Operant Conditioning in Your Romantic Relationships | Girls Chase

Operant Conditioning in Your Romantic Relationships

Chase Amante

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operant conditioningSomething I've noticed that a number of individuals untrained in relationship management theory tend to engage in is arbitrary (that is, seemingly random) punishment and reward inside of relationships. These sort of variable reward and punishment structures inside relationships generally lead to a host of negative outcomes for the person who's subject to arbitrary treatment, including:

  • Emotional dependency
  • Addiction and attachment
  • Wild mood swings
  • Submission
  • Resentment
  • Rebellion

Basically, the opposite of what you'd expect to see in a healthy, rewarding, productive relationship.

It's occurred to me that most of the people who use controlling, coercive, and more or less arbitrary relationship management tactics probably are not very familiar with operant conditioning - the system of punishment and reward established by B.F. Skinner for the purposes of behavior modification.

So today, I want to equip you with a very effective means of communicating your likes and dislikes to a romantic partner without ruffling feathers, being seen as an oppressor, or, conversely, a pushover.

I'm going to show you how to use operant conditioning in your relationships.

Chase AmanteAbout the Author: Chase Amante

Chase woke up one day in 2004 tired of being alone. So, he set to work and read every book he could find, studied every teacher he could meet, and talked to every girl he could talk to to figure out dating. After four years, scads of lays, and many great girlfriends (plus plenty of failures along the way), he launched this website. He will teach you everything he knows about girls in one single program in his One Date System.



Blackdragon's picture

Most men don't realize that when a woman starts screaming at you, if you scream back at her (or "correct" her or "set her straight" or tell her the behavior is "unacceptable" or whatever), you are giving her *attention*, and that's exactly what she wants from you. (The fact it's negative attention is completely irrelevant. Attention of any kind is what she wants.)

Therefore, she will continue to maintain the exact behavior that pissed you off in the first place.

Great post.

Chase Amante's picture

Thanks BD.

Yeah, it's a natural human reaction to get upset on being challenged, but except in those extreme cases (where you come down on her with such ungodly wrath that she damn near soil her pants and never wants to do it again), doing so only encourages that behavior more and more.

How's tricks with you these days - same old, same old?


Nick's picture

Hey Chase,

I remember you mentioning how some women like one you dated only find relationships exciting if they are punished every once and a while. So this info is awesome to know.

Also, what is your opinion on stoicism? Is it a good character trait to have or will it kill off attraction or bore people if you don't show outward signs of excitement? I ask this because in the 2009 post on emotional buildup you said that you want to mirror or a little less a persons energy levels to connect with them more. At one time I also remember you saying that you want to remain unemotional and girls will get more excited by you but I might have remembered that wrong? The two statements seem to conflict to me but they might be unrelated? If you have the time, I would appreciate your insight.

And one more thing, thanks for the advice on my last post! I will apply what you have said.


Chase Amante's picture


Stoicism (indifference / impassiveness) and mirroring are both great for what they're good for, although the two have different functions.

Mirroring is necessary for building connections, yes. If someone's wanting to build a connection with you, but feels like you aren't mirroring her back or aren't close to where she's at with behavior / actions / emotions, there'll seem to be a gulf. In the case of connection-building, stoicism doesn't work that well.

However, in other cases - overly-exuberant women in a nightclub, for instance, or someone who's trying to test you or tool you, or girls acting uppity and challenging - stoicism rules the day. It ignores bad behavior, providing no reinforcement, and quickly leads to extinction of that behavior.

Think of mirroring as positive reinforcement, and stoicism as extinction. You'll use them at different times, to further different aims, and following different behavior (mirroring for good behavior, stoicism for bad or unproductive / not useful behavior).


studentofthegame's picture

Hi chase.I am currently trying to learn Spanish.and many people have said that getting a girlfriend who speaks the language I want to learn can provide essential motivation that could make the process easier.I don't want to come off as I'm trying to impress her,yet I don't want it to seem like I'm using her.what is your opinion on this? Thanks :-)

Chase Amante's picture


In my experience, it helps somewhat in learning the proper tones and pronunciation of the language, and you can have her teach you different words here and there, sure. Although, having a girlfriend who speaks the language is no cure-all. I had a Spanish-speaking girlfriend for over two and a half years, and I still only speak around 50 words of the language. However, my Peruvian accent is pretty solid on those few words I do speak.

Anyway, if you mean what my opinion is on including this information when first meeting a girl, I wouldn't bother. If you tell her you're trying to learn Spanish, it only sounds like trying to force a connection. I'd just leave that to the side, and if the two of you end up dating, when she finds out you've been learning Spanish it'll just be a cute little nice-to-have.


