The theory underlying Reality Therapy is outlined in the book, “Choice Theory,” with the subtitle, “A new psychology of personal freedom.” What does choice theory have to do with personal freedom?
Dr. Glasser refers to the need for freedom as a basic need—we all have it. Choice theory encourages the personal freedom that comes from recognizing what you can and cannot control.
Fundamentally, we know that we can only control our own behaviour. However, we don’t always act as if we know that. The consequence can be that we, and the folks we try to control, end up being pretty miserable.
For example, Emma has been William’s girlfriend for years now. Emma has a picture in her mind of the life that she wants; there’s a house, two (perfect) children, a dog, a cat, and her adoring husband, William, in a loving marriage.
Emma began developing that picture early in her relationship with William, and it blossomed as time went on. However, the reality of the relationship didn’t keep up with Emma’s picture. The more determined Emma became to move the relationship along to match her picture, the more reluctant William was to comply.
Now, instead of having the loving relationship that Emma wants and thought she had, she and William spend most of their time arguing about where their relationship is headed.
Emma thinks that if she could only get William to make a commitment to her, all would be well. It doesn’t even have to be an immediate commitment; she just needs to know that ultimately, William will be hers and hers alone. Then she won’t have to worry about having to go out and find someone else.
Emma thinks this is a perfectly reasonable request and if William really loved her, as he used to tell her all the time, he would do this one thing that she wants so badly.
But William won’t comply, and Emma is choosing to frustrate, fuss, and focus on what she perceives as the one deficiency in their otherwise wonderful relationship.
So whose personal freedom is being restricted? William’s? Well, Emma has some freedom issues too!
Since Emma began trying to control William—trying to force him into a commitment he doesn’t want to make—their relationship isn’t much fun. Emma thinks that once she succeeds, all will be well. With her worries gone, she could again be the enthusiastic girlfriend she had been—you know—the one that William fell in love with.
But as long as William refuses to commit to her, Emma refuses to “reward” William; refusing to be that delightful girlfriend she used to be. Not much freedom for Emma in that, is there?
As Emma can only control Emma’s behaviour, not William’s, what can she do to make William commit? Well, nothing. She can’t force that commitment. Not with threats, manipulations, not even pregnancy. William will not stay with her forever if he doesn’t want to.
Is Emma trapped into forever playing girlfriend with no commitment, while William does as he pleases? Of course not. What do you see as Emma’s choices? Let me know
This article is the first in a series. The next article in this series is here.