You have awoken from that beautiful fog of the early emotional stimulation and the hormonal rush of attraction to your partner. Drat it! His chinks are starting to show. He comes home late from work with no warning text or reason. He tunes you out when you attempt to communicate. He flirts with your friends. He ignores you in mixed company. There could be a litany of actions that are not acceptable to you.
Initially, you were oblivious to his hurtful behaviors. Then you ignored them, then denied them, then made excuses for them, then tolerated them, then became annoyed, agitated, and hurt by them. He says he will change but he never does and now you are about to give up. Stop! Don’t escape. Not yet.
The power of behavioral patterns
Recent studies show newly learned behaviors can change previous behavioral patterns through neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Those big words describe a complex series of pathways in our brains that determine our actions, as we form new habits.
Brain plasticity is the brain’s capability to make new neural connections. Neurogenesis adds newborn neurons to the mix of established neurons. Through this physical process, old worn neural pathways have to give up their territory and allow the new neurons to enter and eventually take over their territory as the old neurons die off in order to effect change.
Both brain plasticity and neurogenesis can enable your partner to form new patterns of thought, develop new life-enhancing skill sets, and alter his ingrained beliefs, destructive attitudes, and his self-defeating actions.
Apply these latest findings to your partner’s offensive behavioral patterns and you have a new set of tools to save your relationship instead of talking in frustrating circles as to how to correct the bad habits that he swears are unintentional.
Understanding the causes
People are often slaves to their habits because they are triggered by events outside of their conscious awareness. So much of past experiences influence them. Perhaps your partner’s behavior is programmed by outdated and obsolete memories and a subconscious reluctance to release them. Those internalized negative memories unknowingly inflict stress and pain in a relationship.
Dysfunctional and traumatic childhoods do very real and deep damage to the brain’s ability to adapt to situations that seem like no-brainers to others faced with similar normal relationship stresses. Often victims’ brain synapses (connections) were never formed or were deprived of nurturing and died due to deprivation. Thus, relationship threatening behaviors were created. Your partner may be debilitated by such a sad past. You should explore that together or with a therapist.
If your partner is a victim of a dysfunctional childhood, the understanding and patience of you both are necessary to make the leap to form new synapses (connections in his brain) while he changes lifelong held beliefs of perhaps shame, guilt, and low self-esteem, all products of such childhoods which result in adult offensive behaviors. His ingrained memories, beliefs, and automatic responses can be erased and replaced by the new ones both of you believe and deem appropriate for your relationship to survive and flourish. His adult-born neurons should be encouraged to weave into his existing neural networks creating new vibrant memories as he modifies those older well-worn patterns.
Is there hope for your relationship?
There is hope for your floundering relationship if you both determine to work on it. Two keywords here: ‘both’ and ‘work’. Yes, changes in the patterns of destructive behavior in your relationship require your mutual acknowledgment that such behavior exists and an agreed-upon plan as to how you both should proceed. And importantly, you and your partner must be cognizant that it will be work for both of you.
Of course, much of the ‘lifting’ to initiate change has to be done through open communication between you and your partner as to common values, ethics, and morals. Are they in sync? Do you both want to change? Sometimes, unsurprisingly, the offending partner is happy just the way he is.
Once you both agree that a problem exists and you establish a mutual goal, needed changes to resolve that problem are mutually decided upon, as well as the means to accomplish them. This may require some soul-searching and negotiation for both of you. How can he replace old hurtful and damaging behavior with relationship-enhancing one? How can you help?
This is where your partner’s neural pathways may need restructuring. Thus, new neural pathways will need to be formed to replace his old well-traveled destructive habits. His work ethic and persistence (and stubbornness) you have admired him for must click in to starve those worn paths of old destructive behavior patterns as newborn neurons grow in new positive directions.
Breaking down the barriers to change
Change can be a flashpoint word for some. It can elicit unease and even fear, especially for those with damaged pasts. Does he harbor painful memories closely guarded behind high impenetrable emotional walls? Are his patterns of offensive behavior formed by memories that he refuses to release because of fear of more pain too great to bear?
Replacement of his old habits and the high walls protecting them is very important so his new neurons can replace his old neurons and obsolete patterns of behavior. The latest research reveals that newly-formed activated neurons are essential in winning the war against their older and worn-out memories, a ‘survival of the fittest’ battle in this neuronal war. Thus, you both must work on replacing his old destructive habits with new relationship-building ones. It does not have to be all work, but actually pleasurable and fun. And ultimately rewarding for both of you.
Here are some practical steps that you and your partner should mutually take in order to initiate the change:
- Identify the offensive behavior
- Identify the triggers
- Agree that the offensive actions are habits, not just the occasional incidents
- Choose replacement habits
- Note and understand the self-defeating ‘rewards’ of his offensive habits
- Commit to the new replacement behavior patterns
- Write a mutual game-plan, changing one habit at a time in small steps agreed upon by you and your partner
- Create cues to encourage these small steps (a squeeze of a hand, a wink, a text, etc.)
- Visualize success (new relationship building rewards)
- Most importantly, remove the opportunity for him to perform the bad habit
- Distract yourselves so his old thoughts and behaviors do not creep in
- Be careful not to focus on slip-ups, but do watch for them and be honest with each other when they occur
Studies vary as to how long it takes to achieve a lasting change of habits. Much depends on how difficult and how frequent the habit is, or the nature of the person. A general average is about two months, but you both should be patient. It could even take longer. It can take many months or even years. If your partner seriously desires and is dedicated to change, and you genuinely love each other, it should be worth the wait for you both.