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Pete Saunders
Jul 14, 2011

I Love the Smell of Dirt

This blog post is not about my quirky habits and preferences, even though I do love the smell of dirt, and burnt wood, and sand. It is, rather, about change and what can, or should, be changed about a person, specifically in the context of human behavior. My wife is fascinated about my fixation with dirt. I have no doubt her fascination would quickly turn into revulsion if I were to start storing large quantities of dirt in containers in our bedroom, close to our head so I can inhale the scent at night. As counselors and counselors-in-training, are we trying to change behavior or perspective? Can we truly permanently change someone’s behavior?

My interest in change has stemmed from my interaction with married couples, where at least one spouse is demanding changes in behavior of the other spouse. As it is my interest and goal to work with families and married couples in building and maintaining healthy relationships, I have taken it upon myself to address this desire, and in some cases, demand, for someone else to change.

I do not believe I am the only one that does things that irk his partner, or whose partner does things that may be considered detestable and downright annoying. It is not uncommon to desire change in these situations. Those who are riskier might actually voice those desires, which are very likely to be met with boisterous resistance, at least initially. The point is that whether or not the desire for change is voiced or is latent, often, such desires do exist.

When confronted or exposed with demands for change, I usually encourage these individuals to focus on what they are learning about themselves and how they can grow from the experience. Of course, I can also share with them the more appealing option of operant conditioning with positive punishment. Some wives are already doing this without actually realizing they are. For example, I know of some wives who withheld sexual intimacy from their husbands, who had committed the ghastly act of forgetting their anniversary or birthday, worst if the husband actually planned a night out with the guys.

As a result of my training, and possibly interpersonal skills, I can determine when my affixation with dirt threatens my relationships. I have come to realize that it is not as easy for everyone to determine when a change in behavior is necessary. Often, that change happens after a crisis. The obvious challenge for us is helping our clients see the need for change and equipping them to successfully achieve it.

Having just entered the helping profession, I acknowledge that I still have a great deal more to learn. This community of counselors and counselors-in-training have been contributing in a significantly to my growth and development in this profession. As such, I turn to you again to share your thoughts on behavior change.

Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at

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