RelationTips:: Breaking a bad habit (when that habit is a person)

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At the end of every year my high school friends and I have a reunion. We go out to a restaurant, catch up on what the latest is for each of us and what our plans for the next year are. Invariably I have found that each of us will make some kind of resolution:

“This year I’m going to get serious with God. I’ve had my fun, I must grow up now.”

“Guys, this drink I’m having is the last bit of alcohol that’s going to pass through my mouth.”

We each share what the year has taught us and how the only way is forward from here. We nod and “Hmm!” in affirmation, glasses raised, hearts full of hope. The end of the year rolls around once again, some have stories of victory and new adventures, others return dragging past struggles behind them.

Breaking bad habits is easier said than done. And relational bad habits are that much harder to stop. Many of us know what it is like to be stuck in a relationship that we know is not ‘good’ for us but we cannot seem to let go of that person. The reasons why are complicated. Maybe that person is really attached to you and you are afraid that the end of the relationship will cut them too deeply. Or maybe you have become so attached to this person that you cannot imagine your life without them. You would rather be unhappy and attached than alone. You have tried breaking this habit before but they have such a powerful hold over you!

I believe that it absolutely possible to break that bad habit (when that habit is a person) but it takes intentionality. This post is for people who know they have a Bad Habit (BH) to break and just need some practical tips on how to do it. Here are my thoughts:

1. Grab a blank page of paper and a pen.
If you have watched Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married” you will remember that scene where the wives are told to write down what they love about their husbands on one side of the paper and what they hate on the other. Applying that here: write down all the good things about your BH on one side of your paper. When you are done, turn the paper over and write down all the negative things. For both be as honest as possible, do not hold back. Remember this paper is for your eyes only, do not feel guilty about being mean.

This is something great for evaluating your relationship in a way that is visual. Which side bears more weight – the good or the nasty? What effect is that having on your heart?

2. Ask for an independent opinion.
Often it is hard to see the full picture of a relationship without a third or fourth perspective. Approach a trustworthy (!!!) person in your life and ask them to give you their opinion on your relationship. Remember, this is an opinion and will probably not be the definitive truth about your relationship. Also, do not go to people who will tell you what you want to hear (“yes men”) or people who have a conflict of interest and cannot be objective.

Decide that you will be open to what they think, listen and ask questions. It will probably hurt to hear what they have to say but decide that you will not be defensive. Also share what has been going on. This stage is a great way of bringing forward what has been going on behind the scenes of the relationship and getting an independent perspective. This process will also help you confirm what you have been feeling about the relationship, you are then able to stop second- guessing yourself.

3. Set up your boundaries and guard them fiercely.
If you are going to break this BH successfully you are going to need to set down some predetermined ground rules. Keep them simple and relevant. Here is some real talk: if you know that one of the reasons why you cannot move on from this person is because you keep ending up in bed together then avoid those situations where you end up alone with that person. Do not let them come by your house and do not go to theirs. Do not go out and get drunk together. These are physical boundaries. Emotional boundaries are important too. Do not reread text messages they have sent to you or keep going back to their Facebook profile “just to see”. Do not spend hours talking to them on the phone and avoid trying to keep up with what is happening in their life.

If you have found it hard to let go of your BH, that is usually a sign of a boundary issues. The boundary setting process may be what you need to begin to establish an identity separate from theirs.

To be effective this will need some perseverance and grit. And maybe some brutality towards yourself. The other person will probably be hurt but ultimately, remember that you are preventing long term harm to both of your hearts. When you feel tempted to cross boundaries, remember 1. and 2.

4. Set up your support.
If you are going to break this BH for good, you are going to need some reliable relational support. This is particularly important when you first set up your boundaries and the temptation to go back is strongest. These are the people who will cry with you and grieve with you. It is important that you healthily deal with the emotions associated with losing the relationship. Find encouraging people who love you and decide that you will be vulnerable and honest with them about where you are. Breaking this BH is worth the risk. For some, the process of setting up support may involve making some new friends, particularly if you and your BH share many mutual friends.

Be patient with yourself. Often a toxic relationship can leave one feeling insecure and fragile which can be a barrier to getting out there again. There may even be some fear attached to the thought of living without your BH. Resist the voice that tells you that you are isolated. You are on a journey of freedom.

You will need to anticipate when you might be at your lowest. Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays are times that you might need to have people around you. Once you start breaking out of this destructive relational cycle you might even find new relational avenues opening.

Having said the above, beware of the rebound effect. Do not break one unhealthy emotional attachment only to run to another- this happens often! At some stage you may need to learn to be alone and not surrounded by people all the time. Being able to spend time with yourself is healthy!

5. Bonus: Pray.
At every stage, my view is that this is essential. This will deepen your relationship with God and get you through the hard days. Prayer is a conversation. Be honest about your concerns to God and let Him speak back to you, either in your heart or through the Bible. Pray together with people you have chosen as your support team – this will bond you together and give you the spiritual strength you need to stay on track.

It is worth saying that some bad relationships can still be restored to health. But that will depend on various things including the willingness of all parties to do help make that happen. Also, none of what I have expressed here is intended to apply to a marriage relationship.

Any other thoughts on relational BH’s?
Did you find this helpful?
Any other suggestions?

Thanks for reading.
shula

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