Want to learn how to train your boyfriend? You love him, he loves you, but let's be real, no one is perfect. Maybe you hate it when he leaves the toilet seat up. Maybe you hate it when he blasts country music while driving. Heck, maybe you just want him to brush his teeth every morning! Those small irritating details might seem like they're stuck forever, and you probably feel like you'll have to deal with them the entire length of the relationship. Which makes sense! Old habits die hard, right? But I'm here to tell you that is wrong.
Behaviorism is a branch of Psychology developed by B.F. Skinner that focuses on the behavior of organisms, rather than on their thoughts. It is a kind of psychology, in other words, that does not look into the "inner workings" of behavior, but only on what a living thing does and what makes it do it. For example, if a person crossed the road in front of an oncoming car, a typical psychologist might ask "what were they thinking"? Meanwhile, if the same person crossed the road in front of an oncoming car, a behaviorist might ask "what reward were they seeking"? The two questions might seem similar at first glance, but they are not. While the first psychologist is wondering what abstract thoughts might be passing through the mind of the walker (something that we can never actually know), the behaviorist is looking for a literal, physical reason that the person chose to put himself in danger (something that through observation we CAN know).
This branch of Psychology is not extremely popular because of this focus on the physical rather than the mental. However, it did lead to the development of something us ladies will find very, VERY, useful - a way to train your boyfriend, otherwise known as Operant Conditioning! So, here's how to train your boyfriend.
Operant Conditioning isn't very hard to grasp once you get the basics of it. It's the idea that once an organism (let's call him Joe) does an action (let's call it brushing his teeth), one of three things can happen. He can be positively or negatively reinforced (he can get some sort of reward for his teeth brushing, he can be positively or negatively punished (he can get some sort of punishment for his teeth brushing), or he can be ignored. If he is rewarded, the behavior will increase. If he is punished, the behavior will decrease. If he is ignored, nothing will happen (though the more times it is ignored, the more the behavior will steadily go away).
Pretty simple, right? Now punishing behaviors is never the right way to go about things, especially with your boyfriend. Punishments strain the relationship and can cause him to link you to things you do NOT want to be linked to. How long do you think your relationship will last if his image of you is as someone who takes away his gaming systems or smacks his hand when he does something you don't approve of? Not long. With that being said, in order to train your boyfriend effectively, I'm going to have you focus instead on the reinforcements, which is the best answer for how to train your boyfriend.
Let's get back to good old Joe and his lack of teeth brushing. You have told him a thousand times to brush his teeth, but he still only does it once, maybe twice a week without your reminding. Yuck! You can't be with him every morning, and it just doesn't seem to work to nag him later about it. He gets annoyed, you get annoyed, and nothing gets fixed. But what can you do instead? The first answer is positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is when an organism does something and is given something that it likes for the behavior. In this scenario, we have Joe. Joe likes you, and he likes it when you tell him he is doing a good job. Joe has to leave early in the morning for work, so he is in the bathroom getting ready. As you're lying in bed, you hear him turn the water on, brush, swish, and spit. Normally you would just roll over and go back to sleep and maybe mention it to him later in the day. However, for positive reinforcement to be the most effective, you have to get up. So when Joe opens the bathroom door, you get up, give him a hug, kiss him on the cheek, and tell him good job for brushing his teeth. Now, this won't work if it only happens once. So for the next two weeks straight, every time he brushes his teeth in the morning, you do the same thing. Soon, brushing his teeth will be tied in his brain to you telling him good job, and he'll do it every morning (as long as you remember to tell him good job every once in a while)!
Despite popular belief, negative reinforcement is NOT the same thing as positive punishment. If you ever see the word "reinforce," it means that a "good" behavior is being reinforced, not a "bad" behavior being punished! Negative reinforcement is where an organism is placed in a situation with something that the organism does not like, and if the organism performs a "good" behavior, the "bad" stimulus is taken away. It's there where you get the negative (meaning taking away) reinforcement (meaning to reward). Now it is worth mentioning before we get started that this method will only work if you are aware of and in control of something that annoys Joe.
Let's say that Joe hates it when you blast your Taylor Swift in the morning, but it gets you pumped for the day so you do it every morning anyway. Well, one morning Joe brushes his teeth, and you turn off your Taylor Swift CD. What this means is that Joe did something "good," and you took away something "bad." The next day Joe doesn't brush his teeth, so the CD stays on. Joe does something "bad," so he is not rewarded with the "good." This pattern continues until Joe associates not brushing his teeth with the CD, and brushing his teeth with silence, so he chooses to brush his teeth.
Now both of these techniques will work to train your boyfriend if performed correctly, but both will easily fail if you don't commit to them. When I say you need to tell him good job every day for two weeks straight right after he brushes his teeth, I mean EVERY day. When I say you need to turn off that CD every morning that he brushes his teeth, I mean EVERY morning. If you follow these strategies, I promise you can train your boyfriend (or anyone else in your life)! So get out there and start training!
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