I know you may be thinking how can an old man with a crazy beard and mustache improve my relationship? Look he even has his arms crossed and does not look very open to communication. At least that is what I would be thinking.
This man is Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, Russian physiologist. He is best known for his experiments in classical conditioning. More to the point he was the guy who did the experiments with ringing a bell and giving the dog some food. First the dog would salivate only when the food was presented but sooner or later even the sound of the buzzer would cause the dog to salivate. It was a great example of using positive reinforcement to create a desired effect.
Here is the uncomfortable truth – it works just as good in humans. This is not a bad thing. We can use this information to improve our relationships. Do you mean we should train our spouse like the dog in the experiment? Well…actually…kind of. Let me explain. Let us say you like it when you partner calls to check in and see if your ok. Maybe that makes you feel loved and cared for. Next time your partner does that show them a great loving sign of appreciation. Do you really like it when your spouse brings you home little surprises from the grocery store to show they were thinking about you? When they present them to you reward them with a big hug or kiss. In other words, reward their behavior with positive reinforcement.
When I share this idea often people tell me that they feel they are tricking or training their partner. To that end I say this, when your partner makes you feel loved or appreciated for doing a certain thing do you not want to do that thing more? I know I do. Conditioning someone to do something you enjoy by making them feel good is a win/win situation. Both parties leave the situation feeling better than they did before and the likelihood such event will happen in the future only increases.
What if you would like your partner to do something they currently do not do? The standard operation procedure is to yell or nag or even just say in a forlorn tone how you wish they would do this or that. Using positive conditioning is not only a much better way, but will once again leave both parties feeling good with no hurt feelings or disagreements. Let us take a look at how this would work with our above examples.
You would really like your partner to call and check on you once and a while. It would make you feel like they really care about you and love you. They really do love and care but they just do not know you would like them to show you in such a manner. I am all for direct communication in a relationship, but sometimes a little grace and tact can go a long way. In this example when your spouse is out or running late you call them. When they assure you that they are ok follow it up with a statement similar to this, “I am so glad you are o.k. I just wanted to call because I wanted you to know I care and was worried.” Same with the grocery store example. If you would like them to bring you a little surprise to show they are thinking about you, try doing it yourself first. Give them the surprise and say, “I couldn’t help but get this for you. I was loving you so much and couldn’t think of a better way to show you than picking you up a little something.”
After a few times of doing this, your partner may very well pick up on that and do the same for you. Here is the great thing about this, they will also get to feel the pride of thinking of and doing the action themselves. Anther win/win situation. Whatever the situation in your relationship, always do your best to use positive reinforcement. That way both parties have a chance to feel good while improving the relationship.