Relationship: 10 tools to change hurtful habits

Story by Barton Goldsmith
(Scripps Howard News Service)
Sun, Dec 2, 2012
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Old habits are hard to change. But when you discover or are confronted with something you do that hurts the one you love, you will be motivated to try. Here are 10 tools that can help.

• Become aware. Whether you figured the problem out on your own or it was pointed out to you, becoming aware that you inadvertently hurt someone will help you change your action from a negative to a positive.

• Apologize. A simple “I’m sorry” should be followed up with the question, “What can I do to make up for it?” The answer you receive will lead you toward helping and healing actions. And don’t repeat your mistakes.

• Think before you speak. Before you speak, say to yourself what you want to tell your partner and imagine how he or she will interpret what you say. If you imagine a negative reaction, you now have the opportunity to change your words to avoid doing damage.

• Show empathy. Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and feel what he or she is feeling. Empathizing with someone you care for can improve your mood and help both of you feel better.

• Keep your temper. Remember: When you fly off the handle, you usually are going to be wrong. Try counting to 10 before losing your cool. It’s an old trick, but it works.

• Practice, practice, practice. It takes about 30 repetitions to create a new habit. Keep integrating positive behaviors into your lifestyle to replace your bad habits with good ones.

• Listen when others speak. Your partner may be your best guide when it comes to helping you recognize certain ways you could improve. He or she is the one who is going to see (and be most affected by) your behaviors. Let the one you love help you make the changes that will make both of you happier.

• Remember that relationships have to be win-win. When you’re in a relationship, if one of you loses, both of you do. Trying to “win” an argument is only going to cause more hurt. If you can’t fix it so both of you feel like winners, put the issue away for a while and look at it again later.

• Believe in yourself. You have the ability to change and even improve your behaviors. It does take determination and discipline, but if you start small, making larger changes becomes much easier with time and experience.

• Remind yourself that you want this. Your desire to be a better person may be your most powerful force when it comes to making positive changes. People change and get better every day; all you have to decide is that you want to be one of them.

At some point, each of us must confront our bad habits. When it comes to the behaviors we manifest in our relationships, confronting bad habits can be more challenging, but you have something more to work for. You can do this.

(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of “100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence -- Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too.” Email him at BartonBartonGoldsmith.com.)

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