Long ago I treated a couple named Doug and Melissa (names changed for privacy). On the third session, Melissa came in and let the cat out of the bedroom.
“The real reason we’re here is because I’m unhappy with our sex life.”
“Oh?” I said raising an eyebrow.
“But Doug refuses to talk about it. He didn’t want me to bring it up.”
Doug sat pouting on the other end of the couch.
“It’s like he gives me no choice, I just have to suck it up.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“If he won’t even talk about it, I have no choice, but to have a lackluster intimate life.”
The way Melissa saw it, her hands were tied – and not in the way she wanted them to be.
It’s not uncommon for any of us to complain at any given time that we have no choice in a particular matter, sexual or otherwise. But the truth is, we always have a choice, we just may not like the choice we have.
I told Melissa that she did have a choice. “You have a choice to be in an intimate relationship,” I said. “You just may not have a choice about whether or not it’s with Doug.”
In his book Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch describes his definition of the two-choice dilemma and says that “We have the fantasy that we have a choice between being anxious or not. Unfortunately, we don’t. Our choice is between having one anxiety or another.” (p.296).
Melissa had a great deal of anxiety about her sex life, so much so that she drug Doug to therapy. However, she had more anxiety about pushing Doug further to talk about it, or to contemplating leaving him. How did I know this? Because she was still there. Complaining.
When I asked Doug why he didn’t want to talk about sex, he said:
“It’s not proper to air dirty laundry. It’s no one else’s business. That’s just how I grew up and that’s the right way.”
“Even the idea of talking about sex makes you anxious,” I said.
“How do you feel about the fact that your wife is unhappy in your marriage?”
“Well that really stresses me out,” Doug said.
“But maybe not quite as much as talking about sex does,” I said.
“Of course it does, I can’t stand that Melissa is unhappy. Why would you say that?” he demanded.
“Because your still not talking about it,” I said.
As long as we remain unconscious of our fears, we will always choose the option that causes us less anxiety. When left on autopilot, we choose comfort. As I held Melissa’s feet to the fire, she began to think about spending the rest of her life in a relationship without intimacy and her anxiety levels about this rose to the point that she started making noise about this maybe not being the relationship for her. This wasn’t by the way, in an ultimatum fashion. Melissa was not trying to manipulate Doug; she was genuinely digging deep inside herself and thinking through her choices, which would create her destiny. As she began to think out loud, guess what happened to Doug’s anxiety levels? He began to have more anxiety about the potential of losing Melissa than he did about his childhood messages about talking about sex, and he agreed to talk about it.
Many of us have heard that we make decisions out of two places – Fear or Faith. It’s true, and there is anxiety associated with both. In Melissa’s case, she had a crappy choice. She didn’t want to be in a marriage without having her needs met. Who would? It sounds miserable if you ask me. But she also didn’t want to leave her marriage – also something I can attest to as a miserable process.
Fear says to stay in the marriage and take your lumps the way they are dealt you. It also says don’t rock the boat and push Doug to talk about it too much because then he’ll get upset and that will make Melissa feel anxious too.
Faith however always says the same thing. It will work out just as it should in perfect timing. Faith would tell Melissa to push away at Doug, that even though he might get upset, they could weather it, and if not, that is telling too. Faith would also say, that even if she had to leave the marriage, all her and Doug’s needs would be met elsewhere.
Fear told Doug to honor his family of origin’s religious code and not discuss private matters, but that meant that he had to face the anxiety of Melissa being unhappy. Faith told him that everything would be okay no matter what; go ahead and address these issues and nothing bad would happen. The marriage may work out or it wouldn’t but either way, don’t block the process. Have Faith.
If you look carefully at whatever decision you’re facing, whatever problem you are telling yourself is giving you no choice, you will find not only the choice you have, but how you are actively allowing your anxiety to make you a victim. Do you need to fire someone who is making your office a living nightmare, but you think you have no choice because she’s a single mom and has been working for you for 20 years? All you are saying is that you have more anxiety about letting her down than you do about the chaos she causes in the office.
Fear says, stay status quo and deal. Faith says, do what needs to be done and everyone will land right where they need to be. Are you in a relationship that doesn’t really do it for you, but you stay there because you’re not sure you’ll find the “right one?” That’s Fear talking, fear that you’re not worthy enough to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.
Maybe you’re staying in a relationship that you’re not that into because you’re afraid to break your partners heart. All that means is that you have more anxiety about conflict or hurting someone, than you do about not having your own needs met.
In this case, let’s consider for a moment however, what happens not just to us, but to the others involved when we choose fear-based choices rather than faith-based ones. Is it treating another human being with respect to stay in a relationship with them that you aren’t really interested in? How is that treating them with dignity? Don’t they deserve to be with someone who adores them, and in a relationship where all of their needs get met? Doesn’t an employee deserve to be in a work setting where they’re appreciated for their natural gifts and talents?
It’s true, sometimes people who don’t believe in their own worth will tell you that you or this job or whatever it is, is exactly what they want and need, but if you know that you aren’t valuing them, then you know they deserve more just as you do. Everyone deserves to be valued, feel their abundant worth and have their needs met.
Remember, you may not like the choice you have, but you always have a choice so make sure you’re making it out of faith and abundance, not fear and scarcity.
The next time you’re facing a big decision, do this:
- Determine the two sides of your crappy choice
- Identify the anxiety for each side and be honest about your motives
- Ask yourself what Fear would say
- Ask yourself what Faith would say
- I recommend making a choice out of Faith, but whatever you do, make your choice consciously