STACK your habits to get closer to those you love

In my last post (if you’d like to see it again, click here), I asked you to implement one productive habit that could have a positive impact on your relationship.

  • What did you come up with?
  • How was it to focus on this one thing (easy, hard, neutral)?
  • Did your partner notice anything different?
  • Most important, has it made a difference in your relationship?

I’d expect it might take a minute to see any real change. I know when I’ve tried to implement new habits it takes weeks to really feel confident I’ve made a difference in my life. So if you haven’t noticed any changes yet, no worries! Stick with it…

Habit stacking will help you more easily make changes

Today I want to give you another tool to help implement positive relationship habits. It’s called HABIT STACKING (see James Clear’s Atomic Habits for more info). This is a technique where you use the power of your fully established and unconscious habits (eg, brushing your teeth, putting your clothes on before work, turning radio on in your car, saying goodnight before you go to sleep) to remind you to do something new.

For example, a few months back, I decided I wanted myself and my family to pay more attention to the positive things in our lives. We all had a habit of complaining a lot, which had a tendency to get us bogged down and feel more dissatisfied in our lives. I proposed to my wife and kids that we try to say at least one thing we are grateful for, even if it’s as simple as having a warm house or food to eat.

I used the already established habit of family dinner as the established habit we then stacked the new habit of gratefulness onto. To my surprise, this worked WAY BETTER than I ever imagined! My kids actually like it, and have even begun spontaneously saying “gratefuls” without being prompted.

So how can you implement the habit stacking technique to change your relationship habits?

In my first post about habits, I encouraged you to identify problems in your relationship you want to change. In my last post, I asked you to make a list of your current habits. Now I want you to combine the two – use one of your already established habits as a prompt to solve a relationship problem. Stack the new behavior onto the old one!

The following are examples of what this might look like:

  • I will text my partner a loving message every day just before I eat lunch
  • First thing after arriving home from work, I will give my partner a hug and kiss
  • I will think about one reason I am grateful for my relationship every day when I take a shower
  • Just after I take my first bite of dinner, I will tell my partner one thing I felt that day
  • When my husband is talking about his day, I will show I really care by asking questions and looking at him when he is talking

Notice in these examples I didn’t just use old relationship habits. Instead, I used deeply ingrained life habits (arriving home, eating, bathing, etc.) as the base to stack on new behaviors. Especially in the beginning, it is best to start with these basic everyday activities. Later, when you have established relationship habits, you can stack onto those!

Just like in every blog post in this series, I have a small assignment for you:

  1. Pick one thing you do every day without fail (for example: doing dishes, eating breakfast, exercising, watching TV)
  2. Choose a relationship problem you want to improve (lack of closeness, little physical intimacy, poor communication)
  3. Identify a behavior that will improve this problem (let him know you care, do something she loves, initiate conversation)
  4. Either immediately before or after (remember, BE SPECIFIC!), stack the new behavior onto the old, established habit.

Please send me a note and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about your experiences or answer any questions.