Why is it hard to change your behaviour in relationships?

change your behaviour

Are you stuck and want to change your behaviour in relationships, but do not know how? Many wonder why they remain stuck in hurting each other, when they can’t seem to stop themselves.  Some want desperately to change their behaviour but feel it is outside of their control.

  • Are you noticing a pattern of putting up with things in relationships, that means you are not taking care of yourself?
  • Are you so highly attuned to the emotional needs of others that you forget about your own?
  • Why do you constantly lose sight of yourself and focus on pleasing others?
  • Do you adapt your behaviour to fit in with others?
  • Do you walk on egg shells around your partner’s mood, being careful not to upset them, in case they blow up at you?
  • Are you subconsciously angry at your partner for not making you feel good enough, taking out your feelings on them?
  • Is it difficult to stop yourself from reacting in the heat of the moment, causing you to say the things that hurt your partner?
  • Do you keep the peace or avoid conflict to not upset your partner, because you do not want to feel bad or be rejected by them.

All these responses are learned responses which are outside of our awareness, yet they work against ourselves and adversely impact our relationships. It means we are stuck in destructive behaviour.

Why is it so difficult to gain control and change your behaviour?

The real reason it is hard to change your behaviour may be something that you are unaware of, so you cannot fix it. Often the ways that we react in our relationships have become adaptive behaviour that was used to cope with difficult situations in the past, when dealing with emotions, coping with separation or managing abusive childhood situations. It can feel safer to modulate one’s behaviour by walking on eggshells, avoiding conflict and keeping the peace in order to prevent expressing oneself in the relationship. When there is a repeated history of abuse or emotional neglect, the child finds ways to protect themselves from the pain and adopts survival behaviours, so they prevent themselves from feeling hurt by the care giver.

In these unpredictable childhood environments, a helpless child can internalize that they’ve done something wrong, that things are their fault. They can blame themselves for upsetting their parents, feeling not good enough on the inside or unwanted.  Therefore, they seek the love from the caregiver by accommodating the behaviours of the parent, so that they will not feel this way by adapting their behaviour to meet their parents’ needs of them. This way they can preserve the image of the good parent and feel loved or good enough for them. This prevents them from feelings of abandonment or feeling reprimanded for doing the wrong thing. They may become the compliant child, who takes care of the parents emotions by pleasing them and not causing any trouble. They may even learn to understand their care giver emotions, so that they do not evoke a bad reaction in them. These protective coping behaviours become ways the person responds to their partner, when they’re triggered back to feeling not good enough, rejected or feeling reprimanded by their partner. Therefore, they replay these old wounds and continue to feel those early feelings, when triggered to feeling not good enough, and use their early coping behaviours to protect themselves from these feelings, often pushing away their loved one or causing them to react defensively.

When observing couples in couples therapy, many react to perceived behaviour. Instead of seeing the partner offering helpful or constructive feedback, they can be perceived as criticising  or putting the partner down, when triggered to feeling worthless or useless. It is easy to forget where these feelings came from and think that it is your partner that does not want you, when in fact it may not be true at all. At other times,  it can feel normal to placate abusive or controlling behaviour, by walking on egg shells and keeping the peace in relationships, because that was the coping mechanism used to deal with a terrifying parent. Sometimes our past relationships with care givers can impact how we see ourselves, see others and how we relate to our partner. Therefore, it becomes unclear how we feel about ourselves and how we see others, based on our past lenses, which shapes how we see ourselves and others.

As a child, these underlying feelings of not being good enough become buried, in the hope of being loved by caregivers. These childhood memories of emotional neglect or abuse become forgotten about in later life, but the feeling becomes relived when the partner triggers these feelings in the present relationship, This evokes the same survival coping mechanisms used in the past. In these moments the individual perceives that they’re reliving that traumatic or neglectful moment in their past, and react the same way towards their partner in order to cope. Therefore, in these triggered moments, it is easier to see the partner through the same lenses of seeing the rejecting or abusive parent, and responding the same way towards the partner.

Typical interactions with the partner become misinterpreted, based on the triggered associations from the past and can prevent them understanding the real actions or intentions of the partner. In marriage counselling, I have noticed how couples become stuck and repeat the same behaviours in avoiding conflict, keeping the peace and withholding their feelings or not expressing their real self, because it evokes fears of separation or painful feelings. Similarly, they attempt to preserve the relationship by doing the things that break down communication, because it was how they coped in the past. Yet, they often re-live the feeling of being reprimanded or feeling attacked, especially when their partner does not accept their behaviour, causing them to feel not good enough.

The truth about why it is hard to change stuck patterns of behaviour in relationships

When these old wounds become triggered, the person will keep acting out the behaviour that protected them in the past, even though it is working against themselves and the current relationship. They find it difficult to manage the unwanted behaviour without accessing their underlying feelings, unless they address these patterns in couples counselling Melbourne or counselling for individuals

Sometimes relationships can end prematurely because the partner cannot control certain behaviours, which pushes their partner away. Often, these unwanted behaviours are unintentional and outside of one’s awareness, since they are often habitual learned behaviours that helped them to cope with adverse situations in the past childhood. However, the wound keeps getting re-triggered if the sore is not healed. If you do not work through the triggered feeling then you cannot change your behaviour, no matter how much you want change.

Counselling in Melbourne assists to deal with the underlying source behind the actual behaviour, in order to change your behavior,  and become unstuck. If you want to become unstuck from unwanted patterns of behaviour use the contact form or sign up on our newsletter for free advice and tips.

All content is copyright Nancy Carbone 2018

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