Get Context: The One Thing You Should Always Do in Any Unclear Romantic Situation

I like to post in romantic relationship forums--share opinions and hear what people are struggling with--and a few days ago it struck me that most posts and responses share a common format: 1) a situation is presented with varying degrees of detail, 2) the poster asks "What should I do?", and 3) most people respond by making a bunch of assumptions about the issues, motivations, and thoughts of the characters in this situation and then give advice based on those assumptions without learning the true context of the decision. Moreover, I notice that most people I know do this same thing when asking for or giving relationship advice.

Some have accused me of erring on the side of over-communication and honesty, and that could be true, but I stand by the idea that if you're willing to make someone you're romantic partner who is often the most important person, and one most capable of hurting you, in your life, you should be willing and able to share and inquire honestly with them.

In that light, I find it incorrect to approach any relationship issue in the way I presented in the first paragraph because in doing so we take a bunch of unknowns and then make choices with them as foundations--to me this is skipping the most vital step, which is to learn the true answers to the unknowns that we've created assumptions for, which gives us the real context and, in turn, allows for the best decision.

A few days ago, I saw a girl post about her boyfriend who likes to party more than her, and she said she needed to break up with him because he wasn't staying committed to their time together, as he was hungover and therefore needed to cancel. Most respondents to this post started talking about how he clearly wasn't that into her or even said he was an alcoholic. In response, she said that he also spends all his money on partying and is in a bunch of debt.

What motivates us to make choices--especially so in a situation where someone is enacting a clearly harmful behavior--is much more complicated than "He isn't that committed so he is drinking instead of hanging out with me." It's quite possible that he feels very committed to her in his own mind and can't help himself from the partying because that's his comfort zone, or he's afraid of getting too serious because other women hurt him in the past, or something similar, and the drinking gives him the easy out to sabotage the relationship instead of face the fear and communicate. We like to pretend that everything is simple and black and white, especially when we get emotional, but it's just not. And don't forget asking direct questions and admitting to problems is hard for everyone.

It's impossible to answer any question of "What should I do?" without first having all of the information. So what she should do, and what all of us should do, is ask the questions that lead us to making the unknown variables known. In the example I gave above, that might be "Why is partying important to you? Is this something you just simply love to do, or is it a compulsion?" Also note that these questions are different than where most people default to when trying to communicate openly, the ones that end up causing issues--that would be something more like "Why aren't you committed to me?" This question assumes meaning for the partner instead of inquiring into the unknown variables, and I think a lot of people conclude that communicating this literally with their partner is a bad idea because these types of assumptive questions are innately attacking and invariably receive bad results.

Questions that dig into the unknowns give us a lot of information, which we can then use to make decisions with. First, maybe we'll learn that our partner doesn't want to communicate in this way. To me, that's a much better reason to break up than simply assuming he isn't committed based on a singular action that could have 50 different reasons behind it, although it's still kind of thin. Second, when we have the information it becomes much clearer what to do. If he simply isn't that committed then it's easier to leave. If he has a bunch of past shit that is coming into play and he wants help to work on it together, maybe we then want to help work through it while knowing his intentions are positive, or we can decided that this is an issue that doesn't work for us.

Anytime we make a choice it requires context, but we often take the context for granted because in many cases it's obvious. In most cases, we don't ask things like "Should I eat right now?" because the answer becomes obvious if we know whether we are hungry. However, in love there are a bunch of confusing contexts that change with every different person we are with, and it makes choosing very difficult. This is why I think it's so important to learn the contexts--the unknowns about people that we are so fond of assuming instead of learning--first, because we will then be best set up to make the most successful relationship decisions.