In my last Vlog I talked about how the fundamental building blocks of every long-term goal are actually habits.
Habits are behaviours repeated over and over, either together or consecutively, with other small behaviours, which when maintained for long enough will result in a goal being successful.
It may sound odd to reduce something as complex and emotional as having a great relationship to something as clinical and simplistic as habit formation, but actually that’s how I made my relationship work and you can do it too.
So what are the top 3 habits that today’s woman can develop to improve her relationship?
The first and most important habit is to create the habit of Awareness, both self-awareness and relational awareness.
Awareness is our ability to see and understand our emotions, moods and drives and relational self-awareness is our ability to see how these effect those we interact with.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman in his best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, suggests self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence.
While research shows that being compassionate is the most important trait to make a relationship last, I believe that unless we develop the habit of awareness first, it would be so easy (thanks to something called cognitive bias) to think we’re being compassionate purely because it’s our intention, without recognizing that in fact we’re being incongruent, which means our intentions and our behaviours are not in sync.
An example of this was my friend Cindy who was flirting with the waiter, but because she believed herself to be a loyal person she just couldn’t see it, to the rest of us at the table it was as plain as day.
Another bias that clouds the way we see others and causes us to be less compassionate towards them is called the ‘fundamental attribution error’. It’s the tendency people have to overemphasize personal characteristics and ignore situational factors in judging others’ behavior.
We tend to believe that others do bad things because they are bad people, and we ignore the situational things that might have played a role. Whereas we give ourselves the benefit of recognizing the situation and not make it personal. An example might be that you were preoccupied when you forgot to turn off the light, but when hubby does it he’s wasteful.
Everyone is blinded by cognitive biases, until we choose to be aware of their grip on us. So what’s the solution to this you may ask?
Well there’s a lovely saying “If we judged those we love by their intentions, and judged ourselves by our actions, instead of the other way around, the world would be a much better place.”
That’s a perfect segue into the next habit, that I’ve already mentioned is the best indicator of a happy and lasting relationship, Compassion.
Just like awareness compassion can also be for self and others. I’ve worked with a huge number of critical women, including myself actually, and the very best way to stop someone being so critical of others is to do the deep work of helping them become less critical of themselves first.
I think the quickest way to develop compassion for ourself and others is to recognize that to err is human. Because sadly most of us didn’t get that kind of unconditional love and acceptance from our families. We were usually made to feel there was something wrong with us when we made mistakes, rather than something wrong with our behaviour, we never learnt to give unconditional love and acceptance to ourselves either.
“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James
It really helps to understand that it’s not that we’ve made a mistake that’s the problem (because we all do it), but it’s how we deal with it.
The pre-programmed way is to go straight to blame, and that elicits shame and shame is what often prevents us, or those we’ve blamed, from owning the mistake, apologizing and making amends.
This is what you need to know, the quickest way to become compassionate is to separate the behaviour from the person.
Really choose to believe there was no ill intent, only mindlessness. Vulnerably tell them about the effect of the behaviour on you. In the absence of blaming and shaming it’ll be much easier for them to take responsibility. I can’t stress how important it is or women to develop this habit.
In his 30 years of researching the relationship masters and disasters, John Gottman’s finding show that the women who really rock their relationships have all developed a soft approach in the way they talk to their husbands about things they’ve done to upset them.
They aren’t blameful, blatant, or firm in their approach, which in turn doesn’t trigger their husband’s shame.
The last of the top three habits is to become an Amazing Listener.
Seek first to understand before you react. I say this because 90% of problems that occur in relationships are due to misunderstandings. I’ve seen it over and over when working with couples and without a doubt in my own relationship too.
When I first started to practice this habit I was amazed by how often I would say to myself “thank goodness I clarified that before reacting” either automatically, due to my past conditioning, or prematurely jumping to conclusions based on my crazy theory about who my husband is.
We all have theories about our partners, they are at some level based on truths we’ve seen about how they react when they get emotionally triggered, be it fight, flight or placate.
We tend to choose someone opposite to us, as ironically, it was that energy we were attracted in the first place, because it balanced us and gave us an opportunity to grow ourselves.
Sadly the longer we stay with them, the uglier our theories about them get, and eventually they end up running the show.
The pushy person is seen as brash and controlling, the withdrawing person as withholding and secretive, and the placating person as dishonest and weak.
When we do that, we imprison them in the unfairness of such wholesale condemnation, and ourselves in the self-righteous indignation that ensues. They’re doing exactly the same thing to us of course.
If instead we really listen to them in an open-hearted way, we’ll be able to avoid reacting automatically.
I hope this has been helpful in your quest to be a better you, and that you’ll join me again in a few weeks when we’ll take a look at the symptoms to chronic over-functioning, so you can see if any part of you is playing this card.
Until next time, be good to yourself, and remember to keep it real.
With light and love
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