Changing behaviour in relationships – get fit for life and love

Changing behaviour in relationships - get fit for life and love

Are you behaviourally fit for your partner?

by Jacquie Wise

Physical fitness has come to make so much sense that we are either doing it, or know we need to do it. What are we doing, though, about our behavioural fitness? Maybe it’s time you did some shaping up inside—to become more at peace with yourself and with others.


There are several parallels between physical and behavioural fitness


1 You can never take for granted that you are in shape—both kinds of fitness require regular checkups and feedback, to ensure you’re not slipping!

2 You have to work to get in shape. You won’t develop a muscle or lose weight by sitting around reading or talking about it, nor can you change your behaviour just by reading or talking about it.

3 A good program of fitness of both kinds begins with the realisation that the way you are currently functioning isn’t working for you.

4 You don’t notice you’re out of shape as quickly as others do! Your behaviour-change program is usually prompted by someone’s complaints, or worse, when you’re at risk of destroying a relationship.

When it comes to making changes, there are more parallels we can draw

In physical fitness In behavioural fitness
You can run regularly to increase

You can select a goal and work towards it consistently

You can lift weights to increase strength
You can increase your self-control by focusing your energy on one behaviour pattern at a time
You can stretch your muscles to increase flexibility
You can confront new ideas and challenges that stretch your
adaptability with people
You can weigh yourself to determine your actual weight, assess your progress and adjust your regime accordingly
You can ask for feedback to assess your progress and make any necessary adjustments
You assume responsibility for your
You own your decisions and actions and don’t blame others for your emotions and behaviour
You find exercises and foods you enjoy to keep you motivated to maintain fitness and your health
You make time to relax and balance your life to meet your inner need

Each workout involves five specific steps:


1 Identify clearly the behaviour you need to change or shape. It’s not enough to recognise, for instance, that: ‘I’m not good with money.’ It’s more helpful to recognise specific instances when you demonstrate this behaviour, like ‘I don’t have a budget’ or ‘I can’t save because I don’t keep track of my expenses’ or ‘I’m not clear about investment strategies.’ It’s easier to find a solution when you know exactly what you’re dealing with and what the causes are.

2 Reduce the behaviour to something you can recognise and measure. Why do you behave this way? What sparks off this reaction in you? For example, ‘I’m super critical of my children when they do XYZ, because I’m afraid my new partner will be turned off.’ (Or because that’s what I heard my own father say and I’m just repeating the pattern without question). Well, maybe it is time to question! If the answer is ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this’, the next step is to make an educated guess—could it be this—could it be that…? The more you question and find answers, the more you’ll understand yourself, and future issues won’t be such a mystery. Nor will they have such a hold on you.

Here’s an example to illustrate how our subconscious anxieties can drive our behaviour, which is why it’s often so difficult to change. One of my clients describes herself as ‘very expressive and passionate’. Because her partner finds her aggressive, she has recognised she needs to change her behaviour when she’s angry. Amongst the first issues we looked at was her level of assertiveness. Was she exploding because she was unable to express her needs in small ways, so frustration built up like a pressure cooker? No, as it turns out, she was well able to make requests and set boundaries. Ok, so we don’t need to learn assertiveness.

A little more exploration revealed that since early childhood, she had been told she as exactly like a very unpleasant aunt. She was convinced her personality and behaviour was identical and was terrified: ‘If I’m like this now, I’ll be even more like her in ten years—I don’t want to be her!’ Her anxiety was fuelling her tension, which in turn increased her outbursts.

Aside from learning various strategies to control those outbursts, she needed to re-evaluate the ways in which she was totally different from her aunt. Once she identified the specific behaviour she didn’t like, she was able to reassure herself that she was, indeed, quite unlike her aunt in many ways. That reduced a good deal of her tension. For the remaining similarities, we developed methods to help her deal more constructively with the behaviours she chose to change. Change then becomes easy to measure—you’re either doing it, or you’re not. Or at least you can see you’ve made a few improvements!

3 Assume the responsibility for your workout—your ability to change. Understanding and awareness doesn’t automatically lead to knowing HOW to make a change. Read books, attend a short course, or see a professional to help you understand yourself and develop techniques to change what isn’t working for you. Be prepared to practise. Allow yourself to be a beginner and be patient with yourself. You’re not likely to change a lifetime habit easily.

4 Reinforce yourself by keeping a written record of your successes. We all know that SMART goals are the ones that succeed: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bounded. Seek feedback and encouragement from someone supportive who can acknowledge even tiny improvements you’re making along the way, even if you’re still far from your ideal. (Might as well check that your ideal is realistic, while you’re at it!)

Sometimes, though, change can be so slow, we can become easily discouraged and, in that frame of mind, one failure outweighs a number of small successes. A special journal in which you record only your triumphs will encourage you enormously. Call it what you will— a Success Journal, or a Victory Journal is very uplifting way to close the day. Keeping a daily journal also encourages you to take a step each day so that you have something positive to record! In that way it is motivating as well as encouraging, it keeps you focused and self-aware—key requisites to personal change.

As you make new choices, you’ll find your self-respect increasing, bringing with it greater confidence and a sense of empowerment, as well as greater chances of success in all facets of life. Your relationships will also improve, as others are touched or inspired by your efforts. Maybe it’s time to add a behavioural, emotional and spiritual overhaul to your annual physical checkup.

I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here.

You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.

If you or someone you know would like a personal consultation, please call +61 3 9690 8159.

Take charge of your life with Jacquie Wise.

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