"" | Notes from NYT article What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage by Amy Sutherland introduces how methods used by animal trainers can be used to train your spouse (or co-workers, etc.). I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault."

Main point - Reward good behavior, ignore bad behavior.

"After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband."

Use approximations - Think of the ultimate goal or behavior as a series of steps toward the the goal or behavior, then reward small steps the animal takes (even accidentally) toward the ultimate new behavior. That is, if you want... be sure to reward any modest steps toward that goal like...

Use incompatible behaviors - "On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously."

Least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.) - When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love.

Don't take your spouse's faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. Instead, to gain objectivity and distance, think of your spouse as an exotic species.

Adopt the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault."

When training attempts fail, don't blame spouse. Instead, brainstorm new strategies, more incompatible behaviors, or smaller approximations.

Dissected your own behavior, consider how your own actions might inadvertently reinforce your spouse's. Also, accept that some behaviors are too entrenched or instinctive to train away. "You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys."

What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers
by Amy Sutherland

Related Posts