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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
Okay, okay, we don’t really mean train your man. But yes, there are productive ways to get what you want more often–and make the relationship sail along more smoothly. Every couple hits a thud moment, unfortunately, when those annoying traits can nag and nag…and eventually make your blood boil over. So we’re just giving you some (totally fair, expert-approved) ideas to help you avoid more big blowups in the future.
Sure, his compulsive need to check sports scores or tooth-picking-in-public habits weren’t deal-breakers when you started dating, or even when you got married. But now that it’s been awhile—and you’re seeing him do more annoying things every day—it can be tough to let stuff go without a dirty look or snarky comment. The good news is that there really are things you can easily (read: sneakily) do to encourage your guy to, err, adjust.
Now, we’re not saying you should bust out a full-blown training program to fix every single quirk the guy’s got (if you have that urge, it might be time to takea hard look at these signs that reveal the state of your marriage). But, hey, a little expert-approved nudge now and then never hurt anyone. And if these tips help you maintain a happy, healthy marriage—well, you can just thank us later.
If you want him to…take care of the kids so you have free time
Your husband knows he’s doing something good when he picks up the dry cleaning without asking, or defends you to his snarky sister. But are you actually telling him that? Providing praise every time he does something you like means he’ll probably do it again, says Diane Gehart, Ph.D., professor of marriage and family therapy at California State University, Northridge. “Complimenting and appreciating desirable behavior is one of the best ways to get more of what you want, especially in long term relationships,” she says. “Most people respond better to positive reinforcement because they feel safe, and that enables them to embrace new actions more easily and sincerely.” So while you might think it’s obvious that you appreciate him watching the kids while you’re at yoga—and you probably do the same favor when he hits the gym—try saying “thank you” and giving him a quick kiss before you head to class. Hearing your praise feeds his ego and creates a positive association with that particular behavior, making him likelier to repeat it.
If you want him to…quit leaving his stuff everywhere
Do you groan every time he tosses his gross gym clothes on the bedroom floor, instead of in the hamper? Try to hold it in because, coincidentally, repeatedly screaming about how much that bad habit pisses you off could be instigating those exact actions. “So much behavior is fired by attention of any kind,” says Amy Sutherland, author of What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers, who studied the techniques of exotic animal trainers and successfully put the same principles to use in her marriage. “When I quit nagging and pointing out what my husband did wrong every single day, I saw changes in our interactions pretty quickly—they became positive more often, and as long as I had brought up the annoyance once [you know, to make sure he’s actually aware that it bugs you], those behaviors started to fall by the wayside.” So next time you’re about to blow a fuse because he once again forgot that wet towels need to actually be hung in order to dry, Sutherland’s research suggests taking a deep breath, hanging it yourself, and letting it go. Then when he does it himself, vocalize how happy that makes you. He’s still getting attention, just of the positive variety that’s more likely to be received, rather than ignored.
If you want him to…actually listen to your sister’s latest family drama
If your husband still isn’t getting the hint, you might have to state what you want more directly. But do it without letting resentment or irritation creep into your tone. “Ask for what you want simply, without the presumption that he’s going to say no,” says Gehart. And remember that your man isn’t a mind reader. “It’s not uncommon for one partner to be upset with the other, while the second one has no idea that there was any sort of expectation or issue,” she explains. He may just be clueless, and will fix the problem once you tell him that it bothers you. Bring it up when you’re calm and can speak without contempt or frustration. “Most people’s plan B is to yell plan A—since their partner didn’t get it the first time—or get nastier,” says Sutherland. “In that case, you are trying to change a person’s behavior with intimidation, which typically doesn’t work out and is just plain unpleasant.” Think about it like an animal trainer would: You may need to try something multiple times before you get the desired behavior. But if there’s always an undercurrent of “I know you’re not going to do this anyway, so why bother?” then the new skill is less likely to be adopted. Same goes for your husband, though we like to believe he’s even smarter than the family pet.
If you want him to…fix a few hygiene problems.
Whether it’s gross or just plain annoying doesn’t matter…you just want him to stop, and using the technique of distraction can work wonders. Take, for example, when Sutherland’s husband hovered over her while she was cooking. The habit drove her bonkers, so she gave him parsley to chop, or chips to snack on in another area of the kitchen. Sounds simplistic—and like something you probably reserve for your three year old, sure—but it did the trick. “Never say, ‘Do this so you won’t do the thing that is really bugging me,'” warns Sutherland. “Just offer up another activity that the person would want to do, like eating chips. That’s not sneaky to me and it makes the irritating habit disappear.” So next time you catch him gnawing on his nails in front of the TV (gross), don’t slap his hands and tell him to stop. Instead, hand him your phone and ask him to read an article you want his opinion on, or simply hold his hand to occupy them and show affection. Win-win.
If you want him to…check in instead of going MIA
Let’s be fair: You’re not the innocent one in this whole training game. You have annoying habits too (yes, that tendency to forget your phone everywhere counts). So if he tried to change your ways, how would that make you feel, and what about it would cause you to bristle? Putting yourself in his shoes might help rationalize his habits for you. If he complained every time you failed to text or call when there was a change in plans, you’d probably feel like he was trying to control or suffocate you—and that’s how he interprets it, too. When he goes off the grid, shoot him a text saying you love him and just want to know he’s safe. Leave it at that, and adjust your plans accordingly. That may help him see the situation differently, and be less likely to get defensive. Sutherland suggests adopting an animal trainer’s motto, too: “It’s never the animal’s fault.” When some of her own training attempts didn’t work, she didn’t give up or blame her husband. Instead, she got creative and thought up new strategies.
If you want him to…be more like you
Yep, we went there. It might seem like life would be easier if he picked up a few of your better traits, but reality check: those differences are what keep things interesting—even the ones that can really piss you off. That’s part of life, and relationships, so the sooner you learn to let go of control, the better you’ll feel and the more you’ll get along. “You may realize that you married a ‘species’ of man whose natural instincts are to leave their socks on the floor no matter what,” says Sutherland. “Everyone comes with hardwired behavioral quirks, which make us all different animals, which makes the world so interesting.” And remember that some of those quirks are the reason you fell in love in the first place—if not because they intrigued you, then maybe because of the friction and sparks your differences caused. “Virtually every behavior has positive and negative aspects,” says Gehart. “Hard workers often worry too much; romantic types my be weaker in practical areas. When you perceive a ‘weakness,’ think about how this is a strength in another area that you were most likely attracted to initially.”