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The Four Choices

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The Four Choices
by Dr. Greg Baer

(From "The Truth About Relationships")

We only have four choices to make with any partner. Let's deal with the fourth choice first, the one that Joan wanted to make -- the one that we really don't get to make.

The Fourth and Worst Choice
- Change Our Partner -

We all like some things about our partners -- that's why we started a relationship with them -- but there are usually other things that we don't like about them. It seems natural that the solution would be to change the things we don't like. We do that when we rearrange the furniture or change the television channel -- why not do it with people, too?

It's Selfish and
It's Not Real Love

Changing someone else to suit our needs is controlling, arrogant, selfish, manipulative, demanding, and destructive. Any effort on our part to control another person proves that we're interested in our happiness, not theirs. It's understandable that we want people to do things for us and that we never want them to inconvenience or hurt us. But when we use Getting and Protecting Behaviors to manipulate people to do what we want, we make Real Love impossible (5:1-2).

It's Very Difficult to Change People

Our partners have acquired their attitudes and behaviors from a lifetime of experience. They can't suddenly give all that up just because we want them to. But we continue to waste our lives trying. Joan worked very hard to get Tyler to be more neat in spite of the fact that her efforts to control him caused nothing but more contention in their relationship.

No Relationship

With enormous effort and persistence, it is possible to change some things about another person. Some of us attack people or play the victim so effectively that we really can get our partners to behave differently. But the victory is hollow. Anything we get as a result of manipulation cannot be Real Love and is therefore worthless.

A relationship is the natural result of the choices my partner and I make independently. If I control you in any way, you can't make independent choices, and I can no longer have a relationship with who you really are. For example, I interact with my shoes every day, but my shoes and I don't have a real relationship because my shoes don't make independent choices. They're controlled by me and are therefore nothing more than a part of myself. When I'm with my shoes, I'm only with myself -- I'm still alone. When I control your choices, you become like my shoes. You're only an object and a part of me. And then I'm alone. Controlling other people makes us alone.

There were times when Joan's nagging and blaming were so unbearable that Tyler actually did clean up his mess. When that happened, Joan thought she was getting what she wanted, but what a price she paid! He resented her, and because his cooperation was not freely offered, she never felt loved. Everyone lost. Real Love can only be offered by an independent partner who is making their own choices. We can't get that from someone when we manipulate and control them.


The worst consequence of controlling others is that we can't learn to be loving, which is the greatest joy of all. We can't be happy while we're selfishly manipulating people.


Most of us would deny that we control the lives of our partners. And yet we do it every day. Certainly we don't lead our partners around in chains, but we do control them in many other ways. All of our Getting and Protecting Behaviors are intended to manipulate people to get what we want from them. And when our partners fail to do what we want -- when we can't control them -- we uniformly become disappointed and angry, don't we?

When we don't feel unconditionally loved, we feel so empty that we unavoidably cling desperately to any partner who gives us any attention at all. The more we get from them, the more we expect from them. Our relationships often fail because we choose to burden our partners with expectations they can't possibly satisfy.

Sometimes we justify our expectations because we've given something -- our time and attention, for example -- to the person we have expectations of. In other words, we think we have the right to expect something because we've paid for it. Sadly, that leads to the condition that exists in most relationships: "I'll give you what you want if you give me what I want." It's a trading of Imitation Love. That may satisfy both partners temporarily, but no relationship can be genuinely fulfilling when it's based on trading rather than unconditional giving.

We never have the right to expect that another person will do anything for us. I suggest that you read that sentence again. If we understood and remembered that one principle, there would be no conflict on the face of the planet. It naturally follows from the Law of Choice. If I truly allow you to make your own choices, which is obvious if you are to remain an independent human being, what right do I ever have to expect you to do anything? How incredibly arrogant it is for me to ever expect you to change who you are to make my life more convenient in any way! And yet we do that all the time. We expect our spouses to love us, even when they don't have the love to give. We expect our children to love us, when it's our responsibility to love them. We expect other drivers on the road to make us the center of the universe and do whatever it takes to make our lives easier. We expect our employers to ignore everything else in their lives and make our happiness their first priority. And so on.

