5 Signs You’ve Married Your Problems (and how to divorce them)

The Breakup

We spend a lot of time trying to break bad habits and replace them with new, positive ones. But how do we expect to break bad habits when we’ve said “I do” to them?

We may consciously be trying to break these habits, but sub-consciously we’re reaffirming our “vows” to them day after day.

Whether or not you’ve been married or have gone through a divorce, we’ve all experienced a breakup with a partner or the loss of a friend. Some of the relationships I’ve had I knew were unhealthy and needed to end, but I held on because I didn’t want to experience the pain of the breakup.

But how do you know if you’ve inadvertently married your bad habits?

Here are 5 signs that you’ve said “until death do we part.”

1. Breaking up has become an obsession.

Common sense would tell us that if we really want to break a bad habit, we need to spend lots of energy focusing on it and willing it away. Has this ever really worked for you? It hasn’t for me. I’ll tell you why.

The more time we spend obsessing over the habits we want to break, the more energy we’re feeding them. One common example is quitting smoking. Let’s say you’re obsessed with quitting smoking. It’s all you can think about. Day after day, hour after minute after second you tell yourself “I quit,” “This is my last cigarette,” or “I’m cutting down, I’m going to ween myself off of smoking. This is it.”

Logic would tell us that all this energy we’re putting into “quitting” would propel us toward breaking the habit. However, what’s really happening is we’re reinforcing the attachment to smoking every time we have this personal dialogue. Instead we should change our dialogue to “I breathe easily,” “my lungs are clean and healthy,” or “I have control over my actions.” Now we’re reinforcing the positive effect we want, instead of the negative.

If we go back to the analogy of the relationship, we can easily see why this is so important. If you’re in an abusive relationship and your thoughts are centered on ending the abuse, you’re still focused on abuse. Your thoughts are constantly re-affirming it. If you change your thoughts to health, love, and acceptance, now you’re opening the doors for change.

2. Making up is easier than breaking up.

Another paramount reason we have trouble breaking bad habits is that we’ve formed such a strong relationship with them. Anytime we think about our life without our habit, there’s internal resistance (I’ll elaborate on this in the next 3 points.)

Letting go is one of the hardest parts of breaking an old habit because we identify ourselves with it so much.

Instead of focusing on the loss of your obsession (because if we’re going to be honest, that’s what it really is) focus on what you’ll gain. Focus on the new healthy habits that you can replace them with. Instead of focusing on the pain of letting go of your obsession, focus on all of the benefits that “breaking up” will bring.

3. My relationship defines me.

One of the biggest reasons we have trouble letting go of old habits is that we identify ourselves with them. Just as you identify yourself in many ways with your social status, your job, values, character, you identify yourself with negative habits as well. If you’re a smoker you not only identify yourself as one, but you identify with all of the associations smokers have as well. Perhaps you think that smoking makes you look cool or makes you seem interesting. Many people also identify their smoking with creativity.

To stop our tendency of identifying with our habits, we can instead identify with our values. We can see that the things we do, don’t necessarily define us. Our sense of self will be defined by our principles, not by our position or our habits. This is essential to letting go.

4. I’ll lose my security blanket.

Attachment is the effect of identifying with our habits. Identifying ourselves with our habits we naturally become attached

Many abusive relationships continue because of attachment. They identify with the relationship and feel if it ends, part of them ends too. If our sense of self is found in our values, instead of the constantly changing terrain of our lives, we can learn to let go. Our identity is safe no matter what turns or curves our life takes.

Are you waiting to end your relationship with your bad habits simply because you’re afraid of letting go?

5. I don’t want to be alone.

The last sign that you’ve married your bad habits is you feel empty without it. I chose this as the last point because it’s about transition, moving from the old to the new. Many people resist change because they feel if they let go, they will be left with a void in their life.

It’s true to a certain extent, the feeling of emptiness is a part of loss. Many people resist breaking ties with their old ways because they’d rather have the comfort of unhealthy habits then experience loss.

When we divorce our bad habits, we need to create new and healthy ones in their places. Not create a life that’s a featureless blank. The problem with this is many people have become so habituated in their ways they couldn’t even imagine what something different would look like. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship with yourself your whole life, it will be very hard for you to imagine what a loving non-judgmental relationship would feel like.

In order to create new, healthier habits in the place of old life-sucking ones, we need to have courage. We need to be unafraid to explore new ways of living. It will take time to re-identify yourself with your new lifestyle (allowing yourself to mourn and taking the time to say goodbye is a healthy process.)

We form relationships with our habits just as we do our parents, partners and friends. Sometimes it’s hard to tell why we can’t let go, when all we seem to do is distance ourselves. Hell, I moved from Los Angeles to Seattle and I still went back to my ex.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I couldn’t let go because I had become so attached. In the same way, I would try to break it off with my bad habits but still came crawling back. It’s like my habits were a giant magnet and the more I tried to pull away, the more I was attracted back to it.

