In this article, I discuss the importance of being mindful of three options to choose from when you’re in the midst of difficult work and relationship situations as well as which of these options are preferred.

In my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist, I often have clients dealing with ongoing difficult and stressful situations involving their work or their relationships. In my experience with these clients, I’ve concluded that it can be very helpful to be aware of three options in dealing with these difficult situations. I refer to these as Options A, B and C. In the following sections, I will describe each of these options and indicate which two of these are preferred and which one is not preferred. I will also provide ideas on how to be aware of the three options as well as how to choose one of the two preferred options rather than the non-preferred option.

Option A: Take steps to improve the current situation so that you can remain in it

This is often the most preferred option of the three. It involves taking action of various kinds to try to improve the current situation. In many instances, your work or your relationship may have been enjoyable at one time and issues or problems have occurred which have made it no longer so. Given how much time people invest in various ways in their work and relationships, it is not surprising that they will often want to explore as many avenues as possible to improve these situations so they can remain in them.

Steps to improve a difficult work situation might involve changing or adding tasks which are more stimulating, addressing conflicts with a co-worker or supervisor and changing one’s schedule. Steps to improve a relationship often involve attending couples counselling to work on the relationship and in some instances having one or both partners participate in individual counselling.

Option B: Leave the current situation and move to a potentially better one

The second preferred option is to leave the current negative situation for a potentially more positive one. This would involve leaving your current job or career for a different one and leaving your current relationship for a potentially better one. Option B is often pursued after trying Option A and realizing at some point that your steps to improve the job or the relationship are not getting results.

However, in some instances a person might leave their current job or relationship before attempting to improve the current situation. The person might do so because they do not want to invest the time and effort into making improvements to the current situation or because they believe their efforts are not likely to achieve results. Finally, there are some instances in which a person may leave their current job or relationship even though it is going well because they may have an even better alternative job or relationship which they can pursue.

Frequently Asked Questions

Option C: Remain in the current situation indefinitely without it improving

The worst of the three options involves remaining in the current difficult situation without it improving. This can happen if the person does not attempt any steps to improve it or if they stay in the situation after taking steps to improve it which do not achieve results. Rumination is common for people exercising Option C as they focus on the futility of their situation and how much misery key people in their work or relationship are causing them.

Although such rumination is an understandable response to being in a difficult situation, getting stuck in this pattern can result in feeling distressed for the foreseeable future. The reason is that a person taking action to try to change the difficult situation or to leave it for a potentially more positive situation is necessary to alleviate their distress.

How to choose the better options

Given that Options A and B are clearly preferable to Option C, how can someone make it more likely they will choose these preferred options? Awareness of which option you are currently exercising is the first step in ultimately choosing the better options. For example, if you’re currently taking steps to improve your job or relationship and there is evidence these steps are achieving good results or that the prospect of improvement is a possibility, then you know you are in the process of exercising Option A.

On the other hand, if you have already tried several steps to lead to improvements and they have been ineffective or you have no plan to take such steps, you are likely in the process of exercising the non-preferred Option C. Awareness of your choosing this unfavourable option would impress upon you the need to switch either to Option A (take steps toward trying to improve the situation) or to Option B (leave the current situation and pursue a potentially better employment or relationship alternative).

The bottom line if you’re in a difficult situation: Pursue either Option A or B at a given time rather than Option C and switch to Option A or B if you become aware that you are exercising Option C.

May you choose the better options when you’re in a difficult situation,

Dr. Pat