Recently, my boyfriend and I decided to get a puppy together—a really cute, really naughty puppy. We hired a dog trainer to help us get its behavior in order and I ended up using some of those same techniques with my partner too. (Shh, don’t tell him.)
It’s all about the positive reinforcement. Basically, if you want to change someone’s behavior, positive reinforcement is the way to go. Always reward for positive behavior, even if its just behavior that’s better than the behavior you don’t want. For the dog, we rewarded regular things like sitting, laying down, and playing with his own toys. With my boyfriend, I decided to start with something relatively benign and easy: his texting behavior. Normally he didn’t text me much during the day but I wished he would text more often, so I decided to reward when him every time he texted me unprompted. It worked like a charm.
High-value rewards are what works. The obvious reward to choose in a relationship is sex, but that felt a little too manipulative to me (and the reward would have to be delayed, which doesn’t work). I chose sexy talk or flirting instead. I’ve read that men like to keep women around who make them feel happy, so I tried to keep the chatter to happy and flirty whenever he texted me something sweet or thoughtful. I made sure to always keep my texts light, happy, and fun.
Punishment doesn’t work. It’s a real paradigm shift to adjust your brain to this because we’re all trained to punish and be punished. But there’s a lot of research out there that shows that punishment just doesn’t work (or it only works when the punisher is around). This applies to pets, children, and employees. I decided to see if it applied to my relationship too.
Punishment might not even be conscious. You might not think you’re punishing your significant other, but if you stop to think about it, you might be. When I thought about all the times that he did something I didn’t like (or didn’t do something I wanted him to do), I realized I was subconsciously punishing him in return (ignoring his text messages, getting angry at him, or starting a fight). Guys will actually start texting you less when you act angry or upset about his lack of texting. Try positive reinforcement instead!
He played right into my hands. Let’s say he hadn’t texted me all day and I spent a better part of the afternoon stewing about it. When he finally did message, the old me would have said something sarcastic like, “Thanks for finally texting me.” But this type of behavior actually made it less likely that he’d actually want to text. Now, I’ll reply with a, “Hey, babe! How’s your day?” and a flirty selfie. This almost always gets an immediate response!
This method really works! He started texting me more often and our conversations were lighthearted and fun. I didn’t feel manipulative, I just felt like I was engaging with him in a way that truly reflected what I wanted out of our relationship instead of reacting out of hurt feelings. It made me more self-confident and I felt like my boyfriend was texting me because he really wanted to rather than out of obligation.
It brought us back to where our relationship was in the beginning. Can you imagine texting a guy at the beginning of a relationship and showing him that you’re annoyed when you haven’t heard from him all day? No, of course not. You’d want to play it cool and seem happy to see him. In response, he wanted to text you more often. Somehow we forget about this as our relationship progresses. Using this method brought me back to the honeymoon period in a sense, and I feel like it really refreshed us!
I’m happy to report that my relationship, and my dog, are doing well. My guy texts me more throughout the day and my dog doesn’t whine as much. It was money well spent! Thanks, dog trainer!
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