Zac's picture

Hi Chase,

i agree with you here. A lot of things parents, boyfriends do that deem as punishment turn out to be a reward. This will be a hard thing to master, especially if you not used to listening, as in paying attention to the bigger picture. But I assume when you the nice guy who used to calibrate how to gauge people reaction, you can actually have a somewhat an edge in this topic because you intuitively read things very easily.


Chase Amante's picture


Yes, exactly.

Most people dealing with problems are either overly nice (they just let things happen and don't do anything about them), or overly firm (they flip out and make a big deal out of anything that passes a certain limit with them).

But the way you want to deal with most problems is a mixture of niceness and firmness. That's the combination most men lack (nice guys are too considerate without being firm; jerks are too firm without being considerate; genuine men, alternately, have a well-balanced approach of consideration and firmness), and it's one you'll see as a recurring theme throughout seduction and social skills in general... that interplay between consideration and firmness.


Anonymous's picture

The second example of reward punishment for saying "Ohmygodzounds!"; seems a little extreme. I think any self respecting person would laugh in your face if you told them to stop saying that or you will punish them. My guess is that is just a hypothetical example not a real life example. Now if the word was say "F***" that makes more sense.

Chase Amante's picture

Hi Anon,

Actually, that's one that I've used repeatedly in relationships, with 100% effectiveness across the board.

The part that may be lacking in how it's communicated is that this one's usually somewhat funny, in that the girl keeps saying something annoying, you keep telling her to stop, and finally you tell her, trying not to laugh, that you're simply not going to talk to her for 20 minutes the next time she uses it. She laughs and says, "Really? Come on!" and you laugh and say, "Try it! You think I'm kidding...!"

Then she does it, and you point it out and tell her you're going in the other room, and laughs and says you've got to be kidding me... and then you do it. And then it happens again. And then again.

And then it stops being funny to her and starts being annoying. And as soon as the emotion of annoyance and irritation is anchored in her mind to that particular word or behavior, it evaporates from her vocabulary or repertoire, and she stops saying it or doing it.

Try it sometime. It's funny, and it's very effective.


Slightly Confused's picture

I am confused with something in the article that seems to contradict itself. You state that we should not use punishment in our relationship but then the example of the girl using the annoying phrase, the dinner texting girl, and the cancelling the vacation all seem to be using negative punishment (i.e. the remove of a positive stimulus to decrease the behaviour in the future). Can you clarify why this is not a contradiction and explain how to know when you are using negative reinforcement instead of negative punishment? (something like: by telling her what you are doing it changes from punishment to reinforcement)

To further clarify: from what I understand, reinforcement always makes the behaviour more likely while punishment always makes the behaviour less likely. Positive operand conditioning always adds a stimulus after the fact (can be a reinforcement or a punishment) while negative operand conditioning takes away (can be a reinforcement or punishment), as you stated in the beginning of the article. In all of the cases I mentioned above it seems that we are not trying to make the behaviour more likely but instead decrease its occurrence. Thus these reactions would be a form of punishment (unless we were somehow reinforcing the behaviour of someone when he/she is not doing what is annoying). We are also removing something, such as talking to the person, going out to dinner, or going on a vacation. Thus it seems to me that you are advocating using negative punishment instead of positive punishment. If that is the case can you explain why negative punishment is better than positive punishment and other forms of reinforcement (such as positive punishment is too harsh and it is too hard to reinforce all of the times when they are not doing it)? If I am mistaken can you explain why?

Chase Amante's picture

Slightly Confused,

You're completely correct; I've mixed up the two here. Sorry for the confusion and the incorrect use of terminology.

What I'm terming "reinforcement" here is incorrectly labeled, and is actually "appetitive stimulus." What we're avoiding is not "punishment" but rather "aversive stimulus."

Thanks for pointing out the error. This article requires some revision, which I'll tackle tonight or sometime tomorrow - the update should clear up the confusion.


Chase Amante's picture

Corrected - thanks again, Slightly Confused.


Slightly Confused's picture

Thanks for the new article. I was wanting to understand it really well since the topic seems very important. It is a lot clearer to me now.

Operand conditioning seems to be key to not only relationships as you mentioned here, but pickup as well. A lot of your articles, including the latest one on girls being aloof, uses positive reinforcement to reinforce girls doing things to move the interaction along and negative punishment to dissuade them from taking actions that hinder it. So I really wanted to understand the underlying concepts well. And the articles do a good job of clarifying the appropriate response, which I appreciate.

