How to Avoid Self-Destructive Behavior in a Marriage

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You may promise yourself you'll never storm out of the house in a rage or go on a bender ever again, but unless you put a plan in place, the chances are high that you'll repeat the behavior. Putting an end to self-destructive behavior requires a willingness to be intentional about recognizing your triggers and working hard to break the pattern.

Recognize Your Triggers

It's common to react without realizing why you're behaving a certain way. However, if you identify what triggers your self-destructive behavior, you'll be able to put a stop to it before it gets out of hand. For example, you may have a habit of sitting down with a pint of premium ice cream every time your husband makes a comment about watching the budget. Once you realize that discussions about finances are an emotional trigger for you, you'll be able to address the root cause of your self-defeating behavior.

Catch Destructive Thoughts

Many people tend to blame the world for their problems, rather than their own thinking, says life coach Martha Beck in the article "How to Get Through an Emotional Minefield" on Recognizing your errors will enable you to fix them. If you tend to want to hit the bottle when your wife is angry at you, recognize that your thoughts about her anger are a trigger that you can address. For example, you may be thinking, "She doesn't care about me," rather than, "Her feelings are hurt because I forgot our anniversary." When you react to your wife as a person who has hurt feelings rather than as an uncaring ice queen, you'll not only get better results, but you also will put a damper on the triggers that lead to self-destructive, self-defeating behavior.

Replace Bad Habits

To break a bad habit, substitute a more desirable habit in its place, recommends neuroscience professor William Klemm in the "Psychology Today" article "Getting Out of a Rut: Break Bad Habits." Be intentional about replacing self-destructive practices with healthy habits, and your marriage will become stronger and happier. For example, if you tend to blow up and storm out of the house when your husband says something critical, adopt a habit of going for a healthy run to burn off your hurt feelings instead.

Ask for Your Spouse's Support

If you can't help but reach for your pack of cigarettes every time you and your wife are talking about when to start a family, let her know what's going on and ask for her support. Say, "I get tense whenever we have this discussion. Help remind me to put down the cigarettes by suggesting we take a walk together whenever you see I'm beginning to get wound up. I know we can come to an agreement." Soothing one another can strengthen a marriage, says marital therapist John Gottman in his book "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work." Try asking your spouse for a massage when you begin to get wound up, and you'll be able to halt self-destructive impulses.