Canadian professor, author, and clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, gave practical relationship advice to students of his Maps of Meaning course in a video which has now gone viral on the internet.
In this highly-recommended 10-minute video, Peterson shares proven and practical techniques on how to properly resolve conflicts with your partner, how to communicate your needs with fairness and clarity, why you should reward your partner for their efforts, and why long-term patience is necessary.
Jordan Peterson Relationship Advice Video
Transcript for Jordan Peterson Relationship Advice Video
“You’re a stupid person.”
You’re having an argument with your partner and you say, “You’re a stupid person, and you’ve always been a stupid person. And as far as I can tell, as far into the future as I can see, you’re going to remain a stupid person.
So what are they supposed to do, what are they going to do when you say that? They’re going to cry, like, if you mean it. They’re going to get angry, if you mean it. And they don’t like you very much.
And why is that? Well it’s like, it’s assault, basically. The only way really–the only thing you can do in a situation like that is: walk away, ignore it, respond in kind, or it degenerates into violence. That’s it. Because there’s no discussion. You haven’t left the person with anywhere to go. You’ve gone right to the top of their hierarchy and said, “Everything about you is wrong, and worse than that, all the mechanisms that we could use to correct it won’t work.” So those are fighting words. So don’t do that! Unless you want to have a fight.
Jordan Peterson Relationship Advice: Settle for the smallest behavior change.
So then you might say, “Well what would you do instead?” And the answer is: Deliver the least amount of information you possibly can. So let’s say you come home, and your person is watching TV. And you were kind of hoping they’d greet you at the door. You shouldn’t break down into tears and say, “You’re a stupid person, you’ve always been a stupid person, and you’re going to be a stupid person in the future.” You should say, “I have this peculiarity, and that is that when I come home, I don’t have enough confidence to just, be happy. I would like you to come, and say, just shut the TV off for two minutes, come to the front door and say, ‘Hello.’ And then you can go back and watch your TV. Would it be okay if you did that?”
And they’ll think, “…Well, you’ll have to pay for it somehow.” [Students laugh.] But then they’ll probably do it. And so, but the thing is, you’ve got to specify the routine that you want transformed at the highest possible level of resolution, and you want to recommend the minimal necessary change that will satisfy you.
Spell it out. Be specific.
So you can’t say, “If you loved me, you’d know how to greet me at the door.” Ha…NOT helpful. Because they’re stupid! [Students burst out laughing.] Right! And so are you! So you have to spell it out. It’s like, “What do you want? Exactly, what would make you satisfied?” And then you have to have your person grudgingly practice that a few times and you have to let them do it very badly and also in a bad temper and then you have to reward them for it, and then maybe 3 months later they’ll do it properly. So you need to know that. Because that’s what people are like. It’s very hard for them to learn new things and they’re very resistant to it, but they’re very responsive to reward.
B.F. Skinner’s Rat Experiments
So another thing – this is partly what B.F. Skinner figured out: so when he was training rats and he wanted a rat to do something, one of the things he would do is he’d put…maybe he was going to train the rat to climb up a little ladder. And he could get rats to climb ladders and then climb across like, little monkey bars and then spin around 3 times and then whack a ball and eat something like, he got incredibly complex behaviors out of rats. And the way he did that was patience.
So he’d put the ladder in the cage and the rat would just run around doing rat things. And then it would put its hand on the first rung, and Skinner would give it a pellet. And so after, even once, the rat’s going to be like, standing in the immediate vicinity of the ladder and then the frequency with which it’s going to go like this [mimes a rat putting its hand on the first rung] just increased so then he does it again, bang! Pellet!
Incremental Progress – “Wait until the rat does what you want, and then REWARD it.”
Well soon the rat is just going like this [mimes a rat putting its hand repeatedly on the first rung of the ladder] right? And then you wait until the rat tries the other hand. So you give it a pellet then. Then it’s going like this [mimes a rat alternately putting both paws on the first rung of the ladder] and then because he’s going to get bored it’ll go like this [mimes a rat putting its paw on an even higher rung of the ladder] it’ll hit the next stair – bang! You give it a pellet.
