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How Choice Theory Can Save Your Marriage

By Hannah Slattery, LPC, NCC

Dr. William Glasser, internationally recognized psychiatrist who is best known as the creator of Choice Theory and author of Reality Therapy, believed that most of life’s unhappiness derived from our dissatisfaction in our relationships. One of the key differences between Dr. Glasser’s workand others is that Glasser believed in personal choice. We tend to blame and excuse our behaviors on external factors, ie. I yelled at my husband because he didn’t take out the garbage when I asked him to. Blaming external factors for our behaviors encourages us to continue to lead unsatisfactory lives. 


Our 5 Basic Needs


The reason we are yelling at our husband to take out the trash or getting upset that our wife won’t initiate intimacy is that we are trying to get our needs met. The issue isn’t that we are trying to get our needs met, it is how we are trying to fulfill the needs. Dr. Glasser established the 5 basic needs that he believed everyone possessed; survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. These needs were not placed in a hierarchy, rather a spectrum where an individual may possess a higher need for love and belonging and a lower need for freedom. 


If we are to believe that our marriage is based on love, shared values, and common goals, then why do we continue to say or do hurtful things? The idea is that we are trying to meet our needs in the best way we can. One crucial tool to help your relationship is to understand your partners’ basic needs. If my partner has a strong freedom and fun need but I have a strong survival and love and belonging need we may have to work harder to better understand each other. Having strong basic needs that conflict with each other does not mean you have to live in a relationship full of conflict. One of the first steps to establishing a healthier relationship is to ask yourself and then your partner, “ Do I want to put maximum effort into rebuilding or healing the relationship?”. 


Start taking responsibility


The most empowering and eye-opening experience you can have with yourself and your partner is to start to take responsibility for your actions. You cannot help that your partner didn’t take out the trash when you wanted them to, but you can help if you yell or hold hurt and anger when they don’t. This doesn’t mean you and your partner can’t share household responsibilities but most people would be a lot more willing to take out the trash for their partner who isn’t constantly yelling at them. We have the power to change our lives based on the choices we make, this is regardless of age, experience, ethnic background, or hormonal function. 


10 Axioms of Choice Theory 


There are ten axioms to Choice Theory:

  1. The only person whose behavior you can control is our own.

  2. All we can give or get from other people is information.

  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.

  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present lives.

  5. What happened in the past that was painful has a great deal to do with what we are today, but revisiting this painful past can contribute little or nothing to what we need to do now: improve an important, present relationship.

  6. We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

  7. We can satisfy these needs only by satisfying a picture or pictures in our Quality Worlds.

  8. All we can do from birth to death is behave. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.

  9. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs, usually infinitives and gerunds, and named by the component that is most recognizable.

  10. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we have direct control over only the acting and thinking components.


These 10 components can be highly effective in reestablishing healthy boundaries with yourself and your partner. If you are currently unsatisfied with your relationship with your partner and are interested in couples therapy please feel free to reach out to Graceful Therapy to schedule an appointment. 



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