Breaking the Patterns That Hold You in a Rut Throughout Divorce (Half 1)

Many of my clients complain that they have difficulty breaking the patterns of behavior that lead them to get stuck in negative interactions when communicating with intimate partners. Fortunately, being aware of the way we are conditioned to fall into recurring behaviors that reinforce over time is the beginning to change them.

For example, Alicia and Joshua, who have been married for eight years, struggle over intimacy issues because Alicia generalizes her fear of being hurt by her ex-husband (who cheated on her) to their current relationship and this leads them to leave becomes.

Alicia is articulate, dedicated, and enjoys a career as an elementary school teacher. At 38, she is aware that she is sabotaging relationships that might be good for her. But despite her occasional romances, she fell in love with Joshua, 39, and married him. Alicia knows that she is her own saboteur and that Joshua plans to stay around, be loyal and in love with her. Sometimes it’s like Alicia is wired to recreate the past and she can be self-destructive and threaten to leave Joshua.

Why is it important to break the patterns we have created?

Getting close to someone can bring unresolved problems from the past to the surface – the very things we might want to avoid. I have sabotaged or crumbled too many relationships because one or both partners are unaware that they are bringing a residue of hurt, fears, and ambivalences from their past into current interactions. And these issues can lead to negative behaviors that are challenging to resolve – and therefore can get upset with our partner if left unaddressed.

In an April article for the Gottman Institute blog, Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart advises her readers on how to break the negative patterns that many people easily get into. She approaches the subject from a psychological perspective and analyzes the way we learn, i.e. the way we are conditioned to fall into transgressive cyclical behaviors that intensify over time.

Dr. Lockhart’s fundamental belief is that negative learned behavior is just as easy to develop as positive. In fact, it describes repetitive, learned behaviors as a product as a type of practice that can be channeled for positive ends. For example, engaging in repetitive thought processes can follow one of two paths: “positive affirmation or negative self-expression,” says Dr. Lockhart.

The natural conclusion she draws from how we can effectively condition ourselves to reinforce and then repeat positive, productive behavior is quite liberating. We are in control of ourselves and our thoughts, actions, and behavioral traits that can be improved and made positive through practice and motivation to maintain relationships.

Dr. Lockhart then outlines practical steps to “break the cycle”. She writes, “Whatever the reason, these all play a role in the repetition of cycles. Here are some ways to work through them so that the cycles you are part in actually benefit and help you, rather than hurt you. ”Your steps take diligence and patience, but soon become second nature.

First of all, she advises the reader to “record behavior patterns”.. You can do this by video recording, journaling, or sharing your trip with others (podcasts, blogging, social media). ”This first step opens the door to those who follow. You can do this on your phone, tablet, or in a notebook.

Next, Dr. Lockhart taught that people identify their “triggers” or, as she puts it, the “things that really crunch and things to which you have an exaggerated emotional or mental response that goes beyond what is expected”. Identifying triggers unlocks the next step: understanding your reaction to your triggers (we’ll cover this next month).

Here are 4 ways to identify triggers.

1. Pay attention to your physical reactions

Watch for muscle tension, increased heart rate, hot or cold flashes, tingling sensations, or any physical change that generally indicates a contraction (or a physical reaction to what your partner says or does). Ask yourself: what is the first reaction in my body? Clench my fists? Is my breathing accelerating? Is my face getting hot or red? Do I feel like escaping the situation? Do I feel frozen or unable to move? Note and write down these responses in your mind. Remember that physical reactions can be subtle to extreme – so don’t rule anything out.

2. Notice which thoughts or emotions are intense or repetitive

Look for extreme thoughts with opposing viewpoints (i.e. someone or something is good / bad, right / wrong, nice / bad, etc.). Be aware of these thoughts without reacting or judging them. What automatic thoughts do you have about the other person or situation? For example, your trigger could range from your partner’s tone of voice to body language. Ask yourself: Do these behaviors remind you of someone else? Writing down these triggers will help you remember them so that you can stay confident in the future too.

3. What happened before you were triggered?

Sometimes there are certain “prerequisites” to being triggered, for example having a stressful day at work, waking up “on the wrong side of the bed”, moving to a certain uncomfortable place (like a relative’s home), practically anything can set the stage to be triggered later. Trying to identify your emotional triggers can prevent you from being triggered in the future by simply slowing down and thinking about it once you are aware of the trigger requirements.

4. Which emotional needs of yours were not met?

When emotionally triggered it can usually be attributed to one or more of our deepest needs or desires not being met. Take some time to think about which of your needs or wants have been threatened. These needs include acceptance, autonomy, attention, security, love, appreciation, and control.

At this point, it’s a good idea to think about any unmet needs or desires that keep popping up. Becoming aware of your body, your thoughts, unmet needs and desires, as well as certain people or situations that trigger you, will help you get a better grip on your emotions and not overreact or lose control of your emotions. For example, attending a family event may make you feel overwhelmed and either freeze up, argue with someone, or even have a strong desire to leave. Being aware of your triggers will help you deal with them better.

According to experts like Dr. Lockhart’s final step in successfully dealing with triggers and breaking out of a negative pattern that is keeping you deadlock is to come up with a hypothesis, or to guess where those patterns are coming from. In other words, reflect on your behavior and thought patterns, including your history of those patterns, to better assess the root causes of any negative cycles that have formed. And unpacking these topics will lead to a better understanding of whether and how these learned behaviors serve you – or counteract your personal growth, emotional health, and ultimately your happiness.

By reading this blog, you have learned to identify triggers and break the patterns that have kept you at a dead end. Next month, you’ll learn the coping skills to deal with negative patterns that are stalling you!

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