What I didn’t know is that my obsession with the habit was actually the magnet itself.

Breaking ties with old habits isn’t easy. It takes guts to let go when you’ve formed a close relationship with your problems. You’ll probably experience some separation anxiety.

When it’s over you may look back in fondness at the bad habits you used to have, you might even realize they were there to teach you something. They helped you realize the life that you needed to lead.

You may even realize that your problems were opportunities to grow in disguise.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

RJ May 6, 2008 at 9:31 am

Great article Jonathan.
I think that’s why some people lapse into relationships so easily and stay in them. They give it a go, and when they re-evaluate the relationship they see the good outweighing the bad so they stick with it. They settle thinking that they can’t do better. This “poverty mentality” keeps people boxed in their self-imposed notion of limited choice. This article illustrates the why and the how in getting out of this hole.
Thanks for sharing :)

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apricot. May 6, 2008 at 9:52 am

I loved this article. You really put things into a perspective that all people can relate to. It’s an interesting way of looking at the relationships people tend to form with their dirty little habits.

You inspire me, honey. :]

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Tom Volkar / Delightful Work May 6, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Jonathan that last point about being in relationship with your habits is so true. As you say it takes courage and a sustainable courage to replace the bad habit with one that serves us well. It takes a huge investment in awareness to make the shift. But it can be done. I like your can do attitude.

Tom

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GLICH May 6, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Leaving your old and comfortable ways is really hard, especially if you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to face too much challenges in changing anew. However, change is inevitable and change is sometimes good. I guess we just have to always be ready with it, because life isn’t that fun without changes.

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Breian Malupa - Breian.com May 6, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Before change and personal growth can occur, there must be Awareness. You cannot solve a problem if you cannot see that it exist. That’s why it is important to have an awareness of the problem before change and personal growth can occur.

This is a very empowering article for us to develop some degree and level of Awareness, helping us to get better results for personal growth and personal development.

Excellent post :)

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Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map May 6, 2008 at 6:41 pm

I think all your 5 points clearly sums up why I chose to stay in unhealthy relationships previously. Despite knowing that they were not for me, it took me a long time to break up, get over them and move on. Of course, these 5 points also can apply to any addictive and bad habit. Great article. Love it! Stumbled and Dugg!

Evelyn

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Starreyeyedspacegal May 6, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Wonderful post Jonathan. Thank you for the inspiring words on breaking bad habits. I do believe we learn and grow from our bad habits. Great read thanks for sharing it so other can learn and grow.

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Mags | Woo-Woo Wisdom May 7, 2008 at 3:19 am

Fantastic article, Jonathan. I love your use of the metaphor – it really illuminates the issues involved in moving on from bad habits.

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Shannon Perkins May 10, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Hey Jonathan! I met you the other day in Pasadena, and you made the absolutly rad choice to sign up for the ACLU!! Your sight is awesome, very relevant and a refreshing breath in this robot world. Much love and peace to you friend,
Best!
Shannon

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Shilpan | successsoul.com May 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Jonathan.

Great article. I’m big fan of metaphors and you’ve used them quite effectively in this article. It’s beautifully written. This article applies to the marital relationship as well.

Shilpan

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Kelly@SHE-POWER July 12, 2008 at 1:09 am

Jonathan

I too like the relationship comparison here. Anything our life that is not how we want it, but persists anyway has obviously become a crutch to lean on, something we’re too scared to face and deal with and then move on. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for relationships to be this way too.

I spent 18 months in a violent, emotionally abusive relationship when I was younger because I couldn’t reconcile what my life had become with the strong woman I thought I was. My boyfriend had been my Prince Charming for 2 years until he lost his job and his mind. And though I knew I should leave him, I just couldn’t let go of my dreams of happy ever afters and move forward with my life. I was fixated on how can I make him stop hurting me, when I should have been thinking how can I protect myself and find the relationship I deserve?

And I have seen this same confusion and unwillingness to accept reality and move through the uncertainty of change in breaking bad habits too. Smoking – had to get pneumonia twice in 6 months to quit that. Compulsive eating when I am stressed – still struggle with that one, though have made real progress. For me, number 5 is the hard one. I get to the point of being ready for change, but the transition is so uncomfortable that I revert back to my old ways.

But if first you do not succeed, try, try again. Or so they say.

Great article.

Kelly

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Galephico October 20, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Great Post !
For years now, i try to quit smoking … Err … I try to become healthier, that’s the way i should think.
Thanks so much

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Slenderetone review January 6, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Been there…and survive…:)

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BrotherSka August 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm

HI Jon. My wife and I got to the point where our only communication was arguing about aything. It was harming our children, but we could not get out of the spiral of arguments. Then I read A Wife is a Terrible Thing to Waste by Mr X, and my marriage changed in less than 2 weeks.

I think that any marriage can be saved if the parties choose to keep trying.

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