Relationship Turn Signals
The way many people drive suggests that the use of turn signals is optional. Failing to do so is not only illegal, frustrating to other drivers, a lapse in roadway etiquette, and also dangerous. The lack of communication from a leading vehicle planning to brake and turn risks harmful collisions. A similar pattern unfolds in love relationships when partners make unilateral decisions that effect the other without first consulting him or her. Feelings of being disregarded commonly result while the act also robs an uninformed partner of choice.
Keeping the partner informed about upcoming choices is more than just polite; doing so demonstrates consideration and respect. Being informed of future experiences provides a sense of control over one’s life direction as well as security and emotional safety. Loving effectively includes care to protect a partner from being hurt, irregardless of whether the hurt is major or minor.
The strength of a relationship bond, or “glue” between romantic partners, may be either weak or strong. Weak relationship bonds are often characteristic of a relationship in which hurtfulness is common. While failing to consult a partner tends to be on the less egregious end of the hurtfulness spectrum, causing only annoyance and aggravation, a good and loving partner seeks to avoid and eliminate all negative impacts. While no one can be perfect in it, ridding a relationship of disappointments and inconveniences is sure to build more relationship satisfaction, a good thing.
Where there is repetition of insensitive unilateral choices, usually there also is a pattern of other kinds of hurtfulness. Each emotional injury does not reside within isolation, but each joins with older residual hurts to generate an emotional “field” of pain. Each and every injury, adds to the accumulation of emotional distrust, building an injured partner’s truth that “I cannot trust you to protect me from feeling hurt.” Failure to consult a partner about a matter in which he or she is impacted behaviorally states, “you are unimportant.” The pain is not softened if it’s cause seems unintentional. An unfortunate relationship truth is that each hurt neutralizes at least a dozen loving gestures, so that a careless lover may effortlessly travel away from love in the injured partner’s heart.
Many lovers avoid seeking input due to the concern that doing so will give up control. “My wife is not my boss,” or “I don’t want him to run my life,” are the worries raised by those who commit these lapses in care. How would this approach effect the New England Patriots if Tom Brady refused to tell his wide receiver which play will be run? The team will lose! Every couple is also a team who loses every time the partner is not on the same page of the playbook.
Greater communication will only become a relationship habit if the other partner avoids using instances of consultation as an opportunity to gain control. One who reacts to a request for input with criticism, or hijacks the issue by telling the other what to do or how to do it, is sure to find that requests for input stop happening.
The suggested guideline is clear: if the partner will be effected by a choice, the safest most loving practice is to seek consultation. Offering a chance for input is NOT asking permission, as in the way a child with little power seeks permission from the parent. Instead seeking consultation is a considerate, loving effort to include the partner, hopefully an equal, in decision-making. To say, “Honey, I am thinking of doing this….do you have a problem with it?” Or “What concerns do you have if I handle this situation this way?” Another option is: “I just want you to know that I am planning to…are you OK with it?” It is like using your turn signal on the road of your relationship. Andrew Aaron, LICSW