Feeling sluggish and unmotivated? Just ate an entire packet of pepperoni for lunch? (I've never done that, I swear.) A new study suggests that your partner could be the culprit. If you're in a so-called "mismatched relationship" — where one person has more self-control than the other — the bad habits are likely to rub off, experts say. In fact, they found that the joint decisions of mismatched couples closely resemble those of slacker couples. Come on, let's order another margarita. You don't have to work that early tomorrow. Yup, it's easy to fall into these patterns.
"Maintaining the relationship is more important for the high self-control partner than sticking to their guns," wrote Hristina Dzhogleva, one of the study's lead researchers. "As a result, mixed dyads [mismatched couples] may end up with worse long-term health and financial outcomes than they may expect." But this type of relationship doesn't have to have a grim outcome if couples learn to be aware of their tendencies and compromise, she says. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Surround yourselves with friends who aren't lazy bums
Research out of Duke University, published in Psychological Science, shows that people with low impulse control tend to try to surround themselves with those who are better at keeping it together. In light of the above-mentioned study, this sounds like it could spell disaster for a relationship, but the study suggests that having friends who motivate you to do better is a great thing. There's strength in numbers, so you (and your partner) are more likely to listen when you have five people, not just one, telling you to tear yourselves away from the Real Housewives and come check out a gallery opening.
2. Set attainable goals together — and stick to them
If you don't track your goals, it's much easier to forget or conveniently ignore them. So write down what you want to accomplish together — run a 5K, cook at least three times a week, stop fighting so much — and keep a log of steps you've taken to reach those goals somewhere easily accessible, like a shared Google doc. New Year's resolutions get a bad rap, but researchers from The Wharton School and Harvard Business School have found that using a temporal landmark — the beginning of a week, month, or year; a birthday, a semester — can help kick your butt into gear. Just make sure you keep it going — no quitting your New Year's resolution in February.
3. Start small
Willpower is like a muscle. If you don't exercise it, it can become atrophied. But if you constantly push the limits of your willpower, it's possible for your self-control to break down from overuse, according to research from the American Psychological Association. That's why you and your partner should set attainable goals and try to work on one goal at at time, instead of making a huge and sweeping laundry list of to-dos. Practicing maintaining just one good habit can strengthen your willpower over time, making it easier to adopt others.
4. Go public
Share your mutual goals with friends, family, and co-workers: It'll be much easier to attain them when you have so much support, even if it's just in the form of Facebook likes. For example, if you're training to run a marathon together, post how many collective miles you've run each week.