ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Shaping Spouses

Heck, forget the dog training - I want to know how you trained your hubby to go along with this!?! Mine would just roll his eyes and find more ways of getting out of having anything to do with the dogs except playing with and spoiling them...

Hahhh! I DO undestand this, and have the same type of husband. And he has the same type of wife, just on different issues (mostly computer, where I set myself up for failure routinely, to hubby's exasperation!)

What we have done is given ourselves permission to "shape" each other. And we also try to "find" times when we bribe or verbally leash pop each other, and mark them with laughter. We "catch" ourselves doing unwanted stuff and make a joke of it, relieving us both of stress.

For example, if Tim wants me to pay attention to him and not be typing manically on the computer, oblivious to everything around me---we have a pact that he will touch me gently on the shoulder, wait, and when I give him eye contact of my own volition, then he may ask whatever question he has for me. It used to drive him crazy that I would "ignore him" when he spoke to me, if I was deep into writing at the time. So we came up with this plan so that I'd be set up for successs, which would greatly relieve HIS stress.

But sometimes, he'll try bribery, an old default: "If you get off the computer, I'll go pick up take out for dinner." Which of course, makes me want to retort, "So if I stay on the computer I can just make up a quick sandwich, eat it in peace while I type? If you want to bribe me, you'd better have better booty than THAT!"

He's learned that it's far more effective to shape me instead of bribe me now. So he'll wait for that one moment when I turn to talk to a dog, or get up to visit the loo, and then he'll pounce, setting me up for success."While you're taking a break, how about if I go get take out now, and even stop at the bakery and get you a piece of your favorite cake? Would you have time to eat with me, or are you too busy?"

If he gets home and I'm still typing away, he'll stop, put his hand on my shoulder and say, when I make eye contact, "I'm home with the food, but I can see you're really busy now. Would you like me to feed the dogs (set the table, make tea, whatever) so you can have a few more minutes to finish up?"

So when it comes to working with the dogs, we've only had marginal success, because normally dog walking and exercising comes at the end of a very busy day, when we're both testy, tired, hungry, want to just relax. So what I do when I really need him to help instead of hinder me with the dogs is to ask for his help ahead of time.

I might say, as we're putting on the leashes, "I'm having a problem with : "____" and I could really use your help for a few minutes. Do you have enough energy to give me a hand for 5 minutes, while we're out walking? It will save me enough time that I can then come home and iron your shirt for tomorrow, so you won't have to do it yourself."

This way I don't catch him unprepared, and he's already set up to "do me a favor" of his own volition. Then when I ask for his help, I never say, "You always let the dogs...."_____" or "You never do "______" with the dogs---this would put him on the defensive. Instead, I try to say something like, "I'm noticing that the dogs are doing this, and if you could do this while I do that, let's see what happens and if there is any change, ok?"

I just take blame out of the picture, and concentrate on the behavior I want to change. And whether the exercise is a success or failure, I remember to thank him for helping ME. So what if he's the one who caused the problem? What matters only is that at this moment in time, we are working incrementally on a solution together. And even if he's not remotely interested in doing it on his own, he WILL help me if I've asked him nicely for his assistance.

It's when I don't do this enough that I run into snags, and we fall into old patterns. It's so much easier just to snap, "You're screwing the dog up by letting him pull--stop it!" But of course, that only sets him on the defensive, just as it would me. But still, these unwanted responses crop up in our relationship. So one of our ways of dealing with it is using a signal word to mark those moments when we forget and jump into our old defaults. Our word is "grasshopper." If I snap at Tim, he just looks at me with a crooked grin, says, "Grasshopper!" and then we both laugh, and the stress is instantly lifted. It's the same vice-versa, when Tim snaps at me in frustration. "Grasshopper" has worked to change our attitudes instantly.

It's become such a game that when we're out in public, and someone is having a quarrel, we'll look at each other, say, "Grasshopper!" in unison. Having this outlet has saved us from so many heated exchanges.

So we have given ourselves permission to shape each other, and we are both aware of when we are doing it, it's no secret, and we both benefit from it. We work hard to try to find things we can "click" in each other. Living with a spouse is not easy, no matter how wonderful the other person is. It takes work and constant reinforcement to make a partnership work. But it's just a whole lot easier now that we have brought clicker training into our everyday lives, in our commuincations with each other.

Debi Davis
copyright 2002 Debi Davis


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