WITI PERSONAL GROWTH
How to Help Your Significant Other Survive Your Reinvention
Your time has finally come – you have decided to reinvent yourself – to create a new life and/or career and finally figure out what you want to do and who you want to be. The old chapter of your life is closing and a new one is beginning and the possibilities are endless and exciting. You are ready to commit to the journey – a journey of self discovery – and you are open, willing, and excited. But as you step onto your path of exploration remember that there is someone on this journey with you – your spouse or significant other - who may not be ready for the upcoming bumpy ride – and if you care about them, you will want to help them survive your reinvention so that they can be there when you emerge on the other side. Here are some things you may want to keep in mind, remember, and do.
What You Need To Keep In Mind:
Reinvention is a messy process. There is no set time frame, there is no single linear path, and the outcome is not known in advance. At many times during the process you may feel adrift, unsure, even floundering. You may feel the need to ask for input: for help, guidance, suggestions, even ‘answers’. No matter how competent and secure you were in your ability to handle your previous life chapter ‘reinventing yourself and your life’ may not be a process you are familiar with or a skill you have in your current repertoire. The future appears as a blank slate with an endless set of possibilities and that in itself can feel overwhelming and paralyzing. And while you voluntarily set upon this new path, your significant other did not. To a large extent because their life path is intertwined with yours their lives slip out of their control which can be disconcerting and frightening for them.
What You Need To Remember:
• They like you the way you are
Your significant other joined their life path to yours because they liked who you are and what you do and how you treat them. Over time together you honed a set of interactions that create a structure and comfort to your relationship. When you are ‘stable’ they can go about their lives with a degree of certainty and peace but if what you believe, or what you do, or who you are is in flux they become unmoored from their peaceful harbor and are tossed about on the tempestuous sea of your changing ideas, moods, and directions. One of their biggest fears – what if they don’t like the ‘new you’ or the ‘new you’ does not like them?
• What you do affects them
What you do affects your significant other in small and large ways including the income you bring to the family, the time you spend with the family, the attitudes and moods you display, the relationships you form and thus the people you bring into contact with the family, etc. So it is only natural that your significant other will want to help you get through your transition as quickly as possible so that you can arrive at a ‘conclusion’ and things can solidify and then get back to normal. It is important to recognize that to facilitate your swift transition your significant other will likely feel compelled to offer suggestions about, or in even stronger tones tell you, what you should be doing. After all, they believe they are the ones who know you best and know what is best for you.
• No one likes uncertainty
Uncertainty is uncomfortable even if you choose to step into it yourself. And if you are not the one who did the choosing it is even more uncomfortable. Not only will your significant other desire that you make a swift transition, they will want a defined time commitment from you as to when you will be ‘done’ and they will expect you to move along your transition path in a straightforward, comprehensible, and linear manner.
• They want the best for you but they also need to look out for themselves and the rest of the family
The fears your significant other will struggle with are understandable: What if through this process of reinvention you decide you don’t need them or the rest of the family anymore? What if you decide to invest all of the family assets in some uncertain new venture? What if you decide to head off to Australia for a thousand mile bike ride? What would they do then? They may feel like they signed up for one deal when they hooked up with you and now all bets are off and so their self preservation (and family protection) instincts kick into high gear.
What You Need To Do:
To be successful in your reinvention and to be able to enjoy the process you need some space and time to find your way. To clear that space and to protect it from the pressures that your significant other may feel compelled to exert on you either intentionally or unintentionally, and to help them come along with you on your journey in the least painful way, there are several things you can do:
• Don’t ask them to be your guide
As I mentioned earlier your significant other will likely be itching to tell you what to do whether you ask them to or not. So you need to be very careful what you ask them for, because your asking gives them justification for their inputs and will then leave them hurt and resentful if you don’t act on their suggestions. Some questions can be useful to ask, others are sure to lead to problems. Asking, “What do you see are my greatest strengths?” can be helpful because it gives you an outside perspective on useful information for your life reinvention. Asking, “What do you think I should be doing?” is simply asking for trouble.
• Don’t share too much
No doubt as you get into it you will find the reinvention process exhilarating and enlightening. You will have frequent ‘ah ha’ moments and personal insights that you just can’t wait to share. But here again it pays to be cautious. Because you are on a steep learning curve as you explore the breath and depth of who you are and what you want, the revelations you think are critical and life changing today – the direction you identify as ‘just the right one’ – may change tomorrow. From your perspective it may feel thrilling and liberating to be able to take on and cast off new ideas and directions with lightening speed but your significant other will likely have a very different view of the situation. Remember that they want to see you on a time-constrained and linear path of reinvention and your twists and turns will absolutely terrify them. “You said you would be done in three months (or six months, or nine months)” they howl, “and now you are going back on your word!” This is not something you want to set yourself up for by sharing too much and scaring them.
• Do share your fixed boundaries
While sharing all your thoughts and feelings with your significant other during the reinvention process is generally not a good idea, there are some things it will help if you can share. The most important things you can share are your fixed boundaries – those things that you consider sacred that you will not violate during your reinvention process. For example, sharing your commitment to “not jeopardize the family assets” can quell an important fear. Also if you can share in words and deeds that you are still committed to them and to the family, and that you value them and love them – this will give them something to hold on to during the turbulent times.
• Consider compromising in small ways that will give them comfort
To a great extent your reinvention process must be ‘about you’ – it is your chance to explore in depth, perhaps for the first time in your life, what you really like, who you want to be, and what you want to do. But there will likely be things that your significant other asks for along the way, things that they want you to do, that will give them comfort but not derail your progress. Listen carefully when you significant other says words like, “It would be really great if you could do this for me (or for the family)”, or “This is really important to me…” Often what they ask for can be done with a small accommodation of your time or attention and can give them enough peace to continue moving forward with you.
The Bottom Line
Reinvention is a messy process. For you who chose to enter the reinvention process it may be thrilling, sometimes frightening and confounding, but also satisfying and full of wondrous insights and personal discovery. But for those who get dragged along with you into the process – your significant other – it can be a truly frightening “out of control” experience. If you love and value your significant other and still want them to be there at the end of your journey you need to do what you can to help them survive the process.