Soon the rat’s climbing and all the little things you want it to do. Now the problem with that is that you have to be patient. You have to wait till the rat does what you want.
Okay, that’s more relationship advice. [Students laugh.] Wait till the rat does what you want, and then reward it. And it’s unbelievably useful. And it’s also extraordinarily positive. I mean I’m being, you know, comical – in so far as I can manage that – about the situation, but people love reward, and they love attention. People love attention more than anything else. And so if you watch through the day, and your partner does something that’s good, say, “Bam! That was good!” [Students chuckle and giggle.] Or something like that. You can be inventive. And then they’ll do it more! And if you do that a whole bunch, like for a year, they’ll be doing things that are good for you just, all the time.
Jordan Peterson Relationship Advice: Never criticize your partner as they’re trying to please you.
But you have to be patient, which is very annoying, and you have to suppress your response to only respond to negative things. You know, because what we know about the expectancy models is that a deviation from expectation produces a burst of negative emotions, you know.
So you come home and the whole house is clean, but there’s like – I don’t know – the dog has shed on the rug or something and the person overlooked that, it’s like, you’re not going to see the clean house, you’re going to see that rug with the dog fur on it and you’re going to say, “Why didn’t you clean up the rug with the dog fur?” And they’re going to say, “Good luck getting me to clean up the house again.” And you know, because the thing is the exception stands out. And what’s done doesn’t. And the reason for that is you could just ignore what’s done. Because it’s done. It doesn’t get in your way. So it gets invisible really quickly. So you really got to watch that tendency.
“Don’t concentrate on the things they did wrong; that’s not smart!”
One of the things Nietzsche said was that if you really want to punish someone, you don’t punish them when they do something wrong, because they expect that. That’s not a punishment, they expect that. They might even be relieved by it. You want to punish them when they do something right. Because then you’ll really hurt them. And so that’s something to think about if you’re in a relationship, man. If someone’s done something right, DO NOT PUNISH THEM. You do that two or three times and that’s it and you’re not going to get them to do that anymore.
So, judiciousness. Watch what they’re doing. If something happens that’s good, notice it. And if they’ve done a bunch of things, don’t concentrate on the things they did wrong! That’s not smart! And it’s really hard on them too.
Allow your partner to train you, too.
Like in some sense this sounds manipulative and selfish, you know, because I’m teaching you how to train your partner [class laughs] but you should also teach them how to train you because it would be really nice if you could come home and the person would say, “Well, what did you do today?” And you say, “Well here’s a bunch of things I did,” and they say, “Well this looks really good, and that was great, and why don’t you do some more of that?” And you’re like, “Oh boy! It was a great day!” [Class laughs]. And so, you can train them to train you properly, and that’s a really helpful thing, especially if you do it over a few years, you know.
Jordan Peterson Relationship Advice: You’re both clueless. Be patient.
That’s how you have a good relationship because you’re both clueless as hell to begin with. [Class laughs]. You don’t know even what would make you happy much less what would make the other person happy. And so you’ve got to figure these things out bit by bit. And then you have to inform each other. And then you have to be patient enough to let your partner do these things really badly.
I’ll give you another example.
Sometimes I see couples sporadically in my clinical practice. I’m not a couple’s counselor, and so, but sometimes when I’m working with someone there’s an issue that needs to be discussed with both people because otherwise it’s just stupid.
And one of the things I often recommend to people – especially once they have kids is that they set aside – to use an anachronistic phrase – date nights. Well, everyone hates that idea. It’s like they say, “Well, you know—” they’ll just say that, “I’m not doing that.” That would be one objection, “We’re just not doing that. You know, that’s what we did before we got married.” Um, they’ll say, “Well, my partner would never go for that.” They’ve got a bunch of excuses why that isn’t going to work. And so, I’ve heard all those excuses, I know all of them. And then maybe I convince them, “Yeah, yeah, sure I know, this is stupid. It’s awkward, it’s artificial, that’s okay. Just try it once.”