Every time we're disappointed or angry at someone, we declare our expectation that people should give up their right to make their own choices and should choose instead to make us happy. And we don't have the right to do that. We don't have the right to violate the law of choice for our convenience. Expectations are selfish and unloving, and are therefore wrong (2:11).

1. The Happy Choice
- Live With It and Like It -

Tyler's messiness was just one brush stroke of thousands that combined to create his own beautiful color. Instead of choosing to accept and enjoy the beauty of his overall canvas, Joan chose to be miserably distracted by the one stroke that inconvenienced her. And, as is the case in nearly all relationships, there were some other things that bothered her, too.

Real Love is what we all really want from every relationship. We only insist on changing and controlling our partners because we don't know any better -- because we've never seen Real Love and don't know how to get it. As we feel unconditionally loved, we begin to see people without the blinding effects of emptiness and fear (4:6). And then every human being becomes beautiful to us and easy to accept. It really happens that way. It is the purpose of this book to make it easier for us to learn how to see, accept, and love our partners (Chapters 14-17). That is where real happiness is found.

2. The Angry Choice
- Live With It and Hate It -

Many of us have tried to change a partner so many times that we've finally quit trying. We stay in the relationship, but we continue to wish that our partner was different, and we resent them when they're not. In effect, we choose to stay in a relationship where unhappiness is the only possibility. What a foolish choice.

If I'm blue and you're yellow, our relationship will be green. Green is a beautiful color, but I will entirely fail to enjoy it if I expect another color instead. When we want our partner to be different than they are, we choose to be unhappy.

3. The Final Choice
- Leave It -

If we don't like the color of a painting, we can simply leave the room. That's the approach we take when we abandon a relationship, emotionally or physically. There are two ways to do this, blaming and not.


When we leave a relationship and blame our unhappiness on our partner, we use all the Getting and Protecting Behaviors:

  • lying -- believing and saying that our partner is at fault, when the real cause of our misery is the long-standing lack of Real Love in our lives and our inability to accept and love our partner

  • attacking -- assaulting our partner with criticism and accusations

  • acting like a victim -- "look what he (or she) has done to me!"

  • running

We learn nothing when we blame our partners, nor can we be happy.

Not Blaming

When we're just learning to tell the truth and feel loved, some people are so confusing or threatening to us that we simply can't be around them without feeling empty and afraid, and then we unavoidably return to the familiar use of Getting and Protecting Behaviors. It may be unwise to spend our time with such people, but we need to admit that we are the problem. We are not loving enough to participate in a loving relationship with them.

In short, leaving a relationship can be the right thing to do, but we can do that without blaming our partners for our decision. Leaving relationships is the subject of Chapter 28 and is not a decision to make lightly.

Making a Choice

Joan and her friend continued their conversation from p. 6:2-3. Joan: "But I only want Tyler to . . ."

Wise man: "As we've discussed, you can't make yourself happy by changing Tyler. Haven't you proven that over and over? In all the times that you've nagged and whined at him, have you ever changed him or made yourself happy?"

Joan: "Well . . . no."

Wise man: "Then let's look at some other choices."

Joan's friend then talked to her about how relationships change when both partners have Real Love in their lives (Chapters 7-11).

Trying to change people (the fourth choice) or resenting them (choice #2) only guarantees our unhappiness. How insane we are to keep doing those things! Only two of the four choices above really make any sense. We can (a) stay with a relationship and learn how to love and be loved; or (b) we can leave it. I re-state my emphasis that leaving is rarely the best choice, at least initially.

Telling the Truth About OUR Relationships

It's critical that we see the truth about the condition of the relationships we have now. Only then can we do something about them. Joan's friend helped her do some of that above.

"I Love You"

As with all people in a relationship with conflict, Joan was puzzled: "I don't understand this. When we first met, I loved him so much. And he made me so happy." The truth is she never did truly love him. Early in their relationship, each time Joan said, "I love you," what she really meant was this:

"I like how you make me feel. I've been lonely for a long time and looking for someone to make me happy -- and you're what I've been looking for. I love the attention you give me. I like the excitement of being touched by you. I like the praise and envy I get from other people when they see me with you. When I'm with you, I feel less alone, more important, and more alive."

