Linda: Changing conditioned patterns is not easy, but believing that change is possible is a good start. Transformation is possible if people find the motivation to do so. People change all the time when it makes sense to them that if they do, their life will be enhanced. Enlightened self-interest can work wonders. We are all motivated by “what’s in it for me?” rather than “it’s the right thing to do.”
Finding the motivation to disrupt a bad habit can come from admitting how much it is costing us to continue to indulge in that habit. Once we believe that it is possible to heal a damaged relationship, the next step is making a commitment to replace old habituated patterns with healthier ones. It is the interruption of the automatic patterns of avoidance and overt control, replaced by speaking truth in the moment about the vulnerable feelings of fear and pain, that makes all the difference.
A Duke University researcher in 2006 found that “more than 40% of the actions people perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits.” Change requires determination. People who have poor relationships are frequently acting out their fears and anxieties. How that manifests in their behavior runs along two major lines. The avoidant style is characterized by acting out their craving to feel safe, and in control by withdrawing from the relationship and having minimal involvement. The controlling style is characterized by manipulation with anger, aggression, threats, and ultimatums, insults and other means of attempting to feel safer. These tactics may work momentarily to lower anxiety, but take a terrible toll on relationships. By becoming aware of the unskillful means that are used in an attempt to feel powerful, we move toward success.
Disrupting just one unskillful behavior, for instance using silence to punish, or making critical, judgmental remarks, being bossy by giving commands or making demands, can lead to a whole series of shifts. Instituting date night or an evening a week at home designated for discussion and connection can break the habit of avoidance. With a deliberate commitment to the new form, we can fill that form with any content that enlivens the relationship. The new routine supports the evolution of the healthy connection.
When we have agreement with our partner about the behaviors we want to change, we become a small support group of two. But in this case, more support is better because changing beliefs is easier when it occurs in a larger community. Collaboration with others will give us ideas of new things to try, and having support to help us to believe that the changes we desire can actually happen is useful. To have someone to report to about our success keeps us on track and helps to prevent relapse into old patterns that don’t serve us. And when we triumph, there is someone there who knows about what we went through to achieve the breakthrough who can celebrate with us.
The key to victory is creating the right routines. Each small win brings with it a feeling of accomplishment that encourages reaching for another small win. The small wins convince us that larger achievements are within reach. These wins accumulate over time to a Big Win, a relationship worth protecting and treasuring.
When people rise up to a higher level of responsibility to self observe and shift their attitudes and behaviors, the other person cannot help by shifting theirs. I sometimes refer to this as changing the way we dance. Our dance partner follows our lead and changes their moves too. The success that comes with a behavior change inspires us to attempt other behavior changes. Breaking one problematic habit can lead to a positive chain reaction. Over time, the new habituated patterns add up to a functional relationship where both partner’s needs are met and the former tension, anxiety, and sourness has been replaced by harmony, co-operation and sweetness. Each individual is transformed and consequently the relationship is transformed as well.