How can I change the things I’m tired of in my relationships?
Consider this question in two types of relationships: (1) your relationship with yourself and (2) your relationships with others, especially your spouse. A big, important part of a relationship is how you’re feeling and how you’re doing—because how you show up has a big influence in your relationship.
So, to make a change in yourself or your relationship, here are the four elements of effective change: desire, education, encouragement, and practice.
Of course, if a person does not have the desire or the commitment, taking the action for the change is not going to happen. When you’re full of desire, you will easily follow through with commitment, and your integrity will push you to take action. Then we need to maintain that change. But we have a tendency to get lazy. So it can take extra desire and commitment to make the change an actual habit.
If you have the desire but the change still isn’t happening, then often what is missing is the education. Do you understand the goal and why it’s important? Do you know how you can make the change?
You have to experiment, try different strategies, and trust your gut on what feels good and what you’re motivated to do. Some attempts may not be as effective as others, but a poor plan enacted is better than a zero plan. You need to start somewhere. So experiment until you feel like you are making progress. Education is about learning the correct methods; as needed, it is good to get a teacher or mentor that has experience on what you are trying to change.
It’s also possible that you have the desire and you know how to make the change, but you get influenced by others. One more important part of goal-setting is having support and encouragement from people around us.
Let’s say I want to cross the street, but there’s three big, scary guys right there. Naturally, on my own, I’m not going across that street! They’re going to win. But if I have the whole football team on my side and they can give me a support, then I’m going to make it across that street!
We need to support each other in our goals. Let someone—preferably a spouse, family member, close friend, or counselor—know about your goal. You may think of ways they can help you or follow up with you, but sometimes even just telling them your goals can help you feel accountable and help them encourage you. Just remember: they can’t support you if they don’t know what you’re doing!
Even after all that—desire, education, and encouragement—we cannot depend on just that when we are emotionally involved. Our natural instincts and old habits kick in, especially when we are emotionally charged. It takes practice. What you practice is what you’re going to do in a relationship.
I came across this principle serendipitously: One day I got upset about something, and I went inside to find my wife to talk through my frustration. At that moment, she was in the bathroom, brushing her hair—and I came right in and verbally accosted her. And what I was saying wasn’t even about her!
Despite being all wound up, I had just enough brain cells to realize that what I had done really caught her off guard. I stopped, walked backwards, and said, “That was bad. Let me try that again.” So I approached her again, still pretty wound up. With a twinkle in her eye she looked at me and said, “That was better, but do it again.” So I walked backwards again, and I did it again. And she said, “That was better, but try this differently.”
So the fourth time, I finally got it good enough. And it was funny—we were able to end it with a hug and a kiss and some giggles, because obviously I had done very badly, but we had solved it quickly.
I call that the old blockbuster intervention: “Be kind, rewind”—so the saying goes from the old VHS tapes that needed to be rewound after every use.
My nephew gave me another example of practicing how you want to respond when emotions are high. A few years back, he went through the police academy. He said that in the old academy training, they’d be at the range practicing shooting their guns, and it would go like this: shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, pick up your brass, then reload.
Although this was convenient for training, they found that this trained officers to pick up the brass before reloading. Officers died because they’d been picking up their brass when they should have been reloading. So they upgraded the training to this: shoot, shoot, reload, shoot. We’re all done. Now pick up your brass.
That little change saved lives. The natural reaction—the quick response officers would have in the field—changed because they practiced exactly how they wanted to perform when the stakes and emotions were higher.
Think about when you’ve gotten into an argument with your spouse. How often have you found yourself saying things or reacting in ways that you do not want to react? Practicing these responses, especially for during these emotional moments, is a very key element.
Anytime you find yourself in a situation that went badly—even if you recognize it a whole week later—when you recognize that you’ve done badly and it’s a repeated pattern, then go back and recreate the scenario to practice doing it the correct way—the kind way. And practice it at least three times, or however many you need until you get it correct. Be kind, rewind, and practice.
A Relationship Change
We can’t change others. But often, by changing ourselves, we change the relationship.
If the problem in the relationship is mutual—let’s say you get into fights and yell at each other—you can create a desire not to yell, strategize how, and support each other with that goal. You can even offer rewards for each other. If you mess up, you can, as I did, even ask to try again. But ultimately, each one of you is accountable for your own goals and how you support the other, nothing more and nothing less.
Rodney Limb has always enjoyed listening to people and helping them work out problems and struggles. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Nationally Licensed Hypnotherapist for over 20 years, he has helped hundreds of couples create a happy and thriving marriage out of disaster. He also provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, and overcoming various behavioral addictions.
A Deeper Look into Spiritual Truths
God will support us. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee.” — Isaiah 41:10 KJV
God made relationships to be a form of support. “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” — Genesis 2:18 NIV
God asks us to support one another. Therefore, encourage one another and build up one another.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
Notice the lessons in these two translations of the Bible:
“Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” — Psalm 54:4 NIV
“Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul.” — Psalm 54:4 KJV
Sure, these are two different translations of the same verse, but I believe both are true. The Lord sustains us, and He wants us to sustain each other. Sometimes He sustains us through others, and He will be with us as we support others.