Is your marriage suffering because you and your spouse have bad habits that are causing conflict? If so, then it is time to break the cycle. In this blog post, we will discuss how to identify what those negative behaviors are, why they happen, and how to break bad marriage habits so you can have the marriage you desire.
Thailand has zombie ants. Sounds weird, but it’s true.
There is a fungus that targets carpenter ants living high in Thailand’s rainforest canopy.
In a new study, researchers used microscopes to peer inside affected ants and see how the infection progresses. The team found that the growing fungus slowly fills the ant’s body and head, causing muscles to waste away and muscle fibers to spread apart.
Once infected, the ants go about their routine. After several days the fungus reaches their brain and literally takes control of their actions. It causes them to wander outside their normal routes in the tree canopy and eventually fall to the ground. Once on the ground, the fungus causes the ant to bite a leaf, which serves as food for the fungus.
The ants eventually die and the fungus consumes their body.
Pretty weird. You may be asking what this has to do with marriage. Am I right?
When I read this story I thought about how some couples have habits that take over their relationship and cause them to do things that ultimately destroy their marriage.
Habits are like the fungus that controls the ant. It eats away at our life until we are like zombies that respond under the control of our bad habits.
Breaking habits is hard. Breaking bad habits is harder. Breaking a habit in your marriage can be downright impossible, particularly when the person you’re married to also has the same bad habit! With that in mind, we came up with some tips on how to break bad habits in your marriage.
Healthy Attitudes For Changing Bad Habits
Let’s start with a few prerequisites.
1) Be Patient.
It will take time for you both to get used to a new way of living their life. Exercising patience with your spouse and yourself is necessary to change your relationship.
Bad habits are often entrenched in the way we respond to our spouse, and relate to one another.
2) Affirm One Another
Throughout the process of change, it’s important to support and affirm each other. This goes hand in hand with patience. As the old adage goes: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither are good habits.
Along the way, there are many opportunities to find fault with your spouse. Resist the temptation to judge and criticize. The more you work together to create positive change, the closer you get to each other.
3) Work Together.
As mentioned above, more progress is made when you are both on the same page and working together.
Change can come if only one partner is committed to making the marriage better, but it isn’t easy. It takes more work, energy, and drive to turn things around on your own. It’s much easier when you are both committed and working together.
I liken it to boating.
We have a 28-foot pontoon boat. I can paddle it around the lake if I need to, but it is much easier to start the motor and propel the boat along. Paddling is for emergency situations. It is not the method of choice when it comes to moving around the lake.
It’s the same with marriage. One person can bring positive change to the relationship. It’s much easier to work together.
What Is A Habit?
A habit is just a regular routine. In this case, the bad habit you’re trying to break is a regular routine of reacting negatively to your spouse. A new habit will be a positive response from you instead of a negative one.
Examples Of Bad Habits In A Marriage
There are many habits that can be included in this category, but there are two main ones I want to talk about here: nagging and withdrawal. These are two habits that cause the most harm and destruction in relationships.
Nagging is a very common bad habit in marriages. It’s one that causes the most problems and difficulties in relationships.
Nagging is one of those negative patterns that can be hard to break because it appears harmless to the spouse who does it. The intentions are good, and the nagging person is simply trying to push their partner aware of a situation or situation.
It’s important to understand that nagging does more than just make your spouse angry, stressed, or upset. It has an effect on each of their emotions.
Nagging causes your spouse to feel:
- Feeling Trapped To
- Under Pressure To Do Something
- Negative Energy
The problem with nagging isn’t that it’s wrong, but the fact that it also isn’t good for your marriage and relationship. It is a habit that can be harmful to your marriage if not addressed in the long term. It will have adverse effects on your spouse, and most likely you as well.
Withdrawal is the flip side of nagging.
Where nagging is a habit that involves trying to get the other person to react in a certain way, withdrawal is a habit that involves the person who does it to themselves. A withdrawal habit can manifest itself through apathy, lethargy, or just plain tuning out your spouse. It is essentially disengagement from your spouse.
The main reason it’s destructive and harmful is that it continues the cycle of negativity in your relationship. It keeps you from working together on the issues you face as a couple and allows bitterness and resentment to take hold of your marriage.
How To Break Bad Habits
If you want to get rid of your bad habits for good, you have to decide that it’s what you want. You have to be committed to making the changes necessary for your marriage.
Breaking these habits can be difficult. Habits form over time, and so do solutions. Here are five steps to break bad marriage habits.
