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How to Train Your Man?  

I was recently having lunch with a friend who suggested a topic for this month’s newsletter.  She had been to a show at Second city based on the blog and forthcoming book by Marianne Murciano, How to Train Your Man.  She thought it would make interesting reading.  I haven’t read the blog, so am not endorsing (or condemning) it, but the conversation did bring to mind a similar subject.

For the past couple of years I have had students in my family therapy class read an article published in the New York Times a few years ago – What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage, by Amy Sutherland.  When it came out it was passed on to more readers online than any article before in the NYT.  It describes Ms. Sutherland’s attempts to apply the animal training principles she learned from research on a story to her relationship with her husband.  She was delighted with the results.

I always get some responses from my students that it seems disrespectful to apply animal training principles to someone you supposedly care about, and I’ve seen at least one therapist who offered a similar opinion online.  I’m not so sure.  I think there may be a good lesson to learn.

Simply put, the behavioral principles talked about are ignoring the things you don’t like and rewarding the things you do.  Punishment is much less effective in animal training.  Ms. Sutherland worked on ignoring the little irritants from her husband she used to gripe about and was delighted to find they happened less frequently.  Responding positively to what she liked led to an increase in that behavior also.  She told her husband what she was doing and he didn’t seem to be offended at all.

We all teach, or perhaps I should say train, other people how to treat us.  How we act toward others has a definite impact on how they act toward us.  Doesn’t it make sense to do that in a conscious, thoughtful way geared to get people to act toward us in ways we like.  What Ms. Sutherland learned was that she had been unconsciously teaching her husband to do the things that annoyed her the most.  We could all learn something here.

If you are interested in reading the article, send me an email and I will send you a link.  If enough people want it I will put up a link on the website.