Breaking Patterns

Stop the Fights- and Save Your Relationship 

In all relationships there are habits and patterns.

Some are good and others not so good.

Breaking the patterns we don’t like takes work, but it makes the difference between staying together or leaving.

This page is dedicated to help you break the bad patterns and to create loving and supportive ones.

So, how do we break patterns we don’t like?

One of the first steps towards breaking a bad habit is to identify it.  For couples that are stuck in a gridlock pattern this can be a tremendous step.

Psychologist and researcher, Dr. Sue has found that when couples name their patterns and clearly describe them, it works to untangle the issue.

In my own relationship, my partner and I have some patterns that are not so helpful. One of those patterns is what we call the, “I’m fine pattern.” This pattern is when I am bothered about something and instead of sharing with Kamala I shut down and don’t share. Instead of talking, I say, “I’m fine.” This pattern wreaked havoc, then we decided to name it.

Once we were able to say, “Hey I’m noticing this pattern and it’s really creating a roadblock in our relationship.” We were able to discuss it, in detail look at how it functions, then lastly we named it—now it doesn’t have that same power.

Once we named our pattern, we were able to quickly name it when it came up. It even turned into something that we joked about.

If you don’t think naming something has power, consider this. The first thing we do when a person is born is we name them. By naming that person we create an ability to call that person, to draw their attention, and to give them an identity.

If you and your partner have a pattern of shutting down with each other, imagine how naming that pattern would benefit your relationship.

By naming and describing an issue you are no longer avoiding it. If you name it, you will create a quicker response time in recognizing it when it arises.

In our work to name patterns it’s also important to notice that a pattern takes two people. If you and your partner have a, “I’m Fine” pattern it’s likely that the shut down person does so because they don’t feel their feelings or needs were being acknowledged. It’s essential to recognize that it takes two to tango—and it takes two people to have a pattern stick.

If you want to end a pattern it takes a couple to really break the pattern and have lasting love.

So, to recap, if you are noticing some not-so-pleasant patterns in your relationship here is an incredible way to break it:

1. Notice the pattern

2. Ask your partner if you two can talk about a pattern that is impacting the relationship

3. Outline in detail what occurs (each person taking responsibility for their part in the pattern)

4. Name the pattern

5. Talk about new strategies that will help you two create a new habit, one that supports your relationship.

Are you and your partner stuck in an unhealthy pattern? What are some common patterns you have seen in your or someone else’s relationship?

This 30-second solution will get your partner to listen.

As a relationship counselor, one of the most common complaints my clients report in our sessions is that “he/she doesn’t listen.”

As we peel away the layers of the problem, it usually turns out that it’s not a partner’s inability to listen that’s causing discord in the relationship, but the simple fact that the couple doesn’t know how to approach discussions.

In a nutshell, they’re doing it wrong.

Would you like a simple strategy that has been proven to help invite listening, a response and dialogue?

The next time you want to have a discussion with your partner about a subject that may make them unwilling to listen, consider how you approach the discussion. There are, essentially, two ways to do it:

1. Bring up the issue in a way that invites them to listen and discuss it with you.
2. Bring up the issue in a way that pushes them away.

You’re reading this post, so I’m going to assume you’re more interested in #1!

I’m a big fan of the work of Drs. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute. In their extensive research, they discovered that when couples talk about a problem, the first two minutes of a conversation were more important than the rest of it.

In my own experience, I’ve found that the first 30 seconds are the most important.

Essentially, what I’ve boiled it down to is this:

How you bring up a problem is the key to getting it resolved.

So, how can you bring up an issue that will encourage your partner to listen in the first 30 seconds of the conversation?

Use I-statements.

In their popular book, “Conscious Loving,” Drs. Katie and Gay Hendricks encourage readers to do three things when bringing up a problem or issue with their partner:
1. Use non-blaming language.
2. Use language that is inarguably true.
3. Use language focused on body sensations.

