By Adam Ventura, M.S., BCBA
bSci21 Contributing Writer
*Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a serious prescription for creating and/or maintaining a healthy relationship with your significant other because behavior is individualized. This is simply a fun look at relationships from a behavior analytics perspective.
Treat the First Date Like a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)
- Begin with an indirect assessment. Ask as many questions as you can and listen. Talking about yourself is typically a very powerful reinforcer for most people, so ask a question and do some reflective listening. For example, “So what you’re saying is you used to ride horses when you were a child? That’s so interesting.”
- Do a preference assessment. Finding out what they like and what they don’t like will benefit you in two ways.
- You can surprise them on their birthday with something they like.
- You can identify congruence between their verbal behavior and their non-verbal behavior (i.e. are they being honest). If they say they like Italian food, but they only eat the bread when you take them to an Italian restaurant, it might be a sign they aren’t being completely honest with you.
- It isn’t an FBA without direct observation. Pay attention to the little things and confirm your original hypothesis when you observe them.
Use Reinforcement in the Relationship
When you reinforce your significant other’s behavior and how much reinforcement you provide could be the key to a lasting relationship.
- Praise often, then slow down. Start their communication behavior off on a continuous schedule of reinforcement, and then slow down to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement you are comfortable with.
- Beware of ratio strain; that could end the relationship.
- Vary your reinforcers. No one wants to receive the same things over and over, so change it up a little. 101 Ways to Positively Reinforce is a great text. Check it out, and use it when your significant other does something nice for you.
Verbal Behavior with Your Significant Other
It’s about how you say it, just as much as what you say.
- Avoid using behavior analytic terminology. I know, I know. We always talk about using behavioral jargon, but you should consider holding back on a date with an outsider. Explaining that your girlfriend didn’t just teach her dog a new trick, but she differentially reinforced successive approximations to a terminal behavior is probably going to make you look elitist. Think that one through before doing it.
- Be honest. This is a good time to follow the ethics code (1.04a Integrity) and say what you mean. If they don’t like you because of it, it’s better to find out early.
Data Collection With Your Significant Other’s Behavior
Take data, just do it quietly.
- Definition: Effects of an observation procedure on the behavior being measured (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Taking data on someone’s behavior is very intrusive, and this is apparent when reactivity occurs. People need to feel comfortable so that they can behave naturally. So, is taking data on your significant other’s behavior important? Of course it is, but don’t let them know you are doing it because they are probably going to get upset.
- If you do tell them you are going to collect data, collect data on both people’s behavior. Whatever you do, don’t use happy face stickers on a behavior contract hanging on the refrigerator. They may feel like you are treating them like a child.
Ending the Relationship
In the unlikely and unfortunate event that you have to end the relationship, here are some suggestions to make it less aversive.
- Put their communicative behavior on a continuous schedule of reinforcement, then immediately place their communicative behavior on extinction. The burst will be hell, but if you can survive it, they will be out of your hair forever.
- Planned ignore angry outbursts during the extinction burst. They will look for you to respond, but don’t give in.
- Be consistent. What do we always tell parents we work with about interacting with their kids and implementing behavior programs? That’s right. Consistency. We all have to behave the same way when the child engages in certain behavior. It works the same when you end a relationship with a significant other. If they see you are not committed to the break up, they are going to keep fighting for it. You don’t want spontaneous recovery to get the upper hand.
- No make-up sex! You are reinforcing the wrong behavior, no matter how awesome it is.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.
Adam Ventura, M.S., BCBA is a graduate of Florida International University and has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) since 2008. Adam is the founder and CEO of World Evolve, Inc., a behavioral organization located in south Florida. Adam has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis for over 10 years and has experience working with children and adults with varying disabilities. Adam was a member of the local review committee in Miami, Florida for over three years and is currently a member of the behavior analysis and practice committee (BAPC) for the state of Florida. Adam also currently serves an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Florida International University where he has been teaching undergraduate courses in behavior analysis since 2009. Adam is also the co-founder of two public benefit corporations, namely, The Code Of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations (COEBO) and the Miami Association for Behavior Analysis (MiABA). Adam’s experience has extended beyond the clinical realm and into the business world as he has been responsible for creating several new businesses with and without partners in various industries. Adam’s current focus is on business ethics and technological applications of Behavior Analysis. You can contact him at [email protected].
Perfect timing for this article. This is a very fun article to read.
Thanks for the kind words, Andrew.
Entertaining and interesting read. It’s always good to see Behaviorists with a sense of humor.
I understand that this article is not intended to be a serious prescription. Still needs to be said: taking secret data on your partner is flat-out unethical and is creepy af.