Use Awareness and Intention to Make Positive Relationship Changes

In my last blog post (click here if you need a reminder), I asked you to think more about YOUR relationship habits. Specifically, I suggested you look at your relationship problems and the things you do to resolve them.

So what did you come up with?

Do you have effective habits that lead to closeness, trust, and connection with your partner? Or do you do some things that aren’t so productive? If you’re like most people (including me!), you probably do some of both.

Awareness of relationship habits gives you a chance to improve

The goal here is to gain awareness about your relationship habits, not criticize yourself for mistakes. The more you understand about what you actually do, the better chance you have of changing ineffective habits and increasing behaviors that improve relationship quality.

In order to really understand your relationship habits, it can be helpful to write out your tendencies. In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, he recommends creating a “Habits Scorecard” as a way to systematically track behaviors. To apply this idea to relationships, you would write down everything you habitually do that impacts interactions with your partner.

It might look something like this:

  • I wake up in the morning and give my lover a kiss
  • I sit down to breakfast every morning with my family
  • I don’t respond to my wife’s text
  • I come home late from work
  • I browse social media when feeling stressed
  • I call my husband during the day just to check in
  • I give my spouse a hug first thing on arriving home
  • I talk openly and honestly when feeling upset
  • I drink every night
  • I set aside time every day to talk, cuddle, or spend time together

Notice I included negative and positive behaviors. When making your list, include anything  that affects your relationship, whether it is harmful or not. They could be productive or unproductive, small or large, significant or minor.

When you have a nice long list (aim for at least 20 behaviors), James Clear suggests you then rate each habit as positive (+), neutral (=), or negative (-). I recommend you especially focus on unhelpful or problematic relationship behaviors.

So you’re more clear about your relationship habits. Now what?

The next step is to make it obvious (see Atomic Habits chapter 4, pg. 80) how you want to change. Remember, these are habits we’re talking about, so you’re probably unaware of many of them. We all intuitively react based on our personalities, history, and life experiences. In order to improve our lives and relationships, we need to make the subconscious conscious to give ourselves a chance to CHOOSE what we actually want.

One way to do this is to plan ahead by telling (out loud or in writing) yourself or your partner specifically what you are going to do differently. For example:

  • Just before I turn off my lights to go to sleep, I will tell my partner one reason I am grateful for him
  • When my wife makes a critical comment, I will pause, take a deep breath, and ask her a clarifying question: “When I heard you comment on the way I was doing the dishes, I felt criticized. Was this your intention? I’d like to understand.”
  • I will take my husband on a date every Thursday night at 6:00 after I get home from work
  • Every Monday and Wednesday at 9:00 I will talk with my wife about something meaningful that happened to me this week

So what do you want to change to improve your relationship?

For now, I want you to choose one thing you can easily implement that will lead to better interactions with your loved one. Remember, being SPECIFIC is very important. Saying, “I’m going to be more loving” is very different from “I’m going to give my wife a hug first thing after I wake up every morning.” The intention of being more loving is definitely good, but it is so vague it will likely quickly fall apart. You need specific directions so you KNOW without question what you are going to do.

I look forward to hearing your experiences changing your relationship habits. Please drop me a line to let me know how it goes! 

If you could use support in developing effective relationship habits or improving your interaction with others, please schedule an appointment with a Salt Lake Relationship Center counselor today.