Watch Your Spouse Carefully

The Key to a Good Relationship

Here’s the key to a good relationship. Well, not the only one, but one of the keys. Kind of a low hanging fruit, if you want.  

Watch Your Spouse Carefully

Watch your loved one carefully. Really carefully. What do I mean?

Consider a study about a rat that’s pushing a lever to get food pellets (a reward), performed by B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist and behaviorist. Skinner noticed that a reward is intensely useful in terms of modifying behaviour. The problem is that it’s really hard to notice when things are going right.

Legacy of Our Ancestors?

Maybe we are primed that way by our ancestors. They had to be constantly alert if the beast is coming their way, and so they had to notice when things were going wrong or they would die.

Maybe that’s why we are quicker to use threats and punishments (and other toxic behavior such as criticism, contempt, silent treatments, and sarcasm) to shape other people’s behavior?

Because when everything’s going right, well…what are you going to say? Everything is going right! Right?

So, when things are right, we do nothing. Zero.

We just assume it and that’s not good.

Watch Them Carefully  

Here’s what I learned and what I’m suggesting to do instead. Really pay attention to your spouse, your children, your employee, your colleague.

Watch them intentionally. They will sense that.

Whenever they do something that you would like them to do more of, tell them that that was really good and mean it. If you really mean it, you’ll get more of it pretty soon. If you don’t mean it, it won’t work.

It’s the equivalent of saying, “Wow, I’m so glad you did that.”

But you have to be precise.

The person you are talking to needs to understand what exactly it is they did that you thought was great. Then, reward them.

Reward can be anything your spouse likes. Most of the times this will be your positive attention. A smile, a hug, a loving look, a little praise. This goes a long way.  

What If You Don’t Want to Notice on Purpose?  

I get that.  

They hurt you in the past, and you hold grudges. 

You are mad at your spouse and then if they do something good you think “There is no damn way I’m going to reward that.”

So you ignore them when they do something good. You deliberately don’t notice it.  

My wife admitted to me recently that that’s exactly what she was doing when we were in real trouble. On purpose. To make me feel it. To get even. And I did it too, but in my own way. We both were both withholding appreciation and praise from each other.

From today’s perspective I say: “Well, that’s really brilliant. You’ve just punished them for doing what you want.”

What Kind of Message is That?

Some people do that to their kids all the time. First they let the kids dominate them (a topic for another post, really). Then they get resentful. Then the kid runs up to them to show them something awesome they just created. But what the poor kid gets is “Oh, yeah, but I’m working.”

What kind of message is that?!?

No matter whether it’s your kid or your spouse, you only build resentment that way. And, it’s really hard to escape the viciousness of that. It feeds itself in a tit-for-tat fashion and it does so faster and faster.

I know because when my wife and I were doing it, it almost didn’t end up well. It was a lot of work to overcome this resentment, and I don’t recommend that to anyone.  

Forget About the Grudges

So, forget your grudges and your resentment and notice when your spouse (and other people around you) do something that you want.

If you’re a man, let your wife fail too. Why? Because we all need time to develop a new (good) habits. It takes time.  

If you are a woman: if your hubby shows even minor attempts to do what you want, notice that. But also, let him fail. Why? Because men are stupid.

The rewards are magical. Just try it.

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