At the beginning of your relationship, it might have been hard to list any faults or flaws that your partner had because they are perfect, but a few years down the track it’s easier to list things that your partner does that irritates you as we become more comfortable as the relationship goes on.
Now you’re not as reluctant to speak up about things that bother you, especially when they leave dirty laundry on the floor or dishes in the sink – but small problems can accumulate into bigger arguments if they aren’t properly dealt with.
Depending on how you and your partner were raised, you may have different ideas about what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. If you were raised in a strictly clean household and your partner was born into a more carefree environment, there will be some clashes for what you think the definition of ‘tidy’ is.
If you have an intimate relationship with your partner and are close with open lines of communication, you’re more likely to let the bad habits slide. On the contrary, those relationships that are going through a rough patch will find it easier to turn mountains out of molehills when it comes to annoying behaviours.
Let’s say they’ve left dirty dishes in the sink, you swallow your anger and clean them yourself because it needs to get done. Later on, a disagreement starts with your partner, now all you see in your mind’s eye is dirty dishes, and you’re triggered. The disagreement turns into any and every issue you’ve had with your partner and transforms into a full-blown feud within minutes.
Much like children, teaching someone how to behave generally comes down to stimulus and response; this helps us overcome some behaviours that are habitual but detrimental to our own happiness.
To help your partner change their habits you need to help break the cycle between stimulus and response by adding some positive reinforcement for the behaviours you want them to keep doing well while removing things that cue their bad habits in the first place.
While working on this, you also need to work on yourself and your reactions to their behaviours, which actually may be forcing them to continue bad habits without you realising. If your partner consistently fails to do things that you think are important, such as cleaning dirty dishes right away, you can provide the right cues to motivate them.
While it might be tempting, you can’t attempt to change your partner’s bad habits without them knowing – it simply won’t work to its full potential. Your relationship is a two-way street, rather than trying to do it without them you should discuss why their behaviour bothers you. Talking to them in a calm and open way will help them work with you on these changes.
Think about what cues will motivate your partner into doing the dishes right away. Try things like turning on music while washing or leaving them a loving note in the morning. Whatever will help your partner wash up (or whichever bad habit you want to change) make sure it’s something you know will stimulate them.
While it might sound silly to reward your partner for doing something mediocre, the point is to show the positive outcomes of their good behaviour. Reward them with something small like a kiss on the cheek, big hug or make them a coffee when you wake up in the morning. It will help motivate them to want to do it again and receive a similar reward next time.
What is vital to change your partner’s behaviour is how you react to the situation; you don’t snap when they haven’t done the ‘right’ thing. When you react in a certain way to behaviours you don’t like, it shows your partner a negative association with the task itself – that’s why the next step is vital.
Sometimes your reaction to your partner’s behaviour is something that your partner doesn’t like about you. Take a look at your own behaviour and the times your partner seems to be annoyed at you – we rarely look inward to see if the problem is caused by us as it’s easier to blame an outside force or our partner than ourselves.
When you discuss with your partner about changing their habits, ask them what behaviours you possess that make them annoyed or irritated. Instead of meeting them with an angry reaction, come to the discussion with perspective – after all, you want to change their bad habits too.
By changing your reactions and behaviours, while working with your partner to change theirs, using positive reinforcement and creating a stable environment for change can make breaking bad habits easy, while making your relationship stronger than ever.
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