“If he really loved me, he’d make more effort to be home on time.”
“If she really loved me, she’d put me first instead of always saying yes to everyone and everything except me.”
It’s human nature to measure our partner’s love for us in terms of their ability to change their habits for us.
But, if there’s one thing that I have learned in my fifteen-year career as a habit coach, it’s that changing our habits has surprisingly little to do with our motivation or willpower. There is a ton of research from Stanford University to suggest that though most people rely on willpower to change their habits, that this is the wrong way to go about it. You can watch Kelly McGonigal’s inspiring TedTalk on the subject, but it comes down to the neurological fact that willpower is a rather limited resource and that if we depend on it for sustainable habit change, our chances of success are small. 88% of all habit attempts fail, even if it concerns changing habits we are really passionate about. 78% of patients, who suffered a severe heart attack, are back to their unhealthy habits one year after their initial scare. And this is regardless of the fact that they are very motivated to stay alive! It would be silly to say to them: ‘If you really loved life, you would be able to change your fitness and diet habits’. Often their love of life got them in this situation in the first place!
What these patients need, is not willpower, because considering it’s a limited resource that is required in many other domains of our daily life as it is, it’s not a safe bet to count on it. So when it comes to changing our own habits or the habits of our partner, let’s stop thinking in terms of ‘If he/she really wants to or loves me, he/she will change…’ and instead look at how habit change really works.
Avoid the willpower depletion trap by beginning with small steps. Stanford professor BJ Fogg has demonstrated with his research that you can dramatically increase your chances of installing a new habit by starting with tiny habits and then building up from there.
So instead of asking your boyfriend to always be home on time, ask him to send you a text at 5pm to let you know when he will make it home. This small habit can eventually have a huge impact, when your boyfriend becomes more aware of this daily bad habit of always starting something new when it’s actually about time to be leaving the office.
And instead of asking your wife to say no more often to others (which will probably be very difficult), ask her to not say yes immediately and consult with your before she does.
People often set themselves up for failure by not being specific enough in when they will perform their new habit. They tell themselves things like ‘It’s true, I should put my husband first more often’, but once absorbed by their daily life, their existing habits take over and they forget about the new habit (because it’s not a habit yet) until the next marital discussion. Define a concrete trigger that builds on an already existing habit and that can be specified in an ‘After I… I will…’ statement. ‘Every night, after I turn off the lights, I will turn around to kiss my wife and tell her I love her and what I appreciated about her that day’.
New habits are formed, because we experience some kind of reward whilst performing them. Many people drink coffee, because they experience some kind of reinforcement: the smell, the caffeine boost, the break,… We continue habits because they are pleasurable. So, encourage your partner by reinforcing the small steps, however tiny, in the right direction instead of focusing on the big leaps that he or she isn’t successful in yet. For a basic introduction on how habits are built through the power of rewards, watch this short and entertaining video by Charles Duhigg, the author of ‘The Power of Habit’.
We hope that with these simple rules, you will be successful at building those relationship-enhancing habits that will nourish your relationship or that you will become better at supporting your partner in building theirs!
Good luck with those small habits that can have huge impact on your relationship when practiced on a daily basis.
I hope you all enjoyed this blog and I would love to hear what you think. Do you think these little habits could improve your relationship? Just click on the comment box below and share away your thoughts!