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posted: 1/7/2013 6:00 AM

Changing bad behaviors in a relationship

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By Barton Goldmith

Scripps Howard News Service

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At some point in our lives, most all of us need to deal with unsuitable behaviors in our relationships. They occur when we aren't paying attention to what we are doing or saying, and we slip into a comfort zone of not being our best. Unfortunately, even if you don't see it, your partner is going to feel it, and perhaps be hurt by your unintentional words or actions.

Bad behaviors can show themselves in many ways, from raised voices to infidelity to physical or emotional or financial abuse -- the list goes on. There are also covert behaviors such as withdrawing or being passive-aggressive with the one you love. All of these have one thing in common: They hurt the person they are directed at and will eventually hurt the relationship.

Destructive behaviors can come from many places: being raised in a dysfunctional family, learning to use defensiveness as a weapon, trying to overpower your partner so you don't have to take responsibility for your part of the problem. These behaviors can be damaging to any relationship, for it can make your partner afraid to confront you with an issue, nothing ever gets resolved and the hurt just builds. This is painful to both of you and creates a dynamic of discomfort so that everyone is on edge most of the time.

The only way out of these patterns is to recognize them, discuss them and make a conscious, concerted course correction. If you don't, and you continue to behave in these destructive ways, you may end up with no relationship left to lose. So you need to learn to morph hurtful behaviors into positive, constructive additions to the relationship you have.

Finding ways to alter bad behaviors is a necessity -- most especially if you're being physically abusive. This is the time to seek professional help. Learning how to avoid hurting one another when you have a disagreement forms a bond that will allow both of you to deal with anything life throws at you. Remember that you can disagree without being disagreeable -- or violent.

Although the conversation about changing behaviors can be awkward, and the process may be cumbersome, it is well worth the effort. Creating new and positive behaviors requires catching yourself while you are engaging in a negative way and saying to yourself, "Wait, I don't have to talk or act like this. What would be a better way to communicate with my partner, so I don't upset him or her?"

Even though the process seems wearisome, it actually takes only a few seconds to review what you want to say or do and edit the words before they come out of your mouth. The same thing goes for physical actions.

By consistently behaving better, you will create a new way of being, and both you and the ones you love will be grateful for the effort. Trusting that you can change old patterns is part of the cure. You have the ability to be as good a person as you want to be. The decision to do it is up to you.

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