Framing Yourself Into a Corner

It’s good to be aware of the potential risk of framing yourself into a corner when you’re faced with a tricky situation.

Suppose you’re in a relationship, and you catch your partner kissing someone else. How do you frame that situation?

It may depend on the details of course, like the type of kiss or which person was being kissed. Suppose it’s a bit ambiguous though and that you have some different ways of looking at it. Maybe it was just a friendly kiss. Maybe it’s a sign of something deeper. Maybe your partner made a mistake.

Before you assign a meaning to the event, you have lots of options. Some of those options may preserve your relationship. Other options may lead to a breakup.

If you consider one of those frames to be the one true interpretation and discount all of the others, you may trap yourself into so few options that what happens next is mostly inevitable.

Suppose you frame the incident as a clear case of cheating, and you discount all other ways of looking at the situation. Now you’ve framed yourself into a corner. You’ve made it very difficult for your relationship to recover.

Will you be able to remain in a relationship with a cheater? Will your partner have to make amends for there to be any chance of recovery? What if your partner doesn’t agree with your framing?

Even if you’re willing to try to heal the situation with your partner, will your partner be able to remain in a relationship with you after you’ve latched onto this frame? Or will it be too difficult for your partner to stay with someone who sees them as a cheater?

Just by locking onto this frame, you may narrow your options so much that a breakup is a foregone conclusion.

You can do that of course. You can limit yourself to only one frame (or to just a few frames) such that you don’t really have much choice in how things turn out from that point onward.

Note that this is a power-reducing move. By limiting your options so much, you’re essentially giving your power away. If your partner is a cheater, then you’re a victim, and the rest proceeds from there. That framing choice alone could irreparably damage your relationship, even more than the kiss did.

And it is a choice. You don’t have to limit your options by assigning only one narrow meaning to an event. You don’t have to make yourself so powerless.

To regain your power, step back and observe that you have other options for assigning meaning. Notice that there’s more than one possible meaning for an event. Notice that you have the ability to assign different meanings.

Maintaining access to multiple frames gives you more options and therefore more power of choice in a given situation. You aren’t trapped into a single line of action. You could even take action in the direction of one frame and then take a different action that’s aligned with a completely different frame.

For instance, you could take a step towards healing or reconciliation in your relationship while also preparing for the possibility of a breakup.

Be careful about being too clingy with any one frame. It’s so easy to frame yourself into a corner where you have no good options for moving forward, and every direction looks like it will turn out poorly. When you retain access to multiple frames, you retain access to the power of choice, which makes it easier to create and experience a desirable outcome.

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