Like locking the door behind you when you enter your home or brushing your teeth before going to bed, relationship habits make relating to your spouse automatic. And those habits impact everything about the quality of your relationship. Are you happy with the habits in your relationship?
You learned relationship habits long before you knew you were learning them. Male and female roles, communication, intimacy, handling conflict, trust, forgiveness, what to expect in marriage – all these you learned by observing your parents or other caregivers growing up.
And these habits become much more important when you have a close relationship of your own. The habits established early on are not easy to change. What do you say or do when you disagree with your partner? How do you express love? Who invests energy into the relationship? What happens when you or your partner cross a boundary? Whose voices are you listening to?
If you’re just getting to know someone, or starting out in your marriage, know that the relationship habits you establish now are likely to persist for years to come.
And if you’ve already been married for a while, ask yourself what kind of results the habits your relationship is functioning on are likely to result in next year, or ten years from now.
Changing relationship habits is not easy, but it is possible! If you’re married and you and your spouse together can agree on some new habits you want to establish, you can help each other do so. But even if you’re the only one seeking to change, your new habits will change the future of your relationship.
So here are two questions to ask that will help you establish better relationship habits.
What kind of a spouse do I want to be?
You’ll want to get God’s input on this; “God, who do You need me to be to my spouse in this season?” And as you consider what you hear from God and what you desire, ask yourself, “What kind of a person would I have to be in order to do that?”
Imagine the characteristics that kind of a person would demonstrate. Picture it in your mind. A spouse who is caring and supportive would notice the other person’s needs and desires, and put effort into responding. A spouse who is honest would speak the truth in love even when it means a difficult conversation. A spouse who invites intimacy would radiate safety and warmth.
There may be some characteristics you currently display that would need to change if you want to be that kind of spouse. That kind of spouse might not shut down emotionally when your partner needs you, or criticize first before understanding the full story, or carry around old baggage that contaminates your relationship now.
The more effort you put into imagining the kind of spouse you want to be, the more you will be able to change your relationship habits in the desired direction.
Create and track a small new habit now.
“Being more loving” or “setting healthier boundaries” is a nice-sounding goal, but it is unlikely to result in new relationship habits. Imagine just a few concrete actions you can take regularly now that will lead to you being “that kind of spouse.”
For example, if you want to be a spouse who listens more effectively you could:
- Ask your partner a question before giving an opinion
- Put down your phone when your spouse has something to say
- Invite your spouse to grade you once a week on how well you’ve listened
If you want to set healthier boundaries with your spouse you could:
- Attend a support group (such as Al-Anon) where others are learning to set boundaries
- Ask a friend to allow you to call if you set a boundary and things “blow up”
- Decide what you will do next time your spouse crosses the boundary you’ve set
You won’t do these actions perfectly. But by making the actions small and trackable, you’ll start creating a new relationship habit. And yes, track it! You might, say, put a check-mark on your personal calendar if you asked your partner a question before offering an opinion today.
Some Good Relationship Habits
To get you thinking about what relationship habits you would like to develop, here are a few good habits to consider:
- Expressing gratitude when your spouse does something good
- Being a good listener when your partner has something to talk about
- Praying together with your spouse
- Having difficult conversations before the problem gets even bigger
- Setting boundaries respectfully
- Helping your spouse feel loved and important
Think about what relationship habits you want to develop.
Habits, and relationship habits in particular, are a lot like compound interest; you may not notice a huge change overnight. But over time the results will add up. That doesn’t guarantee your spouse will respond as you wish, but things certainly won’t get better if you keep doing what you’ve been doing. Develop a new relationship habit, and your relationship next year can be different than it is today.
Consider what relationship habit you’d like to develop in order to be the kind of spouse you want to be.
And start taking that new action today.
Your Turn: What is a relationship habit you’ve developed that you would like to change? What new relationship habit are you going to begin practicing? Leave a comment below.
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- Relationship habits, like compound interest, add up over time. Are the habits your relationship is running on today likely to develop the kind of relationship you want tomorrow? Here are some suggested relationship habits to develop. Tweet that.
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Once you make the first move, how do you continue to re-connect with your spouse?
This downloadable Resource Guide will help you discover important keys to re-connect with your spouse in 4 important areas.