It does seem that negative punishment is the way to go in most cases, since it is hard to think of all of the effects attempting to use positive punishment may have, such as giving attention. Negative punishment, when done appropriately, seems to be much better because: 1) we are tying that good feeling to us or something we provide and 2) it makes it come off as more of a challenge to get those stimuli, which make them more valuable. I hadn't thought about it that way before reading the article.

Thanks for handling my earlier comment so well. I'll have to remember how you responded for when I run into that situation in the future. If you want another article idea, you could write one on corrections. It could talk about how to handling being corrected in different situations as well as when and how to correct others. The article could differentiate between corrections based on opinions and based on facts and could talk different situations such as pickup, a long term relationship, being out with friends, meeting someone new, and in a business situation, like one were a boss says something incorrect (or the boss corrects you), when you are with peers, or when you are talking to a customer. It also could cover the situations when you should and should not correct yourself when you realize you are wrong and the long term effects handling the situation a certain way may have. I realize that may be too big of a topic to cover but hopefully it gives you some ideas or something you can use.

Chase Amante's picture


You’re very correct, positive reinforcement / negative punishment is a big part of the pickup process – I was focused on rewarding and punishing since the beginning of my pickup career, but I think anyone who spends enough time in-field naturally figures out you get the best results by rewarding and granting attention for good behavior and removing rewards and attention for bad.

You also have a great insight on negative punishment there. The goal ultimately in pickup is to become such a valuable guy to have attention from – and to provide such desired attention – that its removal instantly makes the girl regret having lost that attention. Obviously, the effects of this get stronger and stronger the better your fundamentals are and the rarer a find you are for most women. In relationships, the effect of fundamentals and personal desirability is still there, but its modulated by the fact that it’s a relationship, and no matter how strong or weak someone’s base attractiveness, their attention is still desired by default to some degree (or else the relationship wouldn’t exist).

The article on corrections – yeah, that’d be a fun one to write, actually. There are some weird rules in pickup about correcting yourself – a lot of times, even if you’re very, very wrong, you need to stick to your guns regardless, even if you realize it, at least until things calm down / the pickup is over. It’s an emotional elevation thing – if emotions are cresting, a course correct mid-crest can cause a crash. But when people are rational, if you’re wrong, if you don’t correct when you’re clearly wrong, you’ll simply lose those people’s respect (although you may also whip more ardent, unquestioning followers up into a frenzy… religious and political leaders use this sometimes). Anyway, it’s weird – I’ll do an article on it sometime real soon.


The M's picture

Hi Chase,

Couldn't behavior-shaping come across as a bit controlling and inhumane? Why would a girl want to stay in a relationship where she is trained like a pet or a child? I guess the redeeming quality is that she knows that the relationship will be more satisfying if you each eliminate your irritating behaviors.

But running "experiments" on each other in a relationship just strikes me as...unnatural. The whole bit about skipping a week or timing for 20 minutes, for instance, feels kind of cold. If she truly wants the relationship to work, won't telling her in a very genuine and calm way what you want be enough?

It also doesn't seem to pass the "James Bond test" - I can't picture him going through either of the above things. It would look petty for a man of his caliber, and go against the law of least effort.

And then, won't she want to behavior-shape you, too? It could be kind of fun, I guess, but I don't know if that's what you were going for.

I don't have any doubts about the other techniques you described, reinforcement and extinction.

The M

Chase Amante's picture

Hey M-

I can see how you'd think so if you haven't used these before.

In fact, these are actually very humane things to use, when you think about the alternative (behaviors never getting fixed, and the partners growing increasingly displeased with one another instead of increasingly pleased, stronger, better, and happier together).

Normally you'll start by telling the person to please stop doing something and explain why it's better not to do the incorrect thing. You always want to get buy-in, of course; if you're unilaterally trying to change something the other person doesn't agree need changing, they at the very least need to understand why YOU think it needs changing and acknowledge the affect it's having on your emotions. Using the technique without this element can lead to resentment, yes.

However, simply telling someone to please stop something almost never works. Try it sometime - you can spend months telling someone to knock something off over and over again, and have it never bear any fruit (other than you wasting a lot of time and annoying the other person).

If you're good enough at stopping bad behaviors on your own, women won't need to behavior shape you. Even if you aren't, however, a woman needs to be logically aware enough of what you're doing and what she'd rather you do, and that's rare. Still though, even if she does, it's not a bad thing, and if she's doing it responsibly (like you will be), it'll help you be better and remove bad behaviors.

