Healthy relationships keep bad habits at bay

Tara Blair Ball

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“You don’t appreciate me,” my husband said.

I winced.

As a Relationship Coach, I work with many couples on improving their relationship, so it’s a particular sore spot when my husband points out that I miss the mark too.

He was right, of course.

I’d been stressed and hadn’t said much more than a thanks when he’d brought me my morning coffee for the last week.

My first response to his statement though was to be defensive: “Well, you don’t...” I also thought about reminding him not to use “you” statements as if he was one of my clients, but I had enough wherewithal to avoid doing that.

Instead of saying either of those things, I took a deep breath and said, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

We then had a thoughtful conversation around what we both needed (him: appreciation, me: to ask for help).

This is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, and that’s due much in part to our avoidance of seven nasty habits that can damage any relationship.

They are:

1. Lack of appreciation

Too often, we take our partner and what they do for us for granted. We think, “That’s their chore. Why should I show appreciation for them for them doing what they should be doing?”

But, really, doesn’t it feel nice to get thanked? Even if it’s for doing something that you should be doing?

Thank you for taking out the trash.
Thank you for putting the kids to bed.
Thank you for picking up the groceries.
Thank you for mowing the lawn.

When we show appreciation for our partners, we are showing that they and what they do matter to us, and they, in turn, feel loved.

2. Lack of responsibility

When we immediately get defensive, blame, deflect, divert, etc., we are not taking responsibility for whatever our part was. We are, in essence, telling our partners, “Nope. You’re wrong. I’m right.”

Does it feel good when someone tells you that you’re wrong? No.

Does it feel good when someone tells you that you’ve fallen short? Nope.

But the quicker you can get to “Maybe they’re right,” the faster you can get to a happier relationship.

If your partner brings up a concern, try listening before reacting. Assess whether there’s any truth to it, and see if it’s something you could potentially work on.

3. Lack of balance

Every relationship is going to have periods of over-giving and over-taking. One of you is tackling a huge work project, sick, or otherwise out of commission, so the other has to pick up the slack.

The problem becomes when this becomes a pattern where one of you continually takes on too much while the other takes on too little.

There needs to be fairness for what you’re both physically doing in a relationship as well as emotionally. Here’s an example of a worksheet to help figure out division of labor.

4. Lack of acceptance

Too often, we want to “understand” instead of “accept” our partners. We think if we can just “understand” our partners, then we can control them. We ask them questions, for example, about how they’re feeling, but really our questions boil down to “Why are you feeling that way? I wouldn’t, and neither should you!”

If we accept our partners, we don’t try to change them. This doesn’t mean that we avoid pointing out behaviors etc. that hurt us or hamper our ability to feel safe, heard, and vulnerable in our relationship.

My husband, for example, gets triggered when I say things a certain way. He blows up like a pufferfish. I could try to understand why he reacts that way all day, OR I could accept that about him and choose to say things in a way that I know he’ll be able to hear better.

5. Lack of maintenance

If we value our car, we take it in for regular oil changes, fill our tires up with air when they run low, as well as take care of other maintenance. Our relationship should be treated similarly. If we value it, if we want it to last, we maintain it.

One way that we can do that is regularly check-in with our partner about how things are going, how they’re feeling, what’s been going on in their lives, etc. This helps make sure that you both of you feel cared for and that your needs are met.

This can be just once a week. Dr. John Gottman calls this a “State of the Union,” and he has a very specific format for it here.

6. Lack of communication

Conflict is inevitable in relationships, but we can avoid things becoming nasty if we frequently and openly communicate with our partner. Healthy relationships require vulnerability and trust, and we can build and sustain that by sharing with our partner.

This could be something as small as sharing how your co-worker annoyed you that day or that you’ve been thinking about purchasing a new spatula. It may seem small, but it can grow into much deeper and valuable conversations.

7. Lack of affection

Even when my husband and I are mad at each other, we still call each other “honey.” It’s a subtle reminder that we’re still each other’s sweets. We may not always like each other, but we certainly choose to love each other every day.

Don’t forget to be affectionate with your partner, however that should look. Touch each other. Give each other hugs. Kiss each other “hello” and “goodbye.” Make them their morning smoothie. Tell them, “I love you.” You should never feel like each other’s “roommate,” so make sure acts of affection are a typical and regular part of your relationship.

The very best relationships avoid these nasty habits, but none of us are perfect. Even Relationship Coaches. If you find yourself falling into any of these, realize that you have and correct them to get back on course.

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Certified Relationship Coach and Writer. E-mail: tarablairball@gmail.com

Memphis, TN
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