This post is part of a 31-day treatise on habits. <— Click there to see all the posts.
Relationships, whether they be friendships, marriages, or parenting, can be deeply impacted by habits. And things we habitually do in a relationship can make or break it, without our even realizing.
When a person gets married, they become acutely aware of their spouse’s habits in a way they weren’t before. That habit of leaving cabinet doors open or leaving the cap off the toothpaste (or worse, squeezing from the middle – ugh!) can really get on a person’s nerves. On the other hand, having the custom of always extending warm greetings first thing in the morning, and last thing at night, with a kiss, or always taking a moment to hug and give each other eye contact upon re-connecting in the early evening – these are habits.
Interestingly it’s easy to take for granted that “everybody” does that stuff, especially if you came from a family who was warm and affectionate. Doesn’t everyone say good morning cheerfully first thing? Doesn’t everyone automatically offer their loved ones a drink when they prepare one for themselves?
But really, not everybody does that.
When I married my husband I in a sense had to train him to always come and find me when he came home from work, in order to say hello. That’s wasn’t a “thing” with him. But it would hurt my feelings, day after day, when I would discover that he had been home for some time but hadn’t spoken to me. Or worse, I would become frightened and jump when I heard a man in my house and not immediately realize it was him!
The thing is, by giving me “space” to finish what I was doing before I chose to greet him, he thought he was extending love to me. But that’s not how I felt about it. I wanted him to put in that little bit of effort to come find me (since he was the one coming home, and also because I’m a girl, and I like to be pursued!). I didn’t want “space”, I wanted affection. (Asking for the love you need in a relationship is a very good habit!)
Don’t worry, he enjoyed the training. And now it’s a habit of him to engage in warm greetings. I think he’s much happier for it! (What man wouldn’t enjoy his wife giving him hugs and kisses after a long day at work?)
Of course, another good habit is giving your loved ones space when they need it. If a bear needs to go into its cave, you don’t chase it down, or you might find yourself growled at.
In her books Happier at Home and The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin underscored the importance of these simple relationship habits. She resolved to “kiss in the mornings, kiss at night” and to stop what she was doing to look at and warmly greet her husband when he arrived home from work. It turns out research supports this as a happiness habit. Couples who engage in “affective affirmations” are happier. (And I love it when I’m right!)
A habit that my parents instilled in me when I was young is that of giving other people the benefit of the doubt. That too isn’t something everybody does. Some people, when there is a conflict or a misunderstanding or miscommunication, tend to jump to conclusions or immediately confront the other person. Giving the benefit of the doubt is a habit that can save a lot of wear and tear on a relationship, because isn’t it true that much of the time, it’s a simple misunderstanding and not ill will on the part of the other person?
As I mentioned the other day, bad habits can turn you off of a friendship. Chronic lateness, constantly texting someone else while talking to you, gossiping, etc. On the other hand, friendships that stand the test of time usually have habits such as: listening without immediately offering advice, making time for the friendship, staying in communication, etc.
With my children, I have to work on listening well. I find myself sometimes drifting off mentally. When I do that, I apologize and ask the child to repeat what they’ve said. I’ve vowed to myself to do better in this area. When it comes to my teenager, I’m doing well with not overreacting when he comes to me with a problem. I’m proud of myself in that area, because my son feels comfortable enough with me to have tough conversations, and to confess when he’s done wrong. So far, so good.
What are some good and bad relationship habits you’ve discovered? What good habits in your relationships do you cultivate?
P.S. I’ll sign off now. My husband just brought me a hot cup of coffee. I’m in the habit of brewing him a pot every morning, and he’s in the habit of bringing me a cup. 🙂