I am struck by the quickness with which we feel we do not have a choice. I hear myself (and others) saying things like “I didn’t have a choice…” or “I guess I have to…” on a regular basis and yet I am also equally struck by the concept that we do have a choice! In any given moment and with every given situation, you always have a multitude of choices!
I DBT we teach that a person always has four choices in coping with a problem:
This is quite possibly the worst one on this list because if it were so simple, I think we all WOULD solve our own problems! What is valid about this option is that we must take time to assess what the actual problem is and determine whether it is in our control or not. If we are determining that the problem is: my spouse folds the towels wrong then I would challenge you and say that you need to dig deeper and look at what role you play in the scenario. We might discover that the real problem is: I am clinging to my preference as to how the towels are folded and judging my spouse as incompetent. In the second version of the problem, we now can apply the strategies below to solve the problem in a more creative way.
- Change your opinion/thoughts/beliefs about the problem (one of my favorite…more below)
In continuing with the same problem above, we could work to change how we are thinking about the towels. We could have a more comical thought: The way the towels are folded does not change their absorbency. You could have an attitude of gratitude: I am so grateful that my spouse took time to fold the towels. You could have a change in your thought process: I never thought to fold them like that, I’ll give their way a try and see if I like it better.
- Accept the situation (ie: stop lamenting how bad it is and accept that it just IS, letting go of your anger and resentment about the situation)
This option allows you to not get so angry every time you see the towels folded differently than you prefer. It allows you to look at the towel and recognize that it is a towel, not a symbol of spousal defiance. It allows you to see your partner as a partner, not a nuisance. I also love this option due to the freedom it brings. There is a freedom in not getting so angry about the “little things” or about the things in life that are out of your control.
- Stay miserable (and/or make it worse).
This is the option we all tend to jump to! We belittle people we love, we yell and scream over things that really don’t alter our life’s course. We throw things, we hurl insults, we give the silent treatment, we make passive aggressive gestures and comments that only serve to fuel the fire. This option does not take into account the long-term goals (staying married) and only pays attention to the short-term urge.
Which do you jump to?
Which do you think would be the most effective one for you to start using more?
Take time this week to press pause when you feel yourself preparing to engage in a problematic reaction to a (perceived) problem and take a moment to ponder these 4 choices. You may be able to free yourself from potential negative consequences!