Behavior Change in Relationships

Changes in behavior

In addition to the way we communicate with others, it is also important how we behave.  Often times we “say” a lot to someone in our nonverbal behaviors.  In order to understand how you behave with the other person, look back to a recent argument you’ve had.  Instead of thinking about what was said, now turn your attention to your behaviors.  A good way to think about this is pretend the argument is playing out like a movie, but the volume on the T.V. is on mute.  What are you doing?  What is the other person doing?  Take a few minutes to note your behaviors?  Is this a pattern for you?  For example, are you always the person who storms off before the argument ends?  Are you making eye contact with the other person when they are talking to you?  How would you label your body language? Hostile? Angry?

Johnson’s Pursuer/Withdrawer Phenomenon

Dr. Sue Johnson is a psychologist who practices Emotion-Focused Therapy for Marital Therapy.  She describes the Pursuer/Withdrawer relationship that often happens in marital or other types relationships. Johnson describes the pursuer as the person in the relationship who often tries to discuss the problems in the relationship, who wants to find a solution and who pursues the other person.  The withdrawer is the person who often avoids discussing the issues or getting the pursuer upset, they often don’t know what to say and withdraw instead.  Pursuers tend to be the female as women have been socialized to communicate and try to work through issues and feelings by talking.  The withdrawer tends to be the male partner who often becomes overwhelmed by their feelings towards the other person and shuts down.  When this phenomenon arises, it can reach a point that results in a Withdrawer/Withdrawer relationship (also known as the impasse stage).  This is often the result when the pursuer stops trying to assert their feelings and gives up, leaving no one to try to repair the relationship.  This pursuer/withdrawer phenomenon applies to many different types of relationships including romantic, friendship, parental and business relationships

Changes in Behavior Patterns

In order to change behaviors, you first need to be aware of what behaviors are not beneficial for you.  This may require you to ask the other person, “What bothers you about my behavior when we argue?”  You might want to think about what you are reacting to regarding the other person’s behavior and how you might change your own behavior in order to elicit a different response.

Some people have difficulty with behavioral change, because the new behavior  is either something they have never done before or it is a behavior they have not practiced in a while and don’t think it will be of benefit.  These are some strategies that may help you change your behavior.

  1. Think back to a good time in your relationship with the other person before the disputes began.  What were you doing then that you are not doing now?  Also think about what the other person liked about you, how could you bring some of that person back again.
  2. Try to place yourself within the pursuer/withdrawer relationship.  If you are a withdrawer, your objective is to try to be the pursuer and vice versa.  Would you consider your arguments to be hot or cold? If you tend to argue and get very heated when disputing, you want to engage in behaviors that cool things down such as, taking a time out.  If you tend to have cool arguments where the silent treatment is given or someone walks away, you want to heat things up such as, keep talking.
  3. Real listening is something that few of us truly do.  Instead, we often infer what other’s think.  When we argue, often times one of the most important goals for both individuals is to be heard by the other individual.  Signs that you are not listening include talking over someone, saying “yes, but”, mind reading what you think they are trying to say, judging what they are saying, rehearsing what you are going to say back before they have finished talking, wanting to be right and therefore only looking for the things the other person says to confirm that you are right, derailing the conversation by changing the subject, and placating the other person by saying “Yes, uh-huh” just to get them to stop talking.  Try to pay attention to these behaviors.  Sometimes just by paying attention to a negative behavior, the behavior will change.
  4. Body language is an important component of communication.  We don’t just communicate through words.  When you are talking to the other person, what is your body doing?  When you stop talking and they are talking back to you, what is your body doing?  Think about your gestures, your posture, your breathing, eye contact, standing or sitting position, and tone of voice.

Try some of these techniques at home to improve  your communication patterns and strengthen your interpersonal relationships.