The Arithmetic Behind Date Nights
So then they go and try it and then they come back, and they say, “We had an absolutely miserable time. Really, we had a miserable time. We couldn’t agree on what movie to go to and then, you know, she took me to her movie and I really didn’t like it, and so we fought all the way home. We’re never doing that again.” And I say, “Oh really? You’ve got 30 years, 400 days, that’s 12,000 days. Okay so, you’re not going to do that. You’re going to spend the next 12,000 days without having any real romantic evenings and interactions with your spouse. That’s your plan?” [Class laughs.]
And I like doing it. I like doing arithmetic with my clients. They hate that. [Class laughs.] They hate arithmetic. It’s like, “Well, no, that sounds like a bad idea.” So I said, “Okay would you like some romance in your life, or are you just done with that?” [class laughter] Really…people can really go for a long time with no romance at well. So they say, “Well no, maybe, we’d like some of that.” Well how much? Once a year? “Well, no.” Once a month? “Well…no.” Once every two weeks? Well sometimes people are really busy. It’s like okay, that beats the hell out of zero. Once a week? Twice a week? Okay, whatever, we’re going to start with a range.
“It’s worth the aggravation.”
Okay. What would a good evening look like, like if you could both get exactly what you wanted, what would it look like?
Well, then they have to think about that because the previous theory was, “My stupid partner should know what I like,” and that’s what the partner is thinking too, it’s like, good luck with that because no, they don’t have a clue especially if they’re men, they don’t have a clue.
So you have to tell them what you want and how they could deliver it and vice versa which is very awkward and horrible. And then you have to practice it for 6 months. Because it takes a lot of practice to do something sophisticated really well. And then if you do that it’s like, poof! You’ve got it for the rest of your life. So it’s worth the aggravation.
“Let them do it badly for a while, at least they’re DOING it!”
And the first time the rat puts it paw up on the ladder, it’s just sort of doing it accidentally. You can’t expect it to do it well. And that’s exactly how to view your own progress and the progress of your partner. It’s like, let them do it badly for a while, at least they’re DOING it. So, and if you think they should do it faster, well, look real hard and see how easy it is to change your own behavior. Because it’s really hard to change your own behavior. Everybody says, “I’m going to exercise 3 times a week” on New Year’s and it’s like, no one does. They buy the memberships and then they feel guilty for having them but they don’t actually go to the gym. And that’s a perfect example of how difficult it is to transform behavior.
And that is the end of the transcript for the Jordan Peterson video on Relationship Advice.
Main Points of Jordan Peterson Relationship Advice Talk
- Never assume your partner knows what you want. Often times, even you don’t know what you actually want. So communicate clearly and fairly.
- Humans are highly-responsive to reward. Punishment breeds negativity and resentment.
- If you want your partner to adapt a new behavior that they have never done successfully before, always settle for the smallest step possible, and reward them for it, even if they do it badly. Over time–and with patience–your partner will progressively be able to do more. For instance, do not ask them to clean the entire house when they have never done it before. Start with something ridiculously small, like simply putting their dishes in the sink. Show consistent gratitude, reward them, and take it slow. In a few months, you will find that they are not just putting their dishes in the sink naturally, but perhaps also sweeping the floor, throwing away the garbage, etc.
- Never criticize your partner as they try to adapt new behavior. If you do, you may never get them to do what you want. If you ever get impatient, look in the mirror and remember all the times you have tried to adapt a new behavior but failed. If your partner begins to associate the behavior with stress, pain, or criticism, they will stop doing it.
- Allow your partner to train you as well, using rewards. It goes both ways.
- Although it’s a long process, once you have it right, you have it for life.
More From Jordan Peterson
If you enjoyed the video and transcript on Jordan Peterson giving relationship advice, you might also enjoy his most recent 2018 best-selling self-help book: 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos.
Peterson’s first book–which he claims to have written and re-written every sentence 50 times–is called Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief.
Jordan Peterson also has other videos regarding relationship advice on the internet.