Want to change, but don’t know how? Here are the steps.

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Want to change, but don’t know how? Here are the steps.

Understanding that change is a process  is helpful when you are making changes in your relationship.

Following the steps is helpful when you are making changes in your relationship.

“Change is easy, except for the person going through it”.

Understand the stages of change.

Relationship Insights are all about change.  Each Insight invites you to change, persuades you that change is beneficial, and gives guidance on how to make that change. In this Insight, you will discover the stages of change that you go through, no matter how large or small the change might be.

When you know about the process you will go through, those changes become easier.

You are passionate about the change you want to make in your relationship, right?

The first thing to know is that change is a process not an event.

The second is that different people can change more quickly and easily than others. Do you thrive on lots of change? Or do you feel that change is a threat to your comfort and security? 

Sometimes the stakes are so high that you can move mountains. Like the threat of divorce. Or the fear of the partner you love walking out the door for the last time. Or your kids having to choose which parent they are going to live with.

Other times your motivation is weak. So you put less effort into changing.

The third thing to know about change is that there is usually an unconscious undertow that disagrees with the change you want, consciously. The unconscious is pulling in the other direction. So you go forward, but you also pull back. The accelerator and the brake. The unconscious part is often pulling hard because it believes that change will threaten the equilibrium you are invested in as safety.  

The part of our brain that we can intentionally engage to enact change is the Reticular Activating System. I speak more about the RAS in later Insights. Meanwhile, here is a brief explanation: your RAS might have the belief that you are unworthy, and will go to all kinds of lengths to keep that belief intact with constant “evidence”. In order to effect lasting change, you need to get your RAS to agree to you being worthy, with constant intentional changing of your thought pattern. So you become what you focus on, ie worthiness.

If this proves particularly difficult for you, you might seek individual work with a therapist to discover how you are so effectively undermining your desire for change.

The Insight, “How deep do you need to go“, might be helpful here. And another Insight, yet to be published, will be helpful: “Do you only see what you think is important?”

The 6 stages of change

In this Insight we are concerned with the 6 stages of change that clearly show where you are up to:

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation.

relationship insights

This is when you don’t even know you are (consciously) thinking about the change. You could say that change is still a fantasy.

Let’s say the desired change is to spend less time on your devices. (Yes, it is a common complaint, not just you!) Your partner has expressed some irritation around your device-use, so it is on the very edges of your awareness.

You probably deny that there is a problem.

Maybe you defend yourself, arguing it’s the way you keep in touch.

Perhaps you justify that it is necessary for work.

You might even excuse your dependence on technology because everybody does it these days.

As a last resort, you might blame your partner and say, “Well it was you who bought me the new iPad”!

Finally, you might deflect your partner’s comment and say “What do you mean, my screen time, you spend more time on your device than I ever do!”

The words in bold alert you to a lot of resistance. One of the reasons you so elaborately resist change is that reward centres in the brain are stimulated by the old habit. This is specifically true for the use of electronic devices,  which stimulate the same part of the brain as do opiates.  No wonder device use is such a hard habit to break especially in children and adolescents. If you need to take up this issue of device use in children in depth, here are two excellent books.

Stage 2: Contemplation.

When you are in the contemplation stage you are aware that change might be desirable or even inevitable. Maybe your denial starts to feel a bit lame, or even crumbles. Yes, you see some justification in your partner’s constant suggestions about mobile phone use and the like. You start to notice how other people’s device-use annoys you. Perhaps you learn about the negative effects of microwave frequencies. Yes, but….. you can still feel the wall of resistance!

Stage 3: Determination.

Determination is different because the resistance to change is giving way. Most importantly, you imagine the new you, behaving differently, and yes, you believe this is possible. You plan how you will do it. Yes, you can turn off your mobile phone on weekends. Maybe you won’t use any screen in the evenings. So you make a plan. You explore various solutions.

Stage 4: Action.

You do it! Wow-what a feeling! Well, actually if feels odd and a bit shaky – not very real. But you stick with it. Your partner compliments you and is pleased not to have to share you with devices all the time!

Stage 5: Relapse.

All that resolve is fading over the horizon. Your device habit is stronger than ever! (I will talk about device use and addiction in another Insight, where I will explain the brain-science behind it.) You start sneaking off to check your emails and send a quick text or two.  And you’re not even having an affair! What seemed so possible now seems like a phantom. (There are many reasons for the relapse phase, which you will discover over time through the Insights.)

How can it be that relapse is part of the process of change? But isn’t this a backward step? Shouldn’t you have been able to do it all at once, since you were so determined? I can reassure you that the average person relapses 3 or 4 times. Relapse is part of the commitment to change. So you are normal.

Stage 6: Maintenance.

Maintenance is when the commitment sticks. Maintenance is the boring bit where you actually show up day after day, achieving what you set out to do, so it is now a new habit.  It takes at least 30 days for a new habit to stick.  But more recent research says we need at least 100 repetitions before a new habit or skill is firmly established. Then, you no longer have to battle yourself. The example I used earlier, limited screen use, is now the new normal.

Challenge yourself to make a small change.

Take a small niggling issue, determine the change you want to create, (an example would be better dental hygiene) and then watch yourself go through the stages of change. Does knowing about the stages make it easier to carry out your goal? Can you now take up the big issues? Are you less likely to pick on your partner when they, too relapse?

When the change is about the relationship itself.

When the intended change is about the relationship itself,  both partners are going through the stages of change, at the same time. An example might be that you have decided to actually listen to what your partner is saying, rather than be occupied with a clever answer. This is a really good goal to have, especially when you both make a commitment.  This change can have a huge impact on communication in your relationship.

However, it is likely that you will be proceeding through the stages of change at different paces. You will each have your own rhythm. This results in more complexity. These hints might be helpful.

  1. Check-in with your partner, often. State clearly your own feelings, and where you think you are at, in the stages listed above.
  2. Proceed at the pace of the slowest partner. Over-riding your partner’s resistance will not work! Yes, folks, you read that right. The pace of the slowest partner. In your haste, you might have overlooked some important factor. Listen. Regroup. Adjust your expectations. You might find “Managing conflict with your partner“, helpful here.
  3. The setbacks stage can be confusing. For instance, your partner seems so assured and confident and seems firmly grounded in Stage 3, Determination. But you have wobbled your way back to Stage 2, Contemplation. But the tables can turn overnight! This is normal.
  4. Congratulate each other on each small step toward change! Remember the 10:1 ratio of complaint to praise? Thank your partner for their effort.  Thank yourself too!

Copyright Kaye Gersch 2018.

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