Voting with your feet

I really like the expression “voting with your feet.” It means, regardless of what you say you care about, your actions express your real opinions. The original idea is that people will move where they believe something is better. But I first heard the term applied to a new movie release. The reviews said the movie was well done, but people were “voting with their feet,” and either leaving in the middle or not going to see it at all.

I was talking with a young woman who wanted to get some couples counseling with her husband. She was discouraged because he protested and said he didn’t believe in counseling and just generally was crabby and negative about the idea. I asked her if he had refused to go. She said no. I asked her if he would be willing to go in once and try it with her. She thought he would be unwilling to try it, but she would ask him. The next time I saw her, she told me with surprise that he said, “It’s a colossal waste of time and money, but if you think it will help, I’ll do it.”

“Ah,” I told her. “He is voting with his feet. It is not that he doesn’t have the opinion he has, but he is voting in favor of the relationship and of you because he is willing to try something even though he is skeptical.” Often we take someone’s words and explanations as the reality and ignore what they actually do. She was not appreciating what he was doing because of what he was saying.

It turns out that, once he went, he found the time they took to talk about their relationship and the different perspective of the therapist to be helpful. Interestingly, he continued to say he thought it was a waste of time and money, but he also continued to attend the sessions and participate in the discussion. He continued to say yes with his feet and no with his mouth. And over time, his wife realized he gradually changed his opinion and even his protests. But fundamentally, and first, he allowed himself to open his mind. Even though he expressed resistance verbally, he voted with his feet and expressed openness through his actions.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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