Can you make it a habit to be a good partner? Are there such things as “good relationship habits”?
You might be sick of hearing me talk about habits by now (not stopping anytime soon!), but I truly believe that they’re one of the secrets to a life well-lived. Studies vary, but psychologists and neurologists estimate that between 40 and 95% of what we do every day is habitualized – including how we interact with our partners.So it stands to reason that building even one good relationship habit (or breaking a bad one), could have a big impact on your relationship. If you’re not sure where to start, read on!
1. ACTUALLY, UH, LISTEN WHEN THEY TALK
Confession: sometimes when people are talking, I’m just waiting for them to be done so I can tell a funny story that tangentially relates to what they just talked about.
But it’s pretty obvious when we do this and it doesn’t make our partners feel particularly loved, supported, or seen. So let’s collectively work on building a listening habit and responding with questions about what our partners said – not just finding a way to tie everything back to another Friday Night Lights reference.
2. SAY GOODNIGHT TO EACH OTHER PROPERLY
Do you ever head to your bedroom while your partner is dinking around on the computer in the other room? You’re not really planning on going to bed, but somehow you end up falling asleep. They come to bed when you’re already zonked out, and when you wake up they’re heading out the door to work.
It feels weird and roommate-y. You don’t have to go to bed at the same time every night, wearing satin pajamas, and reading each other poems. But it’s much nicer to at least say “I’m heading to bed now” and then kiss your partner like you mean it, right?
3. GREET EACH OTHER LIKE YOU’RE GLAD TO SEE EACH OTHER
I suspect that half the reason that humans love dogs is that they’re always so happy to see us. It’s nice to come home to someone who’s noticed you’re back! It’s lovely to start the non-work part of your day with an enthusiastic hello!
We don’t need to greet our partners in a cute outfit with a cocktail, but it’s nice if we at least stand up, go into the room where they are, and kiss them hello. Obviously, if you’re in the middle of a big project, you don’t need to stop what you’re doing, but we can manage more than the half-hearted “Hey,” while looking up from the phone.
4. MAKE AN HONEST EFFORT TO BREAK THE BAD HABIT YOU KNOW THEY HATE
Note to self: stop dipping chips directly into the sour cream container or double dipping dates in the peanut butter. Kenny haaaaaaates it. The amount of effort it will take me to break this habit is pretty minimal and it will reduce kitchen-related annoyances significantly.
I bet you know exactly which habits your partner hates. Not all of our bad habits are small or easy to break, but I bet you could stop letting the gas get so low, put your boots in the closet, or stop leaving water glasses everywhere. These things seem tiny, but they add up and take some of the sheen off of life. You’d be surprised how breaking even one of these little bad habits could improve your relationship!
5. LIMIT HOW MUCH YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT THEM
None of us are perfect. None of us have perfect partners or perfect relationships and there’s no need to pretend we do. And, yes, venting is healthy and can help us bond with others.
But the more we talk about our partner’s less-great qualities, the deeper those neural pathways get and the easier it is to obsess over all the ways they’re not awesome.
Also, when we constantly complain about our partners, our friends and family slowly begin to hate them because all they hear is “he spends too much money” and “she’s a slob who expects me to clean everything.” Incrementally, our friends and family turn against our partners because they only hear about their shortcomings.
What should we do instead of constantly complaining?
1. Talk directly to our partners about the issues that are making us so unhappy
2. Go to therapy
6. HAVE A REOCCURRING ‘STATE OF THE UNION’ DATE
How often do you and your partner have deep, nitty gritty, are-we-on-the-same-page talks? It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and, before you know it, three years have passed and you’re headed in different directions, sulking quietly.
What if we made a habit of scheduling (like, actually putting them in the calendar) State Of The Union dates? We can order in some pizza, open a bottle of wine, and ask each other questions like these.
7. ADD FUN THINGS TO THE BORING THINGS
Much of adult life is business trips and school conferences and never-ending errands. If you have to do these boring things, how can you make them suck less?
Can you tag along on that business trip to Tampa and tack on a few days at the beach? Can you stop by your favorite sushi place after conferences? Could you run errands together while listening to your favorite podcast? Not everything in life can be a delight, but we can usually make any situation a bit more enjoyable.
8. PLAN PLENTY OF FUN THINGS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
Isn’t it a bummer when people ask what you’ve been up to and you draw a blank? Or when you reach the end of the year and you can’t pinpoint anything fun you did in the last 12 months?
Build the habit of sitting down with your calendars and plugging in date nights, weekends away, dinner parties, and events you want to go to. Sure, it’d be nice if ‘fun’ spontaneously happened! But planned fun is better than no fun.
Can you put a happy, loving, supportive relationship on autopilot? Of course not. But you can absolutely build habits that will make an awesome relationship more likely.