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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 t