To imagine Bond doing this, imagine Bond looking at a woman with an impish grin, and saying, very slowly, "If you say that again, I am going to stand up, go in the other room, and shut the door for twenty minutes. And when I come out, I expect that you'll be cured." And she says it, daring him to do so, and he stands up, slowly, holding eye contact with her, and walks off into the other room and shuts the door, taking his computer with him to continue with international spy duties.

... of course, Bond doesn't really do relationships or stick around with women for more than a few months, so maybe painting the picture is irrelevant in the first place! Just try and picture a married Bond...



The M's picture

Thanks for all of the elaboration, Chase. Now I understand how to respond if a girl objects in the way I did. :) I was pretty skeptical before, but am willing to give it a try now.

The M

Wolf's picture

This was a really good article Chase And all of your articles are good. I have a question though. How can I get over shyness chase? Im really shy about talking to girls I don't know trying to pick them up, how can I get some courage? Appreciate it.

Chase Amante's picture


Check this article out - should answer this one for you:

Overcoming Approach Anxiety


Desperate Girl's picture

Hi, Chase.

I enjoyed very much your article. I'm a girl (only girl here, as it seems) and I'm a psychology student who's having some trouble with her long-distance boyfriend. There are some things he does that I hate, but like you said, asking nicely for him to stop is just a waste of time: he keeps apologizing and promising he will stop, but doesn't, and this has been repeating itself for almost 2 years. And just now, by reading your article, I realized I was giving him the attention he was probably seeking, instead of using the proper approach (positive reinforcement and negative punishment).

So now, I just told him a couple of minutes ago that if he does this thing again (I won't get into what it is), we won't talk at all the next day. He laughed at me and said it wouldn't work, and I just smiled back and said I was willing to take that chance (knowing, of course, that it will work).

I'm excited to try this out and finally seeing some change.

Thank you very much! =)

Franco Lombardi's picture


Keep in mind that your negative punishment level needs to match the seriousness of the misdemeanor. You didn't state what it is that your boyfriend is doing, but it's very much possible that a "day" of not talking to him won't be enough to ruffle his feathers.

The idea behind the negative punishment is to reinforce negative feelings in his mind, so it might be best to say, "if you do this again, we won't talk for awhile." Then at that point, I would actually wait until he contacts you because you suddenly went cold on him. THAT will resonate with him.

By telling him that you won't talk to him for a day, he'll likely just say in his mind, "okay, one day is not a big deal," and then continue to do what he was doing anyway. By saying "awhile," it leaves some doubt in his mind as to how long it will be, and even if it's only been two or three days, he might actually start to worry and end up contacting you instead. That negative feeling that he received from worrying about you will be more likely to leave an imprint on his actions and actually solve the problem.

Just some advice. ;)

- Franco

Desperate Girl's picture

Hi Franco,
I get where you're coming from, but:
1. I think 1 day of not talking matches the seriousness of the behavior I'm looking to change. Besides, keep in mind that we're in a long distance relationship, and we're used to talking ALL DAY every day, so one day of no contact at all is plenty.
2. When he screws up, he usually contacts me right away. So, "waiting for him to contact me first" won't actually work.
3. This happened on Monday night, meaning we spent all day yesterday not talking and he kept sending me messages saying he missed me too much and was hating not talking to me. He actually didn't wait until this morning to call me, at 12:00am he was already calling me because the punishment was over. I think I ruffled his feathers :P

Anyways, thank you for your advice, I appreciate it :)

- DG

James 's picture


Chase thank you for taking the time to put this article together. I find it to be a pragmatic and practical approach to behavior shaping, and I really haven't seen something so well structured and easy to remember. I have a tendency to exploit the holes in things and I was hoping you may be able to shed some light on Stating your Goal and what could go wrong.

What should be your partner's response to the goal? What if they disagree are not receptive. How do you proceed?



Elche's picture

(Sorry, I haven't actually read the whole article)

Do you know about the book "punished by rewards" by Alfie Khon? It basically argues that rewards can be as dangerous as punishment, and should pretty much never be used. It argues this mostly in an educational context, and I don't have very much dating experience, but his argument is basically that rewards destroy people's inherent motivation to become better or learn about things. I haven't actually read the book, though- I heard about it on a podcast called Education Bookcast. 

An example of the negative effects of rewards is a system to get children to read more. It gave student's a pizza code every time they read a book. What this does is it conditons them to read not to learn and educate themselves, but for the pizza(the wrong reason!). This means that when they stop getting pizza for reading, it will almost be like a punishment, and they no longer will want to read.

Anyway I have no idea what 95% of this article says(which means i really shouldn't be commenting here. Sorry. I'll try to read it later and expand on my thoughts). I just thought Alfie Kohn's ideas could be useful to you, if you haven't heard of him already.

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