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Published June 01 2012

Eccher: Hard to admit, but men can be trained

Once upon a time, I lived with a good friend with whom I did not see eye to eye on the concept of “clean.”

He believed it meant fancy (some might say elitist) things like hanging up coats in the closet and scrubbing the floors with Pine-Sol before we had guests over.

I believed it meant keeping the bulk of my possessions more or less within the physical boundaries of our apartment. His freshly disinfected surfaces provided inviting resting places for whatever crap I happened not to feel like depositing elsewhere – magazines, pizza boxes, reproductions of the Magna Carta.

Since moving out, our environments have diverged: He works in a laboratory where they scrub unclean particles from the air, and I work at a desk that looks to have been decorated by drunken beavers with a taste for printed emails. But back then, it was a problem.

He could have yelled at me to tidy up, but that wasn’t going to work. You don’t yell at a dog for doing its business on the carpet. You train it to do it outside.

I can hear the objections from the men out there already, but don’t fight it boys: we’re trainable (and dogs are awesome, so cool your jets). In this case, my roommate took to collecting the various things I’d left lying around and leaving them in the middle of my bed. If I wanted to sleep in the bed, I had to put them away.

Eventually, my brain wrapped itself around the association – cleaning up equals no shoes on my pillow – and it became easier to keep my mess under control than to clear off my bed. Everybody lived happily ever after.

This brings us to Emily’s dilemma:

Why does my husband apologize on a weekly basis for sleeping in every morning and not helping me get our daughter ready for day care, rather than just getting up earlier and helping? Why apologize on a regular basis if you’re not sorry enough to change your behavior?

Emily isn’t alone out there in the land of poor male follow-through. Amanda writes:

Our joint New Year’s Resolution was to walk our dog more often ... Every time I go, I ask if he’d like to join, but he always says no. And not once has he taken the dog for a walk himself. Why do I have to be the only one making good on our joint resolution that we should both be doing?

When it comes to modifying behavior and habits, talk is going-out-of-business-forever-sale cheap. These gentlemen have only been trained to say they’re going to do the thing in question, or to apologize after the fact. You’ve got to train them to actually do it.

Feel free to get creative in your execution. You’ve got a dog and a toddler to work with here, two things that are very difficult to ignore when deployed strategically.

For Emily, it’s not unreasonable to lovingly but insistently rouse her hubby and put him to work. He won’t like it – at first, he’ll probably hate it – but he’ll get over it, and more importantly, get used to it.

If he’s already sorry for not doing it, think of it as helping him help himself. As always, a specific, finite instruction – “Please make our daughter a tuna salad sandwich for lunch” – is a big plus. The use of a spray bottle should not be ruled out.

For Amanda, it is equally reasonable to place said dog (lovingly but insistently, of course) in your man’s lap. If it’s a big dog, this may be a problem – but it’ll be even more of a problem for him.

This may confuse him. “What are you doing?” he might ask. “I’m putting our dog on your lap,” you might say, “because it’s time for a walk.

At this point, he can argue with you about the logic or sanity of dog-bombing him. He can try to defend his laziness. He can try to ignore the dog on his lap.

Or he can just take it for a darn walk. And everybody lives happily ever after.

Forum reporter Marino Eccher wants to answer your tough questions about the male in your life. Send them to shesays@forumcomm.com or Attn: You’ve Got Male, The Forum, PO Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.