I seem to get a lot of blog post ideas while driving. It happened again the other day. I was driving along, following another car when suddenly it slowed down, making me brake. It then proceeded to make a left-hand turn. About a third of the way through the turn the car’s turn signal came on. Thanks…I’ve already figured out you are turning since you are almost done with your turn! It would have been nice if I could have been able to move over a lane and not have to almost come to a stop as you turned.
I realized that this is similar to what I often see with couples when they come to therapy. I’ll often hear one partner say “this is all so sudden. How could he just be so different all of the sudden? Where did this come from?” The other partner so often says something like “this is a long time coming. I don’t now how she can think it is sudden.”
Often the person making the change has been thinking about it and making small changes for a long time. But the truth is, they haven’t been clearly signalling it. In other words, they haven’t discussed it with their partner. It might be from fear or maybe they felt it was obvious, but they have not expressed all of those thoughts in their head. So their partner feels like the turn signal has come on halfway through the change instead of a block ahead.
Change can be scary. Even if we want to do it ourselves we may be frightened of it. How will it work out? Can I do it? What will others say? It is that fear of what others will say that so often keep us from expressing our desire to change. Others might be skeptical of our ability to do it. They may think it is a ridiculous idea. And if it is our partner? Well it can be scary saying “I want to become someone different than the person you originally chose to be with.” What if that person chooses to leave?
But there are a couple of truths we need to consider. First, few people, if any, remain the same. So the person you were when your partner chose to be with you probably isn’t really who you are now. But I’ll concede, sometimes changes are more significant than others. Saying “I decided I do like brussel sprouts” is a little different than saying “even though we agreed we’d both work so we could make ends meet, I’ve quit my job and enrolled in art school.”
It is exactly the magnitude of those kind of decisions that make it important to signal them. Sure, putting those ideas out there put them at risk of being shot down. But it also opens the possibility that your partner will work with you to help you reach them. Not signalling them is more likely to result in frustration, anger and mistrust. None of those will make it easier to get where you want to go.
So make sure you put on your turn signal early. Let your partner know that you are thinking about change. It will eliminate a lot of honking horns and screeching brakes. Being vulnerable is risky. But it is the basis for building trust and connection. It is a way of inviting your partner to be a part of your life. And that is what relationships are all about.