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I Used To Be Indecisive, Now I’m Not Sure



I Used To Be Indecisive, Now I’m Not Sure

Are you indecisive? Maybe it’s time to get off the fence?

Amy and Jack have been living together for 3 years, they seem to be doing well together, but Amy is getting impatient. She wants to get married, start having the kids, but Jack hems and haws. Your classic case of commitaphobia.

Maybe, but there’s something else at work here. You see it turns out that Jack doesn’t just waffle around marriage, he can waffle about anything – about taking a new job, buying a new shirt, whether or not to go for the special at Arby’s, what to bring to the company picnic. The problem is that Jack is indecisive overall.. it’s isn’t all about Amy or marriage.

So what to do. Why is Jack so afraid to just be bold and jump in? Some possibilities:

Making a big mistake. Jack’s head may live in the World of Right. He worries that marriage or job will lead to Regret and the Land of Woes. And in his mind the shirt might not fit after it is washed, the Arby special will taste awful and he’ll be kicking himself for the next two days for being so stupid or reckless, he’ll bring the exact same dish as 3 other staff to the picnic and his will be untouched.

Of course none of this has happened, but it’s about the worry it might, and the emotional consequences of making a “mistake”. He gets immobilized.

Solution: Jack thinks that he needs to anticipate all these possibilities, ad finitum, and have a solution to them before he can act. For him every decision is just as important as every other. Instead, he needs to take the risk of being decisive, and then rather seeing any future problems as evidence of how stupid he was, but as new problems that he now needs to fix. He needs to train his brain to see everyday issues that may come up on the job or marriage are simply new problems, not reminders of his bad choices; the shirt, picnic, or Arbys are good learning experiences – to move up an extra size on the shirt, skip that particular special at Arbys, keep it simple and just bring an extra six-back of beer to the picnic.

Others may be hurt / upset. Or no, it’s not really about a big mistake. Jack is actually dithering about marriage because he feels that sex (and overall affection for that matter) with Amy has never ever really been that great. But he doesn’t say anything about any of this because he is afraid of hurting her feelings. And the staff picnic, well he’d rather skip the whole thing, but he’s worried that his colleagues will think he is stand-offish. Again, paralyzed. Trapped by a problem and an emotion.

Solution: Yes, Amy will most likely be hurt if he seems critical of their sex life. But after she calms down she may appreciate that his being honest is better than holding it all in. She realizes (and hopefully Jack does too) that this is part of a testing and making a strong relationship — that each person can weather the other’s honesty and solve problems together.

As with the big mistake, Jack needs to try out thinking that Speaking up is Part 1; Helping Amy deal with her hurt is Part 2 – a new problem. Ditto with the colleagues – take the risk of saying that he is bowing out of the picnic and then see the reaction. If they make a face or give him a hard time, he can tackle as a new problem.

He’s conflicted. Here Jack clearly has a mix of feelings and they all get jumbled up and he can’t sort them out. Marriage, potato salad, blue vs. white shirt, it doesn’t matter.

Again, being Right or worrying about other’s reactions may be coming into play, but he may simply be overwhelmed and unclear with so many options and emotions.

He’s in that murky state of ambivalence. He’s likely thinking about this way too much; he has a hard time separating the important from the less important.

Solution: The antidote to ambivalence is action. He needs to pick…something. Set that date for the marriage, and see what happens. Commit to the potato salad and say to himself that at worst he’ll have it for lunch for the next week. Buy the blue shirt, don’t wash it, hang it up and stare it for a few days and see if his feelings change.

This is about getting out the mental fog. Through action you get closer to how you really feel. And if that the action itself is too overwhelming, Jack can still ramp it up by setting a date to act – give the relationship another 6 months and use that has a drop-dead time for making a clear decision.

Of course, there’s a parallel process and story going on here – Amy’s own indecisiveness. Where Jack seems hesitant to jump in, Amy may be hesitant to jump out. Not surprisingly, ambivalence can be contagious.

Maybe time for Amy to be …decisive?

[Robert Taibbi]

Bob Taibbi is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 40 years experience primarily in community mental health working with couples and families as a clinician, supervisor and clinical director. Bob is the author of 7 books: Doing Couples Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Work with Intimate Partners Doing Family Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Clinical Practice, now in its 3rd edition, and recently translated into Chinese and Portuguese Clinical Supervision: A Four-Stage Process of Growth and Discovery Clinical Social Work Supervision: Practice & Process Boot Camp Therapy: Action-Oriented Brief Clinical Approaches to Anxiety, Anger & Depression The Art of the First Session Brief Therapy With Couples & Families in Crisis In addition to his books, Bob writes an regular online column for Psychology Today magazine entitled Fixing Families, as well as a monthly parenting advice column for Charlottesville Family magazine. He has also published over 300 magazine and journal articles, and has contributed several book chapters including Favorite Counseling Techniques: 55 Masters Share Their Secrets which cited him among the top 100 therapists in the country. He served as teen advice columnist for Current Health, a contributing editor to Your Health and Fitness, and has received 3 national writing awards for Best Consumer Health Writing. Bob is a graduate of Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina, and has served as adjunct professor at several universities. He provides trainings nationally in couple therapy, family therapy, brief therapy, and clinical supervision. He is currently in private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia with Lewis Weber & Associates:

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