Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series titled, The 24/7 Relationship: Lessons on Life, Love, and Laughter. If you have a relationship topic you’d like us to write about, email us. And if you want a bigger sneak peek into how our habits create the life we live, be sure to sign up for our weekly Sunday email.
What you see is what you get.
This was my standard line in relationships after my divorce, and I did it to establish a boundary. “I’m not changing for you.” It was my way of standing firm, not bending to the will of others, and maintaining my identity.
“No, I will not consider an alternative.”
“Yes, I always do things this way.”
“Is there a problem?”
It was a tad bit of overkill in the accept-me-as-I-am department, and it was disastrous for any kind of relationship growth, not to mention personal growth.
When I met Warren, I was coming off another doomed relationship where we both decided not to budge from entrenched positions on opposite sides of the battlefield. It was as successful as you’d imagine – like a zebra hoping to find love in a den of hungry lions – and I began thinking I was just not cut out for love.
(Or maybe I just like zebra meat.)
In reality, I was letting my commitment to my habits erode my chances of a healthy relationship.
Today I’m going to address the 3 types of habit clashes that impact your relationship:
- Simple habits that bug you or your mate and can be fairly easily fixed
- Moderate ones that can be resolved mutually with a creative workaround
- Deal breakers, and why it’s important to call them out up front
An Environment of Change
What happens when you start something new – a job, a move, a hobby, or going after your big dream – is that things change. You are no longer what you were before this new event because your environment is now different. When you refuse to acknowledge this shift in reality with an adjustment to your habits and actions, your ability to succeed is severely challenged.
- Your new job won’t work the same as your old job.
- Your new health plan requires you to eat and move differently than you did before.
- Your new relationship means adjusting to another point of view.
You cannot expect to embark on something new without changing yourself. It doesn’t mean you morph to fit every new environment; that would be counter-productive to your long history of personal growth. But it does mean you have to examine what you want most and how you have to adjust your attitudes, habits, and actions to make it work.
You aren’t changing so much as you are growing to fit the life you really want.
When Two Worlds Collide
When Warren and I started dating, I was just beginning some heavy work in personal growth. I think Warren would say the same. Together we began the sometimes bumpy transition from two individuals to a couple.
He didn’t like tomatoes or mushrooms and liked having a daily regimen. He neatly rolled his tube of toothpaste from the bottom. He was a confirmed morning person…to the point of singing. To this day he has never needed an alarm clock to wake up on time.
I loved eating a wide variety of foods and craved a more ‘spontaneous’ style of doing things. I squeezed my toothpaste from the middle. I was a night owl who hated alarm clocks and loved naps.
At first we were attracted because of our differences (isn’t that always the way?). But it wasn’t long before reality set in and we had to find a way of reconciling our habits if we wanted to stay together…and we did.
How to Reconcile Your Habits with Your Partner
First off, the good news: You don’t have to reconcile them all. In fact, this is the most valuable lesson to learn when starting a new relationship of any kind. There are things that bug you, and then there are things that are a dealbreakers.
In between the small stuff and the relationship-killers, there are a whole host of clashes that can be resolved in an easier way.
Habits that Bug You
I slam car doors. It probably comes from driving a 1979 Chevy Nova as my first car. This car was HEAVY, and it was a clunker. I had to reach out to grab the door and pull it hard to shut. The habit of slamming the car door stayed with me even after I had more modern cars that didn’t require the herculean effort to close.
This drove Warren crazy, and it was something I didn’t even realize I was doing. He finally snapped and yelled at me when I slammed the car door on the way to dinner about a year into our relationship. I was completely taken aback by the outburst, and it certainly put a damper on the evening. But it taught us a valuable lesson.
These irritants add up over time. Better to say something awkward early on than let it build into an enormous explosion, especially when it is something so easy to fix.
Am I committed to slamming car doors as part of my core personality? No. It’s just one of those habits that stuck and is easy to change.
The Lesson: Speak up when something really bugs you and you know it would be simple to change. It will only get worse over time as it simmers and your mate is oblivious to your irritation. Your partner will appreciate an early comment far more than a crazed outburst.
And if you’re the target of this sane, constructive feedback, take it as intended. If it isn’t something core to your being, it should be pretty easy to do something to make your partner’s life better.
Habits that Can Be Resolved Another Way
You remember I mentioned our toothpaste incompatibility. This turned into a real problem for us as every morning and evening turned into a “why did you squeeze the tube” and a response of “why does it matter?” It’s not a great way to start or end the day, so we came up with a great solution: two separate tubes of toothpaste. For less than $5 a month, we solved a daily grumble.
You don’t have to spend all your energy on stupid fights. If an easy workaround is available, especially when combating a daily habit you’ve had for decades, then take it.
Warren likes noise. When we first got together, he left the television on all the time, whether he was watching it or just answering email on his laptop. It was background noise to him, but it was like nails on a chalkboard to me if I was trying to read or otherwise relax. Rather than take away his “white noise” or force me to fight the distraction, we came up with a very simple solution: headphones and earplugs.
If he can use headphones, he does. If he can’t, I use earplugs. We both win. Again, a $5 solution.
The Lesson: When you focus on resolving the problem instead of who wins or loses, you can usually find a way to make both of you happy. And isn’t that the goal in a relationship?
(And no sweat if your relationship is not new and you haven’t tried this before. Just bring it up during your next marriage contract review.)
Flat out Deal-Breakers
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to your partner that certain behaviors or attitudes are not in alignment with the way you want to live your life. Be very open with what you want in a relationship and what you will not abide so you have a better chance of having the relationship you want.
And really, this list of deal-breakers should be fairly short. If you come up with more deal-breakers than your partner can keep up with, you are probably not with the right person.
When Warren and I first started dating we had conversations about children, religion, political affiliations, what we expected in a partnership (and what we were willing to give), monogamy, sex, money, work, and lifestyle. We each had our eyes opened a bit, but we were also further bonded because we knew exactly what we were getting into.
After these conversations we both know what will send the other one packing. While this information is powerful, it is also key to holding us together because we know the boundaries of our behavior and the requirements to keep our relationship strong.
The Lesson: Know the limits of behavior for you and your mate. If it is that important to you, it shouldn’t be a secret to your partner. (And it doesn’t matter what those boundaries are if you both agree to them and they aren’t hurting anyone. It’s your relationship.)
Keep in mind that your requirements come with a level of responsibility. When I demanded full partner status in our relationship in every way, Warren countered back with a financial demand about sharing our money as partners. I wasn’t expecting this, but to ask for equality I had to also give it. There are some great personal lessons to be had if you look at deal-breakers this way.
Adjusting Your Habits to Your Relationship
When you look at your habits and attitudes in relation to your partner, it’s not a win/lose scenario. It’s a merging of two styles from people who love each other. While it can be rocky to negotiate at times, your daily habits are also what will bind your relationship tight and make it possible for you to chase dreams together – the most delicious result of all.
How to adjust when necessary:
- Focus on clear, quick communication about the things that bug you
- Take fast action when you can adjust your behavior to make your partner’s life better
- Create workarounds when possible so you don’t stress out over the small stuff
- Be up-front about your deal-breakers
- Live up to the ideals you require from your mate
A wise man once told me we love people not in spite of their quirks but because of them. While I’m not sure I’m that evolved just yet, I’m definitely working on it.
This is part of an occasional series titled, The 24/7 Relationship: Lessons on Life, Love, and Laughter. If you have a relationship topic you’d like us to write about, email us. And if you want a bigger sneak peek into how our habits create the life we live, be sure to sign up for our weekly Sunday email.