The Nature of Choice and Relationships
Embracing our choices.
Posted Aug 25, 2017
A relationship almost always involves a choice or is a connection formed by blood. We choose our friends, lovers, and spouses. As adults, we decide how much to interact with our family of origin.
Relationships, especially romantic attachments, are transactional. When we make a choice, our partner can choose as well. However, the two decisions may not be the same. We can negotiate, but sometimes negotiation isn’t possible. While we may want a romantic attachment to continue, if our partner has a different idea, the relationship may not survive.
We have to formulate our choices without knowing how a relationship will unfold. Every choice affects us and others, often in unexpected ways
Relationships can be caring and nurturing, or exploratory, pleasure-oriented or contentious. Some become permanent; others are transitory. We can create an authentic connection or maintain a superficial one.
The nature of choice is complex. It involves selecting one option and leaving others behind. Letting go of possibilities. Choice affects how a relationship evolves and if it will end. Every day, we make decisions in a relationship—when to have dinner, how to handle anger, whether to move to a new city.
We make choices for many reasons: with good intentions or because of doubt, convenience, or conviction. We may feel uncomfortable with ambiguity or ambivalence and decide on a safe choice or a risky one. Sometimes our minds are divided; we don’t know what to choose.
We might be motivated to please ourselves or others. We may attend an event or go on a trip because we want to meet our partner’s expectations. Choice often creates the balance of power in a relationship.
Choice can cause friction or be a source of strength if partners decide together.
Recently, I had dinner with friends. As they were leaving for home, my friend said to her husband, “Do you want to ‘cab it’ or take the subway and bus?” He said, “Subway and bus.” She replied, “Good.” She was really asking: how much money do you want to spend tonight? The dinner had been expensive. A taxi would cost thirty dollars or more. She included her husband in the decision, which resulted in an agreement that satisfied them both.
What we choose at one moment may not be our decision at another time. Sometimes there are no positive options.
My ex-husband’s close friend is a friend of mine. After my divorce, I decided to be less involved with the friend—not because of lack of affection for him. I valued the friendship and knew I would miss him, but he felt too close to my old life and my ex-husband. I needed distance from that life. I made a difficult, harsh choice, but a necessary one after the rupture of a long-term committed relationship.
I learned that feelings and people are always in motion.
That’s why novels and short stories can be compelling to read; they often have a logical trajectory. One of the pleasures of writing is to impose order on characters’ lives. Unlike fiction, real life contains ambiguity and ambivalence, which makes choice more complicated.
What we think of as choice is often determined by our history and emotions—our fears, needs, and losses.
“When an inner situation is not made conscious,” Carl Jung said, “it appears outside as fate.” Our unconscious influences us in ways we don’t always understand.
When a choice is based in our history and unconscious, the reasons for our decision may not be clear to our partner or even to us.
Sometimes we choose with our intellect, other times with our emotions. We may analyze options or decide quickly. Even after we’ve made a choice, we may feel ambivalence or regret.
Choice is risky, and plunges us into the unknown. What seems like a poor decision may turn out to be positive. What seems like the right choice may not always prove to be a wise one.
We can’t control the consequences of a decision. This may be the hardest aspect of choice. We may make a well-reasoned career change and move to a new city with our family, but the impact is unpredictable. The relocation may be more difficult than anticipated or more gratifying than we expected.
It’s often in hindsight that we understand the value of a relationship and cost of a choice.
Making a choice then is not a simple act.
It includes intention, will, strength, anxiety, and even persuasion. A decision can feel liberating or upsetting, stir feelings of exhilaration, freedom, or fear. It can be nurturing or contentious. Or we can feel as if we’re forced into choosing. Choice can strengthen a relationship or weaken it.
Risk is part of everyone’s life. All we can do is make the best choice at the time, based on the data available to us, even though we may not always feel certain about a decision. We need to embrace our choices. Let go of the possibilities. Then we need to keep living. Our lives will change and grow as time moves on.