June 2015

Husbands in Training

Author:  Linda S. Hopkins

People often tell me how lucky I am to have such a good husband and happy marriage. While I will be the first to agree, I will also let you in on a secret: My marriage is not always blissful, and there is more to it than luck.

I’m no Dr. Phil or Marabel Morgan (The Total Woman, 1973), but here’s what I’ve figured out: Boys will be boys, but real men are trainable. And any guy who loves you enough to meet you at the altar will knock himself out for your pleasure.

Even so, unless you just happened to find the only perfect man on the planet, your partner could probably use a little on-the-job training. Don’t set out to change him, because you can’t. But he can change himself, and with the right motivation, he will.

Before you dismiss this as old fashioned drivel, let’s define training. We are not talking about a major character overhaul or a complete personality makeover. We are talking about behaviors and habits that affect your daily life together. And while the term training may sound degrading, when you think about it, through our actions and reactions, we as humans are subconsciously training others how to treat us all the time.

What he’ll do for love
Training a husband is not a matter of manipulation or control. It’s a simple matter of mutual respect and some gentle persuasion. Remember that old song, “When a Man Loves a Woman” (Percy Sledge, 1966)? If not, you can review the words on one of many online lyric sites. If a man loves you, somewhere in his testosterone-fueled brain is a strong urge to please you. The problem usually arises when he doesn’t quite know how.

Since wives don’t come with instruction manuals and men are not mind readers, it is up to you to provide information. Speak up. Don’t make him play a guessing game.

Stating your needs requires patience along with the right delivery. (As you have probably discovered, nagging gets you nowhere.) For example, if you want him to put the toilet seat down, say so. When he forgets, don’t scream at him like a banshee, but offer a calm reminder: “Honey, I would appreciate it if you would put the toilet seat down so I don’t fall in or so that the dog doesn’t drink out of the bowl.” Explaining why this behavior pleases you is a good training tactic, because it appeals to your man’s logic. When your request makes sense to him on an intellectual level, he’s more likely to remember.

When he does follow through, notice and respond: “Thank you for being so thoughtful,” and follow up with a reward. (This is where it is important to know what pleases him.) And before you say, “He doesn’t thank me or reward me for doing X, Y, or Z,” so what? Do you want equal praise or do you want unparalleled results?

Maybe the toilet seat is not a big issue for you, but you get the idea. This technique works for everything you want him to do, even complex behaviors such as visiting your mother, going shoe shopping, sitting through a chick flick or taking ballroom dancing lessons. It works for things you don’t want him to do, too. If a certain action displeases you, the first step is to let him know (in a peaceful manner) and perhaps suggest a replacement behavior that is mutually acceptable. This is called compromise. Note: make sure you are willing to make concessions on his behalf, too.

The reward system
I hate to say it, but husbands are sort of like puppies. The best time to start training is when they are new. But believe it or not, old dogs can learn new tricks. It’s all in offering the right rewards. As a wife and husband trainer, make sure that your bag of treats is appealing enough to evoke the desired behavior. (If your dog likes Beggin’ Strips and you offer him a banana, he’s not likely to perform.)

We all know that men love sex, and most are inspired by the possibility of getting more of it. But here’s the tricky part and where dealing with a man is different from teaching Fido to fetch. Using intimate favors as a reward can backfire, because you cannot take his treat away and expect a positive result.

Unless your husband has done something unforgivable that is worthy of hiring a divorce attorney, don’t withdraw sex as punishment for bad behavior. Doing so may encourage more bad behavior or, at the very least, create distance in your relationship, which is not the goal.

So, what incentives will set your husband on the wife-pleasing path? That depends on your man. Put some thought into it based on what you know about his specific wants, needs and desires. You may have to experiment to see what gets the most favorable response.

Keep in mind that rewards do not have to be tangible. One of the strongest motivators and best reinforcements I know of is cheerfulness. When your husband is making an effort to please you, greet him with a smile instead of a scowl. Over time, he will begin to associate the desired behaviors with your pleasant disposition. You might also consider making an effort to look attractive when he gets home and have something to talk about besides the challenges of the day.

You don’t have to greet him at the door wrapped in Saran wrap with a drink tray in your hand, but you can be freshly groomed and neatly dressed. Remember, you are training (or retraining) him to look forward to seeing you; no man is excited to come home to an irritable nag in a raggedy old bathrobe with an exhaustive list of demands and complaints.

If the training regimen sounds like a lot of work, it isn’t. With practice, it becomes a natural way of life. Gentlemen, if you are reading this, please don’t be offended. What your wife may or may not realize is that she’s in training, too. By responding to her needs, you are teaching her how to meet yours. It’s a win/win situation and the key to harmony at home.

Ladies, if your man is already well-trained, give him a well-deserved treat. If he’s “new” or needs a refresher course, start with one important request at a time. Don’t confuse him by issuing too many commands at once or harping on the trivial. Change may not happen overnight, so be patient along the way. Be generous with the rewards and, above all, keep a cheerful countenance.

Linda S. Hopkins is an ordinary wife, learning as she goes. She shared a 20-year marriage with Zack Smith before his passing in 2001. She and her current husband Tom Hopkins have been together for 12 years and married for 10. She jokes that it took her two years to train him, but it’s always a work in progress. (Tom regularly opens her car door and rarely leaves the toilet seat up.) She also says that the rewards work both ways.

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