Well, what about the development of ‘GOOD habits’? Habits, either bad or good, can have a very powerful impact on our relationship. Sometimes we can get lazy, too comfortable in the relationship, or find ourselves so overwhelmed with our outside priorities that we slack-off at home. Sadly, if we ignore our relationship – like our teeth – it will go away. And, just like our teeth, our relationship needs daily attention. They say it takes about 21 days of daily practice to establish a new habit.
The adage “Marriage takes work” is no joke. Yes, it’s a cliche we hear all the time but like most platitudes it happens to be dead-on true. Part of doing the hard work is establishing healthy, positive habits within the relationship that will support both members as individuals and the union of them as a cohesive unit. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, touts that those of us who can adopt habits that help us solve problems, adapt to challenges and changes, and make the most of opportunities are the happiest. The same can be said for couples.
Whether our relationships are doing well or struggling, there are actions we can take to improve the overall quality. While there are many ideas out there, here we focus on seven. We can’t necessarily implement all seven at once, that would be overwhelming. But, if just one resonates, we can begin modifying our behavior to incorporate a new positive habit into our daily partnered lives.
1. Respect Our Partner
Losing respect for our partner is a slippery slope. No matter how much we initially loved them – and still do – without respect the relationship is in trouble. If a bit of respect has been lost over time, it is worth working on developing this habit. Express acceptance of and warmth towards your partner, especially during disagreements. No name calling. No ridiculing or belittling. No over-talking. In public nor in private.
2. Learn Our Partner’s Love Language And Speak It To Them – Every Day
Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages is a must read for all couples. Knowing what makes our partner feel loved can help us build habits to support them. Creating habits tp talk our partner’s love language on a daily basis infuses the relationship with love, warmth, affection, and goodwill. Individuals, in great relationships, keep the notion that their partner is not wrong but rather different, top of mind. Happy relationships have figured out how to complement, rather than conflict, with the other’s differences.
3. Hug/Kiss Each Other When Leaving or Returning
We know how it feels to be loved (good touch) or abused (bad touch) or neglected (no touch at all). If we institute a ‘must kiss hello and goodbye’ rule, that habit assists our skin’s memory and builds the positive connection found in healthy relationships
4. Repair Negative Exchanges
This habit may be quite challenging to conquer. When developing habits, it is good to practice them daily. Hopefully, the relationship is not experiencing continuous negative exchanges so we may need to write this one down somewhere. Dr. Gottman, a world renowned therapist and researcher on marital stability and divorce prediction, affirms that the act of experiencing a negative exchange with our partner is not dangerous. The danger lies in allowing the exchanges to happen, pass, and happen again without making an attempt to fix them. “Fixing” them can be as simple as acknowledging what went wrong, taking accountability for our part in it, and exploring a different path. We can throw some humor in the mix to lighten the mood, if that’s our style.
5. Tell Our Partner What We Want
Long-term relationships are going to have problems. Negative patterns and frustrating qualities that we didn’t notice at first start to bother us. Sometimes it’s easier to tell our partner what we don’t want; or to blame them for our dissatisfaction. The word ‘You’ rather than “I” can start to flow. “You always come home late.” “You’re so selfish.” A good habit to develop is forcing ourself to use ‘I’. “It makes me sad when we don’t spend much time together.” “I really want help with this; I don’t have enough time to get it done and it is very stressful for me.”
Bob Funaro, Ed.D, LLP, Marriage Counselor, offers helpful advice on how to communicate our needs lovingly in a marriage, “Avoid giving lectures: be honest, direct, and clear in expressing one’s needs—not long winded. And stick to one subject at a time. Confusion arises when several topics are on the table at the same time.”
Funaro recommends we spend time at the end of a difficult conversation reflecting back what we heard from our partner: their need/want/desire and the actions to be taken in the future to meet them. The likelihood of the expressed need being met in the future improves dramatically if each member of the partnership has clarity moving forward.
6. Build Mutual Interests
Finding one or two interests or hobbies that you both enjoy can positively affect a relationship. We don’t have to be attached at the hip, but having a partner who is curious and excited about some of the same things we are, is a real turn on.
Marriage, or any long-term relationship, requires having a friendship with our mate. Since we end up spending a great deal of time together; it will be more enjoyable if we share mutual interests. Romantic love fades after a few years and once the sexual enthusiasm that dominated the relationship has waned we are left with; “What do we do this weekend?” If we share very little in common; chances are we will become dissatisfied, resentful, and end-up in parallel lives. Explore one another’s interests and find, at least one, that you share and make time for it regularly.
7. Celebrate Together
Life can feel like a constantly expanding ‘To-Do’ list. Taking the time to acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate some of the ‘good’ moments interjects joy into the relationship. Turns out that having fun together is a key component of happy relationships. Howard Markman, co-author of Fighting For Your Marriage and director of the Center of Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver has discovered, “We’ve found that the positives are more and more important. It turns out that the amount of fun couples have and the strength of their friendships are a strong predictor of their future.”
Ways to incorporate and build that habit can be as simple as planning a date night and leaving all ‘problem talk’ at home. Or, extra physical connection; hold hands or sit on the same side of the table at a restaurant. Turn off your phone for a focused period of time that is saved for just two.
Which habit we start with is not important. What matters is that we take the plunge. Forever is long time and the pursuit of happiness is our unalienable right; so what are we waiting for? Twenty one days from today can make for a happier, more connected, holiday season.