When doubt enters into a relationship, it’s like the pinprick in the life raft, and if left unattended, it slowly sucks the air out completely leaving nothing but a saggy, soggy remnant of what once was.
Doubt! I’ve spoken with many people lately who have let doubt creep into their relationships. It’s like smoke. You don’t really see it. You get a sense that it’s there, but it’s hard to capture or define, and then voila, before you know it, it seeps into everything. I had a minor fire in an apartment I lived in while in grad school. Thankfully there wasn’t any significant burn damage, but there was tremendous smoke damage. Everything in my closet, and all of my bedding, had to be repeatedly dry-cleaned or replaced because of the lingering smell from the smoke that had crept in. The damage was done. So it is with doubt.
Recently, I’ve spoken with a woman who is doubting whether her fiancé truly is the man for her, and with a man who has doubts about a new job he just accepted. Two different scenarios to be sure, but in both, that doubt creates little lingering questions that don’t go away.
Doubt creates questions that require answers which are hard to find. That doubt creates a nagging sensation that propels you to ‘keep looking’ as opposed to being completely satisfied and fully invested with what you have and where you are. The sad thing is that I know several people who have been married for decades who are, to this day, doubting whether they married the right person. That kind of doubt is dangerous.
Angie, who is doubting her choice in a fiancé, should be celebrating her engagement and planning her future with her husband-to-be. Instead, she is second-guessing herself. Joe, who is doubting whether his new job is the right one for him, should be immersing himself in getting to know his team, and learning the new organization. Instead, he is second-guessing the jobs he turned down and wondering whether he made the right choice. Neither is 100% invested in the decisions they made.
Doubt, like smoke, plays an important role. Often times we don’t see the fire, but we do smell the smoke (or hear the smoke alarms go off) to alert us to a fire, and that propels us to take action. Perhaps the doubt that Angie is feeling is warranted and she should take a second look at whether marriage to her fiancé is the right decision for her right now.
Better to realize now that it’s not her best choice rather than after a large wedding celebration, several years of marriage and/or the arrival of kids. Perhaps Joe should take heed of the doubt that he is feeling. Perhaps he is seeing early signs that this new company really is not a culture fit with his style and that he is better off cutting his losses sooner rather than later.
I argue that doubt does play an important role when it enters our thoughts and stimulates us to check, learn, and reaffirm. When doubt enters, it can cause us to question or validate what we believe. It’s like searching for and finding that pinprick in the life raft. We have choices. We can find the pinprick, seal it, and stop the slow-escape of air, or we can decide it’s not worth it and scrap the $.99 life raft! We are able to be decisive and take action.
However, it’s when doubt lingers that it becomes a problem. By the time Angie walks down the aisle in her wedding dress, all doubt should be gone and she should be fully committed to the man she is going to marry. It’s only fair to him and to her. By the time Joe has been in his role for a few weeks (maybe months), all doubt should be over and he should be committed to building, leading, and developing his new team. It’s only fair to him and to his employer.
The bottom line is that doubt can play a very important role in getting us to think realistically about certain situations. Doubt is that inner voice that frequently guides us so well. There is a role for doubt that causes us to reaffirm (or realign) our choices. Ongoing doubt, however, that cannot be extinguished can be dangerous as it creates a sense of unease and dissatisfaction with the choices we have made.
What are you doubting? Are you using your doubt to find, and potentially seal, the leak? Or, is your doubt acting as the pinprick that is slowly sucking the air out of your relationship?