Choices – Good Choices – Bad Choices – What’s in a Choice?

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John:

The following blog is a joint effort with my good friend Socorro.  It started as a conversation about her son who is now going through a divorce.  Socorro loves to take notes and summarize lectures, discussions, and various talks.  She is an excellent writer and poet and I keep encouraging her to create her own blog.  She is also quite a people person and one of the kindest and most thoughtful persons you will ever meet.  I am going to try to turn our discussion into a piece about choices.  The title and idea belong to Socorro.  My aim is to flesh out a little more detail about the concept of choices.

Socorro:   

John explains that the choices we make affect the quality of our lives.  If we have a poor life, it is usually because we have made “many” bad choices and not simply “one” bad choice.  As an example, he described an overweight 300-pound person.  This individual did not just one day make a choice to overeat and leave the dining room table obese.  It probably took hundreds of choices to overeat or under exercise to acquire such weight.  Every day for many years, this person made choices that led to his/her weight gain.  Reversing this weight gain will require the same number of choices in the opposite direction.  At each meal, the individual will need to eat less or exercise more to lose weight.

9780802418456-ingram__82879.1587600383John also gave the example of his brother Billy who drank, smoked, borrowed money, and never paid it back.  He once told his brother John that he was lucky since he had been given brains.  When their mom died, John and his sister Jeanine told Billy that he could have her house since both John and Jeanine owned homes.  The one condition was that he paid the upkeep and taxes since the mortgage was already paid for.  Over the next two years, Billy defaulted on a number of payments and the city almost repossessed the house.  John and Jeanine had to make the payments.  Deciding that enough was enough, they sold the house and split the proceeds three ways.  Billy of course was angry as he felt he had been treated unfairly.  He could never take responsibility for his bad choices.

Returning to the problem of my son’s divorce, Persico implied that he was making a number of choices which were not reasonable.  John stated that “Divorce is seldom rationale and nearly always emotional.”  Emotions do not usually lead to good choices.

John did his master’s thesis on the subject of divorced and separated men.  He researched and documented interviews with dozens of men.  In 1979, he wrote “The Problems of Divorced and Separated Men.”  His number one finding was that the major problem that men reported was keeping a good relationship with their children.  Fathers regretted the time away from their children and the loss of intimacy with their children.

John:

Parents intent on a divorce often ignore the impact that divorce will have on their children or what is best for their children.  Even less often do parents spend the time trying to resolve the problems of their marriage.  I could not find any statistics on the number of couples that seek out marriage counseling or marriage encounters to help repair their marriages, but I would guess from my experience with our own children that it is less than ten percent of couples.  Studies show that about 45 percent of couples receive pre-marital counseling and that it has very positive impacts on the success of a marriage.  (Consider the Benefits)

1623080034Some have argued that marriage counseling to prevent divorce is a waste of time and money.  The most frequent argument is “too little too late.”  There are many other reasons why statistics show a low rate of success with marriage counseling.  (Why Marriage Counseling Does Not Work)  I would argue that it is a little like trying to get the horses back into the corral once you have let them out.  It would be far better if more couples realized that marriage is not forever or love everlasting.  At least not without ongoing effort to improve the marriage.  If you are not working to improve anything, the laws of life say that it will get worse.  Why do so few people not understand this about marriage?

“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me.  I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other.  I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.”  ― Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Socorro:

John learned from his own divorce along with observing and talking to people the mistakes that he made in his first marriage.  He had sought counseling with his wife, but it didn’t succeed in preventing their divorce.  After they separated, he continued searching for answers with a new counselor.  This counselor saw through to the main problems that John was not dealing with and empowered him to improve his own life.  He began making better decisions.

“You are not the victim of the world, but rather the master of your own destiny. It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny.”  ― Roy T. Bennett

When John met Karen, who would become his second wife, they dated for six years before they married.  During their marriage, they have sought therapy together many times and have completed two Marriage Encounter weekends.  They have now been together for almost forty years.  They attribute the success of their marriage to ongoing efforts to continuously work on issues and problems.  There is never a month that goes by that some issue arises that must be dealt with.  They consider these ongoing efforts to be a normal part of life together.

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Couples clash over finances, in-laws, child rearing, home chores, work, religion, and a hundred other expectations.  The dysfunctions of our family of origin have often taught us bad choices that we bring into our new family.  Daily we make good or bad choices.  Intimacy, closeness, respect, communication, and creating a meaningful life are the ideals for couples.  The choices we make will determine the success of reaching our ideals.

The Gottman Institute is the culmination of Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s life work as researchers and clinical psychologists.  Their approach to relationship health has been developed from over 40 years of research with more than 3,000 couples—the most extensive study ever done on marital stability.  They reached several conclusions over what works and what does not work for married couples.  Couples who eventually divorced displayed one or more of the following characteristics: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, going silent and shutting down. Their website Gottman.com has some valuable information on what helps to create a good marriage.  There is also a free application to assess interpersonal communication.

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My son and his wife are now divorcing after nine years of marriage and three young children.  As a grandparent, I am asking what is best for my grandchildren?  What is best for my son and my daughter-in-law?  Are they making good choices or bad choices?  Is there anything I can say or do that will help them to make better choices?

“But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”  ― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

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