The benefits of choice

Many of my clients tell me that they feel stuck, that they have no choice.  They feel trapped in a situation they cannot control.  I know it’s easy to feel trapped in a divorce situation.  You may feel that your ex holds all the cards.  You might feel overwhelmed at the loss of a relationship you thought was stable.  You may feel that your ex’s behaviour leaves you with no choice as to how to react.  Or you feel that none of the choices available to you are satisfactory options.  Those feelings of being stuck then feed your thoughts, your reactions and behaviour, and ultimately your outcome – and so you stay stuck, thinking there’s nothing you can do.  I want to show you that there are always options.  If you can think of, or imagine, 3 or more options, you have choice – and that gives you power.

Having only 1 option leaves no choice.  Having only 2 options is a dilemma.  Having three options gives you choice.

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If you have 3 or more options, you have the power to consciously decide to act in a certain way, to choose a particular path, and to take back some control over a situation in which you previously felt stuck.

As an example, one of my clients (let’s call her Jane) was becoming increasingly anxious as her ex-husband was sending upsetting and aggressive text messages to her, several times a day.  Responding seemed to make the situation worse, and Jane was stuck feeling more and more pressured and worried.  She couldn’t see how she could make him change his behaviour.  We talked about options, and Jane realised she actually had lots of them!  She realised that although she couldn't change his behaviour, she could change her own, and achieve a different outcome.

Jane made a conscious choice not to respond to those messages.  Not only that, she communicated her decision to her ex-husband.  She also arranged to forward any messages she did receive to a good friend, who would read them and let Jane know if she needed to read any of the content.  After a few weeks, the aggressive messages died down, and Jane no longer felt dread every time her phone bleeped.  Jane had decided what she was willing to accept.  She set her boundary, she communicated her choice, and she made sure that she minimised the effect of any future messages.

As a result of those choices, Jane became less worried, and more confident.  Soon she felt able to make other choices from a position of strength, and she found that she could see options and alternatives that she hadn’t considered before.  She was able to consider different options in other areas where her divorce had been stuck for some time, including sorting out the mortgage on their home and the finance on the car.  Those decisions will save her significant amounts of money every month.  Jane found that by taking charge of her feelings, and changing her reaction, she changed her outcome in many ways. 

I remember making a powerful choice during my divorce journey.  For several months, I desperately wanted my husband to come home.  I cried, I journaled, I went to counselling, and I did all the things everyone advised to try and make myself feel better – I went running, I made sure I ate, I spent time with my friends.  All of those were good choices.  But deep down I was stuck, because what I really wanted was to have back what I had lost.  So I looked at my choices around that.  I decided that I could a) accept that there was nothing I could do, b) I could write to my husband and set out my feelings one last time, or c) I could progress the divorce.  I decided that, to be true to myself, I had to go for b).  I wrote a long letter, I posted it, and I got a reply.  That reply confirmed that there was no going back.  Although reading the reply was painful, it was also a turning point.  That was the moment when I knew 100% that I really did have to look at my future differently, and consider what I wanted for myself.  I couldn’t change the situation, but I could re-examine my choices within it.  That was when I started to make choices that really were all about me, and my future.

For example, I had been aware for months that I needed to look at my financial situation.  I was afraid of what I would find if I looked.  My ex-husband was still paying half of our mortgage, but I knew that couldn’t continue forever.  Once I started to look, and to make some choices, I realised that, whatever the situation was, however bad it seemed, at least I KNEW.  Once I knew, I could start to take advice and make plans.  I made choices over which direct debits were essential, and which were not (out went the pet insurance!).  I put together a budget, and started to shop differently.  I cancelled my gym membership, and started running outside.  Over the next 4 months, I managed to pay off my overdraft.  With each decision, I became stronger and more resilient.  My choices were paying off financially and emotionally.

I encourage you to ask yourself, what is the cost to me of staying stuck?  What options can I see or imagine?  What would be the benefits of making a choice? 

Remind yourself, that whatever the situation, you always have choice.  Some of those choices might be daunting.  Sometimes it may take time to fully examine your options and, like me, you might need to change or reconsider your choices according to the results you get.   

  May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears  - Nelson Mandela

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears - Nelson Mandela

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