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Lead by example, not with a whipping chain. What does that mean? That means no nagging or controlling another person into doing what you want.
I love that outfit that you’re wearing, is it new?
Thank you for cleaning up around the house. It’s really nice to come back home from work to a clean house.
You’re a really good boyfriend. You’ve been really thoughtful about planning dates.
You smell amazing!
You look really beautiful today. I like what you did with your hair.
I see all the effort you’ve been putting into our relationship, and I think that’s really sexy.
Thank you for working so hard to support our family. All the late nights, the traveling, the stress. Thank you!
I love spending one-on-one time with you. I feel like we get really deep with each other.
I love cuddling and being close to you.
Thank you for supporting me through the tough time I was going through. I appreciate you being there for me.
Hey, just wanted to know that I see you. I see how hard you are trying every day, with the children and with our marriage. I just want to say thank you.
How did you feel after hearing these statements? Did it light your fire? If you heard statements like this from your partner, how would that make you feel? How would your partner feel if you leaned into gratitude, kindness, and positive reinforcement, instead of nagging, complaining, and criticism?
Today, we will discuss positive reinforcement and how it can greatly benefit your and all relationships. So what is positive reinforcement? Let’s begin with a little research. In 1975, Birchler, Weiss, and Vincett performed a study on married couples comparing the behavior of happily married couples to unhappily married couples. The research discovered that happily married couples scored drastically higher in rewarding each other than unhappily married couples. Essentially, happy couples enforced loving behavior and spoke to each other in approving ways (a kind comment, a kiss, and laughter), while unhappy couples leaned further into negativity and criticism. Unhappy couples punished each other more. Couples who use positive reinforcement, approving words, and behavior were proved to be more satisfied.
In comparison, couples who used negative reinforcement and nagging were unsatisfied. Do you understand what this means? You can greatly influence the health of your relationship by speaking to your partner in positive and uplifting ways. Rewarding your partner can make them more attracted to you and make them want to be around you more.
Don’t get stuck in the nagging and negativity trap. For example, Sonia hates a messy house. She asks her boyfriend Tom to clean up more, but he doesn’t. She then feels unheard and begins to repeat her concerns, which soon turns into nagging. “Why don’t you clean up more?” “I’ve asked you so many times to clean the house, and you never do!” Instead of Tom wanting to clean the house, he rebels and doesn’t want to concede to the criticism. Let’s use positive reinforcement in this situation. Instead of nagging, Sonia watches for chances to show encouraging words to Tom. After he eats, he washes his dish, and Sonia takes this opportunity to thank him. Thank you, tom, for washing your dish. I really appreciate it. Tom feels appreciated, and as Sonia continues to show gratitude when he decides to help around the house, he feels even more motivated.
The words you speak to your partner quite literally create your relationship. It creates the environment that your relationship lives in. If you speak to your partner negatively, you push negativity and toxicity into your relationship environment. Words hold so much power. They can influence how we think about ourselves, how we act, how our partner perceives us, and how we perceive our partner.
Rewarding your partner’s behavior helps your partner feel seen, appreciated, and understood. This also increases the frequency of behavior according to (Dermer, 2006). Loving relationships aren’t built or destroyed overnight. They are made in the way that couples speak, reward, and punish each other.
So, how can we practice positive reinforcement? Let’s talk about it!
Tip #1 Appreciate your partner, and show gratitude for all things big and small
Look for ways to express your appreciation. Smile and say, “thank you,” when they open the door. Be specific about what you are grateful for. Like, “Thank you for ordering dinner last night. I know it costs a lot, and I appreciate you buying it for us with the money you’ve earned from working so hard.” Here is a template that you could use:
“Thank you for (doing this). I appreciate it because (Go into detail).”
Thank you for picking up the kids today from school. I appreciate it because I was so tired after work. You really helped!
Thank you for making dinner. I know you took time out of your day to go to the store and look up the recipes. I really appreciate it!
Thank you for mentoring my little brother. I appreciate it because you are a great role model for him and inspire him to grow.
Thank you for calling me when you got home last night. I appreciate it because I know that you were safe and sound, and it helped me sleep more soundly.
Tip #2 Pay attention
In order to show gratitude to your partner and reward them for their efforts and behavior, you’re going to have to pay attention. Pay attention to when your partner is doing helpful and loving things. Don’t ignore them! Don’t ignore the small things. Positive reinforcement differs from love bombing or throwing meaningless compliments at another person to influence them. The difference is with positive reinforcement. You are genuinely paying attention to your partner and rewarding them with affirming words and behaviors.
Lead by example. If your relationship is cluttered with criticism from both you and your partner, begin shifting the relationship environment by engaging in positive reinforcement. Your partner may be surprised at first, especially if you haven’t been nice in a while. But! It’s a good surprise, and as you continue to shift the way you speak to your partner from negative to positive, they will have to rise to the occasion or risk getting left behind.
Tip #4 Reward them with affirming words + in their favorite love language.
There are five languages of love, and they are:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
It’s beneficial to appreciate your partner with words of affirmation because words hold power. It’s also helpful to add an additional reward for your partner’s specific love language. For example, Samantha has been doing really well in school. Her boyfriend Roy wants to use positive reinforcement. Roy knows that Sam really loves flowers. So, he sends her a note that says, “Sam, you’ve been killing it in school lately. You inspire me”, and then he sends flowers along with the note.
Or Kayla knows that her husband Alex has been really busy at work. She hasn’t gotten to spend much time with him. Instead of harping on him about working too much, she decides to use positive reinforcement. Kayla knows that Alex’s preferred love language is physical touch. On Alex’s day off, Kayla asks him if she can give him a massage. During the massage, she tells him, “Thank you for spending today with me. I know you have a lot of work to do, and I appreciate you taking the time for us”.
So remember, it’s helpful to use both words of affirmation and your partner’s preferred love language when rewarding your partner.
Lead with your higher self and not with your ego.
To lean further into positive reinforcement, you’ll have to step into your higher self and decide to push your ego to the side. You have to want to help your partner feel good. Unfortunately, relationships aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. If there is resentment or grudges that you’re holding, you have to choose not to feed into holding onto the wrongdoings and intentionally focus on what your partner is currently doing well for you and your relationship. A good question to ask yourself is, “Do you want your partner to be happy?” “Does it make you feel good or bad when your partner is feeling good?” If you don’t want your partner to be happy and feel good about themselves, then you have to ask yourself why? What pain is stopping you from wanting your partner to be happy? Once you narrow in on what’s causing the resentment, then ask yourself if you want to let it go.
One of the reasons people step outside of the relationship is because the external person makes them feel good, sees them with fresh eyes, and is able to appreciate them without resentment. At the end of the day, people want to feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, criticism is very powerful and can be remembered and ruminated on much more than compliments. So if you have a complaint, you have to be very intentional about how it is said. If you want further information on how to complain to your partner in a healthy way, go ahead and check out the article “Is criticism killing your relationship,” inspired by the Gottman method. In this article, you will learn how to express a complaint in a respectful and loving way.
Remember that any behavior that you reward will turn up its frequency. So make sure to be intentional about which behaviors you choose to reinforce positively. Also, make sure that your partner learns to reciprocate the positivity in your relationship. It won’t be helpful if you change your behavior but your partner decides to continue to speak negatively to you. Speak you’re your partner, and make a goal for both of you to shift from negative reinforcement to positive. Give yourselves time to create this new habit. If both of you reciprocate, your relationship will surely grow, blossom, and become a safe and loving environment.
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