not seeing it as losing. We have to decide to lubricate the idea that there is validity to our partner’s point of view. We trade in winning for the belief that two heads are better than one.

MY CHALLENGE: for you today is to ask yourself what are defeating choices that you make in your life? Some examples: Temper, Defensiveness, Negativity, Unrealistic Expectations, Criticalness, Indecision, People-Pleasing, Worrying, Perfectionism are just a few examples
Then think about what life enhancing choices do you make? Try new things, Use talents, Honesty, Fairness, Curiosity (& taking actions out of your curiosity), Accept Other’s Faults, Be a good friend, Keep Commitments or Recognize your own faults.
Ask yourself if you had more Courage what is a new risk you would pursue?

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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