Step One: Desire
I start with desire because the reality is you will not change something unless you want to.
Everything hinges on what you truly want. Not what you say you want, but what you really want.
Without the desire to change, you wallow either wallow in self-pity or procrastinate and make excuses. Desire is the key to getting rid of bad marriage habits.
How many times have you needed to change something but lacked the motivation? Desire is crucial because it gives you the drive to get up and do something about your goals. If there’s no desire, then you’ll never achieve anything in life.
Willingness is often where people fall short when it comes to change. If you find yourself saying, “sure, I’ll give it a shot,” but weeks later nothing has changed because you didn’t start with a desire to change, then you need to up your level of will and purposefulness.Desire is crucial because it gives you the drive to get up and do something about your goals. If there's no desire, then you'll never achieve anything in life. Click To Tweet
You have to want it bad enough. You have to be certain that you want what’s best for your relationship, and what’s best for your marriage is not allowing your bad habits to control you through apathy or depression.
You have to be willing to do what’s needed and not take the easy way out. Sometimes it’s hard, but you have to pick yourself up and push through the pain.
If you want to achieve something, you need desire.
Desire is the engine that drives us forward and propels change in our lives. Without it we either procrastinate or make excuses. We’re all guilty of this at times, but if you don’t have an intense burning desire for the outcome you seek, then your chances of getting there are slim to none.
Your biggest problem isn’t what’s standing between where you are now and where you want to be; it’s how much do YOU really want it? The more intensely passionate about a goal or dream that we become, the more likely we will take action on a consistent basis towards achieving those goals and dreams.
Step Two: Identify the Bad Habit
There are two aspects to this:
First, we need to identify the habit is that is sabotaging your relationship.
Second, it is necessary to identify the reason for bad habits in order to find a solution.
How to identify a bad habit?
The first step is to acknowledge the bad habits.
Identify the habits that keep you from being happy or that keep your marriage from flourishing. Take a moment and list out the ones you want to get rid of.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What action do you want to change?
- Who is affected by this behavior or attitude (you, your spouse)?
- Why does it happen?
- What purpose can be served from continuing with this habit?
You should have a clear understanding of what precisely needs changing and how these habits got started in order for them not to come back later on when trying out the solutions steps below).
Write down all answers so that they are easily accessible during the time frame allotted next step).
The most important thing about identifying bad marriage behavior patterns now will help create more effective strategies as we move forward into solving the problem-solving stage.
Next is understanding how these habits started and why they continue in your relationship.
One way to tap into this is to ask yourself:
What do you get from continuing this habit? What is the payoff?
Everything we do has a payoff. This means we do things because it benefits us in some way. It may take a little time to discover the benefit, but trust me, there is one. If not, you would stop doing what you are doing.
For example, people lie because they think the truth will hurt them.
Or they cheat on a test because they do not trust they have the knowledge to succeed on their own.
In marriage, some partners blame their spouses because they are afraid of being vulnerable and admitting their own faults.
I could go on and on but I think you get the point.
Once you identify the negative habits and understand why you default to that behavior, it’s time to deal with it in a way that will break its power.
Step Three: Replace
The easiest (and perhaps only) way to change a negative habit is to replace it with a positive one.
The most effective way to do this is through the use of a “keystone behavior” or one that has an outsized impact on other behaviors.
For example, if someone tries giving up some form of sugar they may find themselves eating less junk food in general and exercising more often too because those habits are interconnected with each other (through feedback loops).
The result? Weight loss! It’s not just about avoiding sugars but also taking care of your health by maintaining good exercise practices as well.
Pick one of the habits you identified earlier and think of a replacement. What can you do that is ‘opposite’ the bad habit?
For example, if you criticize your spouse over small things, what can you do that is different?
Start by praising them and say how much you care for him or them. This is something that doesn’t take a lot of effort to do, but it’s difficult at first because the bad habit was so ingrained in your brain due to its repetition over time.
I know it’s hard to think of a new habit, but it’s not a normal brain function. It’s a learned behavior that you can learn to unlearn through practice.
Let us say you feel angry with your spouse because they are always late or something happens and they are never there for you like you want. Then the anger makes you pick a fight with them or say something negative, and so on until the cycle repeats itself over and over again. This is essentially the way habits work, just on a smaller scale.
To break this cycle, you need to start by writing down the contrary action and the pay-offs for continuing the bad habit. The pay-off is not always happiness, but it can be something that satisfies a certain craving or desire in you.
