How to Get Your Man to Change His Ways

People will tell you that, no matter how your boyfriend or husband behaves, you shouldn’t try to change him. To that, I say, “Bullshit.” Hear me out. I have some credibility here. First, I’m a man, and I know how reckless and foolish we can be. Second, I’m a bestselling author of relationship books and have been a frequent guest on Oprah and CNN. Lastly, I’m a psychotherapist who specializes in teaching women how to change the men in their life — to much success.

As a psychotherapist, I have spent years hearing women complain about the men in their lives. At first, I did what I was trained to do: give them empathy and help them see how their actions were responsible for how their man behaved. But it takes two to tango. It was often clear to me that the men in their lives were in need of some major repair. Yet, men don’t like being told what to do, so I looked for and studied how a few women actually do get the man in their life to happily change.

What Not to Do

Before going into how to get a man to want to change in beneficial ways, let’s discuss what not to do. To begin with, unless you’ve had great success in changing men, you should probably avoid doing everything you habitually do. What might you habitually do? For many women, when they don’t like their partner’s behavior, they do three things. They blame, they complain, and they shame. Let’s look at each of these in detail.

Blaming doesn’t work because when you tell a man what he is doing “wrong,” he never (in the history of the human race) responds by saying, “Thank you. I couldn’t see the errors of my ways before, but now that you’ve informed me, I will make a great effort to change my ways.” If your man responds to blame in that manner, email me. I’d like to study this saint. More likely, your man will simply get defensive if he feels blamed, and then proceed to point out your own faults. Blame never gets you the results you want.

Complaining, or what men call “nagging,” is equally as effective as blaming. Men will sometimes do what you want if you complain enough, but the resentment that results does not lead to greater intimacy or long-term change. Instead, it leads to greater distance and a power struggle. Strike two.

Finally, shaming your man — or making him feel guilty — may work short term like complaining. However, once again it doesn’t lead to greater intimacy or long-term change. Besides, do you really want to be your husband or your boyfriend’s mother? Nothing is less sexy for either yourself or your man. Strike three.

What Really Works

So, if blaming, shaming, and complaining doesn’t do the trick, what does? When I have studied a few women who seemed to have amazing success in changing the men in their lives, I saw they all did two things in common. The first thing I saw was they used positive reinforcement much, much more than negative reinforcement. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s use dogs as an example. If you want to train a dog to sit and stay, you could scream at them until they sit and stay — that’s negative reinforcement. Unfortunately, this mostly confuses the dog and makes you feel exasperated at how dumb you think your dog is.

Yet nowadays dog trainers know that dogs respond a hundred times better to reward than to punishment. Ladies, in a certain way, men are like dogs. If you reward a dog with a biscuit each time he sits at your command, within five minutes he’ll be doing it every time. Likewise, if you reward a man with a smile, a kiss, or a sincere appreciation each time he behaves the way you like, you’ll be amazed at what a “good boy” he can be.

Jenna came to my office saying she was ready for a divorce because her husband ignored her and was a “horrible slob.” I suggested she first venture to see if she could change her husband. Of course, Jenna told me she had tried “everything.” By “everything,” I assumed she meant every form of blame, complaint, and shame. I instructed Jenna to try an experiment for one week. I suggested she either give her husband a big smile, kiss or complement each time he either talked to Jenna or cleaned up after himself. A week later Jenna reported, “He’s a completely different man! He’s now doing the dishes each night and almost giving me too much attention!” Such is the power of positive reinforcement.

The second skill I saw in women who could get their man to happily change was what I call “devoted asking.” Devoted asking is the art of asking for what you want in such a way that a man is motivated to do what you suggest. Most women are really bad at this. Instead, most women complain about how their man isn’t doing what they want, and the men react with indifference — or worse.

So how can a woman learn the art of “devoted asking?” Basically, it consists of doing two things. First, it requires that a woman look very excited and/or lovingly at their man. Second, it involves saying something like the following, “Oh honey, it would make me so happy if you could (fill in the blank).” For example, with great excitement and devotion you might say, “Oh honey, it would be so wonderful and make me so happy if you could fix the light in the refrigerator. You’re so good at fixing things and I could really use some help with this.”

Now, if saying those words strike you as difficult, or would alert your man that you might be drunk, then you really need to work on the art of devoted asking. Yes, appealing to his ego and your helplessness is blatant manipulation. Yet, blaming and complaining are also a form of manipulation. So, would you rather do a form of manipulation that works and leaves both of you happy, or a form of manipulation that doesn’t work and leaves both of you miserable? The choice is yours.

Men like to make women happy. They like to see their woman be excited and loving, and they yearn to come to their rescue and be “the hero.” Unfortunately, the way women treat men often leads to the opposite result. Men often get shamed into feeling that they're the villain. Then, when they see their woman is pissed off and unhappy with them, they grow ever more distant. It’s such a shame because, with the right reinforcement and method of asking, both partners could get a lot more of what they want.

Being able to change a man is a skill that is indeed learnable. Like most skills, it has a set of techniques and theories that underlie its application. Without this skill, women are often subject to the unconscious whims and coarse behavior of the men they would like to get close to. Fortunately, with this skill in hand, both women and men can live happier, less stressful, and more loving lives.

is the author of 12 books and a frequent guest on Oprah. His website is FindingHappiness.com and his podcast is “Awareness Explorers.” email: iamjonr@aol.com

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