You & Your Family

Making tough decisions

Nov 2013    

What if it is difficult to live together in harmony? Do we stick to it and remain frustrated and embittered? Or do we live apart and maintain connections that are manageable?

Have you ever had to make a decision where there are no good choices? The choice is not between correct or incorrect, but between two equally difficult and unpleasant outcomes. Recently, I attended to two women who were faced with such choices.

The first lady had been married for seven years. The trouble had started even before she decided on marriage.

Perhaps if she had decided then not to marry, she could have avoided a lot of grief for herself, her husband, and her children. But like some of us, she decided to put off a difficult decision, avoid the immediate discomfort and “go with the flow”.

Seven years on, with countless angry quarrels, dramatic exits from the marital home and affairs by both parties, she sought help to cope with her decision to apply for a divorce. As we talked, I sensed that her decision was not entirely fixed. To be fair, it is not an easy decision. After strong emotional investment in someone for over ten years, few can easily say that they have decided to leave without any feelings of ambivalence.

However, the presence of ambivalence is not the same as being undecided. We often have reservations even when we make decisions. We know that our knowledge is incomplete, but still we commit ourselves to act. We are only responsible for making the best decision we can with whatever information we have, which is not always guaranteed to be the right decision. But it is the best process we have.

As this lady tried to decide on issues that involved strong emotions, she was torn between what her head dictated and what her heart yearned for. I attempted to help her through this impasse by advising her to make her decision not based on how she felt, but whether she thought they could have a mutually meaningful marriage together.

I added that she should not decide to divorce her husband only because she was angry with him, as these feelings may change over time. At the same time, she should also not stay married only because she still loved him, even though this was an important emotion. Her decision had to take into account their ability to make their marriage work.

In the second scenario, a single mother was preparing for the impending release of her daughter from the Girls’ Home. She has had a difficult relationship with her 16-year-old, who initially lived with her grandmother till age 12, when she returned to live with her mother and stepfather. By age 14, with a string of offences such as theft, smoking and running away from home, she was placed under State care.

Instead of looking forward to the release, both mother and daughter are filled with apprehension. Many people had admonished the mother to fulfil her maternal responsibilities. She was now torn between what she considered as near-certain chaos of her family life with her daughter’s return, and the societal scorn she would face if she did not take her daughter home.

In helping her, we had to find a way that she could demonstrate she still cared for and was willing to support her daughter, even though she could not have them live under one roof harmoniously. Such a decision challenges our notions that the best thing for every family is to live together. What if it is difficult to live together in harmony? Do we stick to it and remain frustrated and embittered? Or do we live apart and maintain connections that are manageable?

It is not always easy to decide on such tough matters. But we can pray and ask God for wisdom. We can also remember to listen and weigh what the heart and mind may be saying about a matter. Both viewpoints may not be at odds with each other.

It may be helpful to engage the wise counsel of family members, close friends, pastors or helping professionals. God does not intend for us to remain adrift in a sea of indecision.

Picture by tmcnem and valeev,

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.


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