Here’s what the process looks like:
For example, if you are tempted to “fuss” about your spouse being late all of the time, write it down, then underneath that write down what you get out of it (even if it’s in your head and not based on reality).
Next is to find an opposite action that will reap more benefits than continuing the bad habits.
To do this, think of all of the things you would rather be doing besides fussing at your spouse.
Next, think of the good things they do and shift your focus to the positive. If necessary, make a list of what you love about your spouse. When they do something that triggers a negative response from you, take out the list and focus on the positive things.
This is the hardest part of the process. It is not hard because the process is difficult. It is hard because our emotions are tied up in our responses. If you get angry with your spouse, the payoff is that you feel a sense of control over the situation.
Breaking bad habits can be challenging because we use them to feel safe or feel good. We also provide ourselves with an excuse for our behavior so no one has to take responsibility for what they did wrong or how they hurt their spouse’s feelings.Breaking bad habits can be challenging because we use them to feel safe or feel good. We also provide ourselves with an excuse for our behavior so no one has to take responsibility for what they did wrong or how they hurt their… Click To Tweet
It may take a little while, but eventually, it will become second nature and ingrained in your brain to do these positive behaviors when triggered by external situations. It may not be easy at first, but it gets easier as time goes on and eventually becomes an automatic response like other habits you have formed that improve your relationship with your spouse instead of hurting it.
Step Four: Reward
There are two parts to reward:
First, removing the reward from a bad habit.
We talked about this earlier; everything we do has a payoff. When you remove the payoff, it is easier to stop the habit.
Removing the reward will be difficult at first because it will be hard to see how removing a reward from something makes it more appealing.
Second, we reward the positive habit.
We have to remove the reward we get from a negative response, and reward the positive one.
Without rewards, we feel like we’ve wasted our time. It’s much easier to take a positive action that makes us feel good than one that does not. Don’t get me wrong, it is not easy to make the changes you need to put your marriage first. But if you want to make changes, then you think about it from this perspective:
The better choice is always the one that makes you feel better.
Researchers found that people learned and retained information more effectively when they were rewarded for positive habits. For instance, one study showed that people who were rewarded for reading and doing math problems retained the information an average of 21 days longer than those who were not rewarded. In this study, the amount of money people received for each positive behavior (doing math and reading) ranged from $.40 to $2.00.
The more money that was offered, the more positive behavior resulted in learning and retention.
I’m not suggesting paying yourself for doing good, but the concept is right. Giving yourself a reward for positive habits helps entrench the habit in your life.
Step Five: Repetition
The final step in breaking bad habits is repetition. Just like building a muscle or learning how to drive a car, changing behavior takes practice. You have to repeat the right actions over and over again until they become habits.
It takes time and energy, but change is possible if you keep at it. It all starts with a decision to change, followed by desire and effort until it becomes a part of your routine or daily life.It takes time and energy, but change is possible if you keep at it. It all starts with a decision to change, followed by desire and effort until it becomes a part of your routine or daily life. Click To Tweet
According to Stanford University, repetition seems to indicate that the more we do something the less mental energy it takes to accomplish the task. In other words, when we do something positive over and over, it becomes easier to do it.
It’s like creating grooves in our brain that cause us to repeat a behavior on automatic.
Think about it like this: Our bad habits have become so ingrained in our behavior that we do them without even thinking about it. That’s why they are called habits. They are habitual responses we have to certain triggers.
Our goal is to replace those negative habits with positive ones to the point that they are automatic. Just like the old habits once were.
Repetition is the pathway to create an automatic response that is healthy, good, and positive.
Final Thoughts On How To Break Bad Habits In Your Marriage
f you are unhappy in your marriage, it’s time to start doing something about it. Bad habits aren’t just the little things that get on your nerves–they are the problems that need to be dealt with. If you can learn how to break bad habits, you will set yourself up for success and happiness.
In this article, we presented a simple, five-step plan to break bad marriage habits and start new ones that are positive and helpful.
- Step One: Desire
- Step Two: Identify the Bad Habit
- Step Three: Replace
- Step Four: Reward
- Step Five: Repetition
We have resources available to help you create the marriage you desire and deserve.
The Healthy Marriage Quiz
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The Healthy Marriage Toolkit
Books, Courses, Programs, and Tools designed to help you create the marriage of your dreams.
Five Simple Steps Marriage Course
Marriage doesn’t have to be complicated. In this 5 part mini-series, you’ll discover practical steps to redesign your marriage.
Healthy Marriage Academy
Our courses will help you build a strong marriage. Each course is designed to meet a specific relationship need.
If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.