It’s far too easy to get stuck in unhealthy patterns. The busy, stressed-out pace of modern life – along with deeply ingrained childhood habits – can trip you and your spouse up. It’s easy to fall into relational ruts when you aren’t engaged in problem-solving.
Here are some suggestions for breaking free from toxic patterns and replacing them with healthy habits.
Here’s an example. Your spouse leaves laundry on the floor instead of putting it in the basket. You nag him or her to pick it up, and they comply… grudgingly. Or maybe you pick it up resentfully without confronting them because you don’t want to start a fight.
When you nag, your spouse fosters resentment. When you pick it up without speaking, resentment grows inside you. Both unhealthy patterns breed toxicity.
What can you do to break out of unhealthy patterns like these?
Use the “I feel” strategy. You can say, “When you don’t put your laundry in the basket, I feel disrespected.” Your spouse probably doesn’t realize that socks lying around causes you to feel bad, and the exposed feeling can motivate them to change.
You can also make it easier for your spouse to comply. Move the laundry basket to a more convenient location, close to where the clothes are usually dropped. A new reminder can make a big difference.
Another option is to take over this chore and delegate another chore to your spouse. For example, maybe your spouse has a higher threshold for floor clutter than you do, but a dirty kitchen drives them crazy. Encourage your spouse can to take charge of the kitchen while you take charge of the floors.
Marriage Coach Advice: First Recognition, Then Resolution
Consider the times when you get stuck. Maybe it’s chores. Maybe you have unhealthy patterns with your children, your in-laws, or with neighbors. Maybe it’s arguing about the same issues again and again without progress. Spend some time identifying your stuck pattern, then form a game plan.
What can you do differently the next time the pattern arises? Think about several options before the pattern comes up again. Choose one. Then you’ll have a plan in place for handling it differently. The important thing is to stay in problem-solving mode.
Consider these scenarios:
- Your spouse keeps looking at his or her phone during mealtimes. You hate it. You react passive-aggressively. The problem continues. What will you do differently?
- Your spouse isn’t pulling their weight with household responsibilities. You yell at them. They yell back. You both walk away angry. How can you approach it better next time?
- Your spouse doesn’t show the affection you need. So you cut off all physical affection. The problem gets even worse. How can you establish a healthier habit of expressing your needs?
Remember, you can’t change anyone but yourself. By changing your response in the bad pattern, you have the potential to change the entire pattern.
For example, you can stop complaining when your spouse doesn’t spend enough time with you. Instead, come up with new ideas for date nights, or go join them wherever they like to go after work.
Another example: If your spouse brings work home almost every night, you can stop withdrawing and confront the issue. Maybe you can work out a compromise, such as they work two nights a week while you go out with your friends or go shopping. The other nights can be reserved just for the two of you.
Remember, patterns take time to change. Be patient – both with yourself and your spouse. Encourage and praise your spouse when he or she moves in a healthier direction. Reward yourself with small treats when you form a new pattern too.
With consistent work and attention, you and your spouse can break out of old patterns and form strong, positive bonds.
Rooting for you!