Step 2: Take Care of Your Share
Sometimes you'll search in vain for any deeper significance. Sometimes he's incredibly annoying, full stop. In that case, the easiest course of action is not to change him (though, as we shall see, this may be possible) but to figure out what you might do to reduce your own irritation.
What to Do
One of the following strategies may help:
Step 3: Train His Brain
If the methods outlined above don't work for you, it may be time for some good old behaviorist training. This is a simple procedure, grounded in the fact that animals (including humans) will repeat behaviors that are positively rewarded and decrease those that aren't. I love behaviorist training because, in contrast to the noble approaches we've already discussed, it doesn't require all those tedious virtues (open communication, self-examination, authenticity, yada yada). It's just plain bribery, though invisible and, of course, well intentioned.
What to Do
Begin by identifying small, easy-to-give treats your mate really loves: praise, chocolate, backrubs, shiny objects...list as many as you can. Hand out these rewards whenever your mate does something you like, especially something that replaces the behavior you most hate. Don't tell him what you're doing, and don't react to the annoying behavior at all (carrots are much more effective than sticks). At first, reward behavior that goes anywhere near what you'd like to see. Then, as the positive behavior increases, offer the reward for more specific actions. This method requires persistence, like housebreaking a puppy, but if you're up for it, you'll find it highly effective.
Realize this last strategy may seem Machiavellian, but would you rather shower your mate with kisses (real or Hershey's) or emerge from a mental mist to find you've strangled him for doing that weird falsetto humming thing?
I thought so.
This month, then, might be just the time to work on clearing out the fetid pockets of mate-hate in your relationship. Look for meaning in maddening moments, take your share of blame, and use gentle means of changing behavior. Got that? Good girl! Have a piece of chocolate!
Keep this up, and by next Valentine's Day you'll hardly remember how it felt to hate the one you love.
More Insight From Martha Beck
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