Joan didn't love Tyler. She needed him. She liked it when he gave her what she wanted. And in the first few months of their relationship, he devoted all his energy to her and succeeded in making her feel less empty and alone. Because of his efforts, she sincerely believed that she'd found true happiness. But on increasingly frequent occasions, Tyler failed to satisfy all of Joan's demands. Either he didn't do exactly what she wanted, or -- more frequently -- what he did wasn't as exciting or fulfilling as it used to be. Nearly all couples experience this as they notice that kissing, holding hands, having sex, talking, and so on aren't nearly as exciting the thousandth time as they were the first time. Joan gradually became dissatisfied with what she was getting from Tyler, and she blamed him for that.

We're afraid to closely examine what we call "love." We want love to be magical and romantic, which really means irresponsible. We want love to rescue us from all our problems with no effort on our part. The pattern of "falling in love" goes like this:

1. We feel alone and want someone to make us happy.

2. We find someone with qualities we like, and if they share those with us, we feel wonderful and say that we "love" that partner.

3. We then do our best to make our partner feel good, too. We do this mostly -- and unconsciously -- so they'll keep giving us what we want. When we succeed in pleasing our partner, they naturally say that they "love" us, too.

4. Inevitably, one of us fails to make the other sufficiently happy, and that is followed by disappointment, resentment, demands, and anger.

5. We may then choose to continue in an unhappy relationship -- often for a lifetime -- or we may look for someone else to make us happy, starting the pattern all over again.

Until we're honest about what we call love, we condemn ourselves to endlessly repeat the frustrating and destructive pattern of falling in and out of "love."

"I Love You Because . . ."

A couple in love often says things like, "I love you because . . ." And then they describe things about their partner that they like. We enjoy hearing those things about ourselves. We like hearing that we're witty, handsome, beautiful, and intelligent. We feel flattered and important when someone says nice things about us. But those statements are also the beginning of the end of the relationship.

If I love you because of something you do, you're now obligated to continue doing that thing if you want to keep my affection. If you stop doing it, the reason I stated for loving you is obviously gone -- at least partially. When we say why we like someone, we're unconsciously expressing an expectation or demand for what we want to keep receiving from that person. We don't mean to do any of this, but we still do it, and it destroys our relationships. Expectations invariably lead to disappointment and unhappiness.

Other Relationships

Unconsciously, we expect all our partners -- friends, parents, children, siblings, co-workers, and neighbors -- to make us happier. There's an element of "falling in love" in all those relationships. We "love" the people who make us feel good, and we dislike the people who fail to make us happy or actually do things to inconvenience or hurt us.

When We Tell the Truth About Ourselves,
We Discover What Relationships Really Are

The Wart King (2:7-9) tried to control his relationship with everyone in the kingdom, and as a result, he was alone and miserable. Initially, he tried to control his relationship with the Wise Man, too, and again the consequences were unhappy. But when he told the truth about himself and stopped controlling the behavior of the Wise Man, a natural and genuine relationship developed, and he was no longer alone.

For most of my life, I tried to change the people around me for my convenience. I required them to give me what I wanted instead of enjoying what they had to offer. When I finally admitted that, I was able to do something about it. Over a period of years, I learned how to find Real Love for myself (Chapter 7). As unconditional love eliminated my emptiness and fear, I saw people more clearly and appreciated the beauty in them. It was then easy to accept them, love them, and develop mutually fulfilling relationships with them. We can all learn to do the same.

Chapter Summary

A relationship is the natural result of people making independent choices. After our partners have made their own choices, we have four choices available to us:

1. Live with them and like it.
2. Live with them and hate it.
3. Leave them.
4. Try to change them.

We never have the right to expect that another person will do anything for us.

When we feel unconditionally loved ourselves and learn to accept our partner's choices, we can enjoy any relationship.

Back to: Introduction - The Truth About Relationships

Click here to purchase Dr. Greg Baer's new book:
Real Love: The Truth About Finding Unconditional Love & Fulfilling Relationships - Greg Baer, M.D.

The Truth About Relationships- Dr. Greg Baer

Click here to visit Dr. Greg Baer's website:

Real Love - Dr. Greg Baer, M.D.


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