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Impulse Control to Improve Relationships

If you struggle with impulsivity, learning impulse control to improve relationships can be helpful. Impulsive decisions can have long-term consequences in your relationships.

Relationships come in many forms – romantic partnerships, friendships, familial bonds – each playing a vital role in our lives.

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In the heat of the moment, when emotions run high, making rational, well-thought-out choices can be a formidable task. It's during these times that impulse control becomes imperative.

Mastering impulse control strategies can change the way you approach critical decisions.

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Impulse control to improve relationships

The Consequences of Impulsive Relationship Decisions

Impulsive decisions in relationships can have far-reaching consequences, often leading to outcomes that leave the people involved and the relationship itself deeply affected. This might seem obvious, but I want to go through some of the possible consequences so you’re aware of the various ways impulsivity can cost you.

Emotional Turmoil

Impulsive decisions often stem from intense emotions, such as anger, jealousy, or desire. When acted upon without restraint, these decisions can lead to emotional turmoil. For example, sending an impulsive, accusatory text during a heated argument can exacerbate conflicts and emotional distress for both parties. 

It’s a snowball effect where the impulsive action creates bigger emotions, which can trigger more impulsive actions, and so forth. Those impulsive decisions add fuel to an already roaring fire. It stokes the intense emotions, which cloud our rational thought and judgment.

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Regret and Guilt

When you first commit to an impulsive act, it feels good. However, after the initial rush of the impulsive choice fades, regret and guilt may set in. You may find yourself haunted by the consequences of hasty decisions, leading to feelings of remorse and self-blame.

When you feel hurt during an argument, it feels good to lash out. But then, after you calm down, you might feel bad, and you can’t always take it back. That one impulsive act can have long-lasting effects.

Damaged Trust

Trust is the foundation of healthy relationships. Impulsive actions, such as betraying a partner's trust by sharing private information or engaging in infidelity, can shatter this foundation. Speaking or acting without thought can have long-lasting consequences. Your partner may doubt your intentions going forward. Rebuilding trust is a challenging and time-consuming process.

Communication Breakdown

Impulsive reactions can hinder effective communication. When people act on impulse, they may not take the time to listen, understand, or empathize with their partner's perspective. This communication breakdown can lead to misunderstandings and unresolved conflicts. When emotions are intense and your outward expression of that emotion takes center stage, you can’t really listen to the other person. You’re too caught up in your emotions.

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Impulse Control Strategies

Impulse control is a skill that can be cultivated and honed and can be used to make thoughtful relationship decisions. Here are some impulse control strategies that can employ:

Self-awareness and Mindfulness

Self-awareness involves recognizing your emotions and impulses as they arise. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment without judgment. By combining these two techniques, you can learn to observe your feelings and thoughts objectively.

Self-awareness and mindfulness allow you to pause before acting on an impulse. You can assess whether your emotions are driving your decisions and whether those decisions align with your values and long-term goals in the relationship. These strategies give you time to consider the consequences of your actions before you do anything.

It takes time to learn how to use these strategies effectively, so I suggest practicing them in low-stakes, low emotion situations. As you get better at using them, it will become easier to engage them during high-stress, intense-emotion situations.

Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification is the practice of resisting the urge for immediate reward or satisfaction in favor of a greater, long-term benefit. It involves recognizing that impulsive actions often lead to short-term relief but may cause long-term harm.

Learning to delay gratification will enable you to make decisions that prioritize the health and longevity of your relationship over immediate emotional impulses. 

Delayed gratification is about acknowledging your priorities in life and recognizing that what feels good right now might not be the best choice in the long run. It also helps you recognize that the immediate good feeling might have long-term negative consequences on your relationships and goals.

Seeking Advice and Perspective

When facing a critical relationship decision, consult trusted friends, family members, or a therapist for their insights and perspectives. They can offer valuable outside viewpoints that you might not have considered.

Seeking advice and perspective helps you gain a more comprehensive understanding of your situation. It can prevent you from making hasty choices based solely on your own emotions, providing a more balanced perspective on the matter.

The key here is that you want to talk to someone who is genuinely supportive of you and who you can trust. You don’t want your search for help to damage the trust in your relationship. In addition, being vulnerable and open with people who don’t have your best interest in mind can be detrimental. The people you turn to should be people who won’t spread what you tell them to others. 

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Setting Clear Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries within your relationship involves defining what behaviors and actions are acceptable and unacceptable to you and your partner, friend, or family member. Communicate these boundaries openly and honestly. This is a conversation to have when things are calm, not in the middle of an argument or when you’re upset about something.

Clear boundaries serve as a guide when making decisions. They help you resist impulsive choices that might violate your personal values or the agreed-upon terms of your relationship. Setting boundaries can also improve communication and mutual respect.

I’ll admit that setting boundaries with someone new to your life is much easier than to change (or create) boundaries in existing relationships. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Your mother might not like the new boundaries you set, but this is one of those times when your well-being takes precedence over her feelings. It will take time and tons of reinforcement, but eventually she’ll learn (hopefully).

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Now that we've learned effective impulse control strategies, it's time to put them into action. Here are some actionable steps and exercises to help you develop better impulse control:

Self-Reflection and Awareness

Set aside time each day for self-reflection. Consider journaling your thoughts and emotions, especially during moments of conflict or intense feelings. If you struggle to write, consider speech-to-text or drawing instead of words. While a journal is not necessary, it often helps us process our thoughts and emotions, rather than just saying we’ll think about it. Journaling also gives you a way to track your progress. It’s a written record of your experience.

Occasionally, you should analyze these journal entries to identify patterns in your impulsive reactions. It can also help you recognize the triggers that lead to impulsive decisions in your relationships.

Mindful Breathing

Practice mindful breathing exercises to help you stay grounded in the present moment. When faced with a decision, take a few deep breaths and focus on the sensations of your breath.

This simple exercise can help you regain composure and prevent impulsive reactions in heated situations. Mindful breathing is about clearing your head and blocking out the intrusive noise that can cause you to make an impulsive decision. Once you’re calm and clear-headed, you can proceed more rationally.

Develop a Decision-Making Process

Create a structured decision-making process. For significant relationship choices, outline the steps you will take before making a decision.

This process might include seeking advice from trusted sources, evaluating your emotions, and considering the long-term consequences of each option. Having a process in place can force you to step away from your intense emotions and focus on the steps that will help you make a good decision.

Developing impulse control is a journey, and you’re going to have setbacks along the way. It won’t be like flipping a switch where you no longer act on impulse. Even those who have excellent impulse control occasionally lose their cool. The key is to remain committed to making more considered, thoughtful decisions in your relationships. 

Remember that impulse control isn't about suppressing your emotions but rather understanding them, and then choosing your response. As you implement strategies and exercises, you'll find that your ability to navigate relationship decisions calmly and rationally will improve. 

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