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The other night when I mysteriously picked up a pair of socks and tossed them in the dirty clothes hamper, my wife simultaneously tossed me a sardine from a can she had opened earlier in the day.
I thought to myself ... is she trying to reinforce good habits? I also thought she should have had crackers and mustard ready as well.
Just kidding. That didn't actually happen. Everyone knows that I have no bad habits to correct.
But I was reading a magazine story the other day about a woman journalist - Amy Sutherland - who had spent a year at an animal-training school and decided, according to the story, to apply the techniques she learned on her husband's annoying habits.
Sutherland wrote about her experiences in the New York Times and her piece became the most e-mailed story of the year - "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage."
Psychology has always intrigued me in a way that has never manifested itself in any particular deep understanding.
I watch jack-leg psychology at work at different times during the day - reverse psychology being the most frequent ploy. And psychology training gets its start at an early age. My oldest granddaughter is a master at finagling something from her little sister. Mallory doesn't even know she's being had.
But that's the secret of psychology, as I see it: getting something accomplished without someone feeling manipulated.
Sutherland came to the conclusion, and I assume my wife has as well, to ignore negative habits and reward positive ones. Some wives may have to use their imaginations.
I'm not opposed to using a little reward for something I like either. Linda makes a particularly good vegetable soup the day after we've dined on one of her fork-tender, crock pot roasts. I always compliment her roast, knowing full well that my taste buds are going to be rewarded a day or two hence. My mouth is watering as I write this.
Animal trainers use what is called the Least Reinforcing Scenario. To keep her husband from his annoying habit of hovering over her while she was cooking, Sutherland set out a bowl a salsa and chips at the other end of the room. Her marriage was happier and her husband enjoyed more and better snacks.
I can remember from my college days the discussion of Pavlov and his dogs. Stimulus and response had something to do with the mental picture created by a hound (Pavlov's dog) sitting there with a frothy mouth. Rats and other animals have been used in similar experiments as well. Humans just don't seem to catch on nearly as fast.
But the real secret to a happy marriage may be in not taking your partner's actions too seriously. After all, what's a misplaced pair of socks in the grand scheme of things?
Am I using psychology ... setting a standard where misplaced dirty clothes aren't a serious breech of marital bliss?
I'm sure I am. If my wife happens on this column, I'm hoping she continues to reward me (no matter how infrequent that is) instead of pitching a well-deserved hissy fit over an out-of-place pair of briefs.
Heck, I can live off sardines, but I prefer a little vegetable soup every now and then. Any good husband would.