MEN&WOMEN: It takes hard work to get out of bad habits

Friday March 01 2019

The way you talk together can make or break your marriage. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH


You love your spouse, and they love you. But you’re slowly becoming one of those couples who don’t talk to one another in restaurants.

Things used to be more exciting. But now your lives revolve around work, chores and the children. Routine isn’t entirely a bad thing, of course. But it can come to feel like you’re stuck. And so you start wondering whether you could be doing more with your life, if only you weren’t married.

Or maybe your spouse has started blaming you for their own lack of achievement: ‘If it weren’t for you, I’d have my own business.’ Respond by calling their bluff. Say you’ll arrange things so they have enough spare time to indulge their passion. But what if every suggestion’s met with reasons why that won’t work? They don’t really want a solution. They want your attention. So stop being supportive and be challenging instead: ‘So what do you want to do?’

negotiating skills

Maybe your spouse never gives you a genuine compliment. Instead they constantly criticise, usually to deflect attention from their own feelings of inadequacy. Deal with this by pointing out each criticism as it happens, and explore together why it was made.

Maybe they try to dominate your relationship. Politely stand your ground. Or no matter what happens, it always seems to be your fault. Don’t accept the blame. Hand back responsibility to your spouse: ‘So what would you have done?’


It’s important to recognise bad conversational routines and to challenge them. Because the way you talk together can make or break your marriage. It may cause a few fireworks to begin with, but getting out of a conversational rut can really wake up your relationship.

For example, it’s far better to acknowledge whatever one of you has said, and to reply in a positive way. Rather than ignoring what’s been said or responding negatively. Such as by snapping, stonewalling, sulking or criticising.

Because negative responses can lead to some very damaging habits — like sitting together silently in restaurants. You’ve learned to do that because if one of you says something, the other will make an automatic negative response: ‘How’s your food?’ ‘Tasteless …’ Endless negativity like this, even if it’s not intended to hurt, can be enough to make anyone go quiet.

But what if your conversations are fine, and yet you still feel flat? Then do something different! Novelty kicks the reward centres in your brain into gear, and you start bonding again. Just like when you first met.

Then you were open to new experiences, including each other. But with time your willingness to experiment died away. So get outside your comfort zone! Take a trip, learn a new skill together, or just try different restaurants.

Because novelty can bring back the warmth and affection you felt all those years before. It will take time and hard work to get out of your bad habits, but you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your relationship.

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