Responding to Your Spouse’s Behaviors 

How do you react when your spouse does something particularly nice? How about when they do something you do not like? Our responses have a big impact on the likelihood of these behaviors ending or continuing.

For example, consider a husband who tends to spend time with his friends after work a few times per week. This causes him to come home late, which makes his wife feel angry. She calls him repeatedly and yells at him while he is out. When he returns home, she ignores him. If she wants him to return home after work tomorrow, these behaviors are unlikely to motivate him to do so. In fact, they may have the opposite effect and cause him to want to avoid coming home even more.

Consider an example of a wife who cooks a special dinner for her husband. Instead of thanking her, he says, “It’s nice you finally made something that was not burned.” This may also decrease her motivation to cook any more meals for him in the future. He missed an opportunity to thank her for making the meal and for praising her for doing a great job. These likely would have reinforced her desire to continue cooking meals.

Showing respect, offering praise, doing nice things for each other, and saying “thank you” can reinforce behaviors that we like. Rude comments, sulking, or yelling rarely get the desired results people want. And if people do “give in” to these sorts of behaviors, it usually is not out of a genuine respect or love. It’s because they want you to stop yelling.  Sometimes, angry people get what they want in the short term, but in the long term they are not well-liked.

Take a look at how you respond to your partner’s behaviors. Determine if there are different approaches you could take. Do you show gratitude for the positive things your partner does for you? Do you find respectful ways to communicate your feelings? Do you try and promote more positive interactions between the two of you?

Sometimes, people never learned these skills as a child. Perhaps their own parents modeled some negative interactions. Perhaps they have been in unhealthy relationships in the past and are having difficulty settling into a healthier role. Talk to your partner about how the two of you react and respond to each other’s feelings and needs. Negative interactions can cause a lot of resentment if they are not dealt with appropriately.

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