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Why do people keep doing the same things over and over?

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” ― Barack Obama

My husband has this annoying habit: He is ALWAYS looking at his phone. Including when we’re with friends and family.

This drives me absolutely nuts. I find it so rude. And no matter how many times I correct him, I still notice him doing it all the time.

This sort of conflict happens in every marriage… in every relationship, really. There are little things the other person does that get under your skin. And even though you keep talking to them about it and how it makes you feel, over and over, it doesn’t go away.

Sometimes these situations become so frustrating, we perceive the behavior as a personal attack. This person knows that this is important to me. I’ve told them over and over and over. But they keep doing it. It has to be intentional. This line of thinking is common, and it contains quite a few cognitive distortions.

A cognitive distortion is an inaccurate or skewed thought. Some of the distortions involved here include… jumping to conclusions. Have we asked the person if what they’re doing is intentional? If not, we are making an assumption that we do not have evidence to back up. Another distortion is over-personalization. The egoic nature of the human perspective makes us believe that the world is more about our individual selves than it really is. It is possible (and even likely) that this person’s behavior changing or not changing is not actually about you at all. And finally, disqualifying the positive. Is it possible that we have been too focused on the negative aspects of this person’s pattern of behavior? So much so that we’ve overlooked some of the progress they have made?

So, let’s come back to my husband looking at his phone. I jumped to the conclusion that he was intentionally being rude to others by continuing to look at his phone. When I was able to ask him about it and be open to what he had to say, he explained that he likes to be able to look things up as they come up in conversation with people. It isn’t that he is ignoring them, but that he has a different way of engaging than I do. I also over-personalized by thinking my husband was intentionally trying to get on my nerves – he wasn’t. It isn’t all about me, after all. I have also been disqualifying the positive by failing to notice that he has decreased the amount of time on his phone while with others, and has been really open to cues and feedback that I give him about it.

So, problem solved? Well… somewhat. This habit of his will continue to bug me. And it is a habit he will continue to have. But remembering the cognitive distortions helps, along with accepting it is a thing about him over which I do not have control. After all, there are habits I have that drive him nuts, too, like not re-filling the ice trays. We can all do better.

The best thing that we can do when feeling frustrated that people aren’t changing, is to ask them why not. People only change when they feel they can benefit from the change. Knowing that you will benefit from it, or stop nagging them, often isn’t enough. So have open conversations about it. Tell them why what they’re currently doing isn’t effective, how you think this change will benefit them, and how the change will positively impact you. And more importantly, ASK THEM for their opinions. How do they feel about making this change? What would motivate them further?

If you have an open dialogue about the change, and the person still seems dead set in their ways, let it go. You have done what you could. For now, focus on making changes in your own life, knowing that you can set a good example. And if in the future an opening presents itself to bring up this conversation again, do so.

-Rebecca

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