What are some of the most difficult choices you’ve had to make? Maybe you’ve agonized over choosing a career. Or you’ve debated who you might consider marrying. These decisions offer options that are equally good, but for different reasons.
It could be that your hard choice isn’t between two good options at all. Maybe you’ve discovered your husband is a sex addict or your wife has had an affair, and you’re uncertain of what to do next. Do you stay, or do you go?
Ruth Chang, a philosopher who studies decision-making and hard choices, tells us that when we’re faced with a difficult decision, our choice reflects our values.
When I watched this TED talk, I couldn’t help but think of partners of sex addicts who are faced with the trauma of discovery and then taxed with what might be the hardest decision of their lives: should I stay or should I go?
Many partners balk at the idea of leaving their spouse due to financial concerns, children, religious beliefs, or the length of time they’ve been married. Others are convinced that they have to leave and make the choice without a second thought. But for those who are stuck in the middle of a relationships that feels intolerable with difficulty deciding whether to stay or leave, I believe Ruth’s talk gives some insights into how to lean into that hard decision.
There is no “right” answer.
Chang talks about our tendency to see value-based choices as similar to numerical equations. She asserts that we expect our choices to have three possible options: better, worse, or equal. But truly, options can have their positives and negatives, and comparing them can feel like comparing apples and oranges.
This is further complicated by the reality that there is not one right answer or one best choice. We cannot see all the outcomes or know what will come as a result of our choices: we can only choose based on the information we have and our values.
Hard choices are not hard because we’re stupid.
Often partners of sex and love addicts feel intense shame in the aftermath of discovery as they wonder why they missed all the warning signs of addiction. They might feel foolish, duped, blindsided, or like the wool has been pulled over their eyes. They may have been deceived for so long that they’re used to feeling like they’re crazy or not being certain of reality, which causes them to doubt their decision-making capacity about the relationship.
Know if you are struggling to make a decision about the future of your relationship that it does not mean that you are stupid or that you’re missing the best option. Instead, this is a hard decision that has equal positive and negative aspects, and there is no obvious best option to choose.
Hard choices reflect our values.
Chang discusses how hard choices can be both large and small. Her example of choosing between a doughnut and high fiber cereal for breakfast indicates how our choices are shaped by our values. If you value living a healthy lifestyle, the bowl of high fiber cereal might be what you choose. If you value flavor and enjoyment, you may select the doughnut.
When we look at hard choices, what typically draws us toward one alternative or another are the aspects of that choice we value. In couples work, I often encourage couples to grow intimacy through their arguments by discussing their perspective in the context of their dreams or values. When you understand your own values, you can often begin to see how the importance of those values influences your daily decisions.
Our identity is formed through hard choices.
Once you understand the values that lie behind your hard choices, you can begin to make choices based on those values. Making the choice itself can feel like the tricky part, because it often involves taking action and fighting for your dreams. If you don’t know your why, it’s easy to become a “drifter,” like Chang mentions, and allow others to make your decisions for you.
Knowing yourself and what matters to you and taking action to fight for that desire can often lead to the most empowered choice possible. Whether you decide to stay in your relationship or not, there is no right or wrong answer. The answer completely depends on your agency to choose based on your own values.
You get to choose your own reasons for staying or leaving. You get to become the author of your own life.
Have you recently discovered your spouse or partner’s sex and love addiction? Are you feeling bewildered by the decision to stay or leave? Are you afraid to take action? At Restored Hope, my goal is to support you in whatever decision you make about your relationship through exploring your values and helping you set boundaries to become empowered and confident. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.