Bedwork 3: Thank You Note

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so this is the time when most people feel socially obligated to have warm fuzzies about their partner. Interestingly enough, research is now telling us that what we focus on grows, so you will have more of those warm fuzzies when you are paying attention to all the things that s/he does right rather than all the things that s/he is doing wrong.

Back in 1965, researchers studied and developed a concept now known as the Pygmalion Effect.[i] According to this phenomenon, a teacher who expects a certain student to do well in her class will give that student more feedback, smile at him more often, and nonverbally reinforce the expectation that this student will succeed. Often, these students go on to meet all expectations and rise to the top of their classes. It is, in essence, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nearly two decades later, Doctors Eden and Ravid tested the concept of the Pygmalion Effect in their Israeli Defense Forces’ experiment.[ii] Members of the Israeli military were brought into a command combat course for training. Four days before the training began, the researchers told the instructors that they had assessed each trainee and given them a “regular,” “high” or “unknown” command potential (CP). The instructors were to study all the soldiers’ files and their accompanying CP scores before classes began.

Unbeknownst to the instructors, these command potentials were not based on testing done on the soldiers, but instead randomly assigned. Roughly a third of the soldiers fell into each category of command potential. Soldiers in all three command potential groups were then evenly distributed amongst the classes and instructors.

In as little as a week, researchers noticed a difference between soldiers who had been designated with a high command potential and the others. They were at the top of their class, having rapidly excelled past the others. By the end of the training period, not only had they outperformed the other soldiers in their coursework and exercises, but they also reported they had a much more positive attitude towards future training, and evaluated their instructors much higher than the other soldiers.

This experiment showed that people rise or fall to the level of expectation around them. Whether you realize it or not, you send out nonverbal messages of anticipation to your colleagues, friends, children and even your spouse. They respond to these messages in how they behave around you.

If you are constantly expecting, perceiving and thinking of your spouse’s failure, you are going to see it. You will miss all the times your spouse does well because you will subconsciously toss out any exception to the rule and look for instances that confirm your belief of him/her. More importantly, your spouse will fail because s/he is not getting the subliminal reassurances that you expect her/him to succeed.

The great news is the Pygmalion Effect works both negatively and positively. You can change your levels of expectation with your spouse. When you begin to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship, this allows her space to change and grow. It allows him to be appreciated for his efforts. It allows her to respond warmly to you. The fact you have shifted your attention to the successful encourages him to keep up the good work.

So here’s your Bedwork for the week: Catch your spouse doing three things right this week. It might be in the way that he parents the kids, the tireless effort she puts forth to keep all the schedules organized, the fact that he takes the garbage out or her refusal to let you leave without a hug and a kiss. Look for three things that you appreciate about your spouse and then write him/her a thank you note for those things. Express your appreciation for all the little things you noticed this week. That will deepen the closeness between the two of you and get you well on your way to having a fabulous Valentine’s Day!

Want more Bedwork? Get my book The Essential Elements of Sex today.


[i] The original experiment was conducted in 1965, and the two researchers wrote a book on their findings in 1968 (updated in 1992). See Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1992). Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectation and Pupils’ Intellectual Development, 2nd ed. New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc.

[ii] Eden, D. (1992). “Leadership and Expectations: Pygmalion Effects and Other Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in Organizations.” Leadership Quarterly, 3(4): 271-305.