Inarguable truths are statements that are true for you and can’t be argued against.
Imagine that you and I are friends, and you have done something that I consider rude. My feelings are hurt, and I need to talk to you about your behavior. If I say to you, “you’re rude,” your immediate reaction is to feel attacked and defensive. Instead of listening, you’re likely to argue that you are, in fact, not rude.

The focus of the conversation becomes my statement (“you’re rude”) and not your behavior and my feelings about it. I am not heard, you’re now angry, and conversation shuts down.

Let’s try it a different way.

What if I said to you that “I am feeling very uncomfortable and my stomach is tight.” Your first reaction is likely to be “Why?” You are now interested, curious and all-ears. My I-statement follows all three of the Drs. Hendricks’ rules above: it’s non-blaming, inarguably true and focused on my body’s sensations.

Using I-statements may not work with everyone, all the time. But it’s much less likely that your partner (or co-worker, family member or friend) will be upset by these types of statements than by using language that is blaming or doesn’t invoke your own true feelings.

In my couple’s sessions, I have yet to have a couple argue when one partner says, “I feel sad and feel some tension in my throat.” It’s also been my experience that when a statement is opened in this way, partners always listen to each other.

Want to learn more? Check out my interview with Dr. Gay Hendricks.

As always, I’m interested in hearing from you. Have you used I-statements successfully to improve your relationship?

These 3 steps will break the bad patterns in your relationship.

We all know, deep down, that humans are creatures of habit. Our brains are hard-wired to develop and reward behaviors that follow a pattern because it frees our minds to do other things (like watch out for dangerous predators!).

Just as good habits can be learned (like brushing your teeth twice a day or exercising frequently), bad habits can be unlearned (smoking).

In our relationships, bad habits, or patterns, can get in the way of our happiness with our partner. In today’s post, I want to tell you about three steps you can take to break the bad patterns in your relationship.

Step 1: Identify and name the pattern.

One of the first steps to break a bad habit is to identify it. For couples that are stuck in a negative pattern, this can be a tremendous step. (For some examples of the dangerous patterns some couples get stuck in, look at psychologist and researcher Dr. Sue Johnson’s website. [http://www.drsuejohnson.com/where-does-love-go-wrong/]).

In my own relationship, my partner, Kamala, and I have some patterns that are not so helpful. One of those patterns is what we now call the “I’m fine pattern.” When I am bothered about something, I have a tendency to shut down rather than sharing it with Kamala. Instead of talking to her, I say “I’m fine.” This pattern wreaked havoc until we decided to name it.

Once we were able to say “Hey, I’m noticing this pattern, and it’s really creating a roadblock in our relationship,” we were able to discuss it, notice how it functions and then name it.

By naming and describing an issue you are no longer avoiding it. If you name it, you will recognize it more quickly and learn to stop the pattern in its tracks.

Step 2: Talk about the pattern.

Understand that it takes two to break many relationship patterns. In the case of my “I’m fine” pattern, I shut down because I didn’t feel my feelings or needs were being acknowledged. Both Kamala and I had to be honest with ourselves and each other to admit what was happening, accept responsibility for the pattern and commit to identifying it and ending it. It’s essential to recognize that it takes two to tango—and it takes two people to have a pattern stick.

Step 3: Create a new pattern.

Once Kamala and I named the “I’m fine” pattern and talked about why it was happening, we had to decide how to stop it from occurring. In essence, we needed a new, healthy pattern to take its place. Here’s what we do now: when I’m bothered by something in our relationship, I now know I have a tendency to shut down instead of sharing my feelings. Most of the time, just knowing that I do that helps me break the pattern and speak up when necessary. For her part, Kamala works to make sure that when I do speak up, she listens and acknowledges what I’m saying because she knows the “I’m fine” pattern isn’t good for us.

But sometimes, we still get stuck. When that happens, one or the other of us will usually eventually say “Is this the ‘I’m fine’ pattern?” Just naming it helps us immediately break out of the rut – it no longer has the same power. We can even joke about it.

Are you and your partner stuck in an unhealthy pattern? What are some common patterns you have seen in your or someone else’s relationship?