How to retrain a spouse that curses a lot


I'm wondering if anyone has techniques to get my husband to stop swearing so much around our 7 month old. I've been pretty good about watching myself, but he needs constant reminders. His excuse is that he can't speak yet and no matter how much I tell him that he's learning his vocab now, he thinks I'm crazy. I've been thinking about using a swear jar, but neither one of us keeps cash. (The plus side is that I would probably be able to go on a huge shopping spree lol) He's got the stereotypical sailor mouth (he does this for a living) Any help/insight would be appreciated!


I come at this from a behavioral perspective. This is a behavioral problem, it needs a behavioral solution. What I am going to teach you here is based on operant conditioning techniques, specifically the how to extinguish an unwanted behavior technique. I mostly teach this in the context of how to stop bullying and harassment, but it also works for cursing spouses.

First thing you need to do?

Have something you can say. No one stops a habit cold turkey - this is no different. So make a game out of it. When he swears say - something funny that let's him know - it's not ok. Don't be mean. Just - Oh No You Didn't! This thing you say is called a delta.

2nd thing you need to do: 

Do this every time you hear him swear. Every time. After 3 to 4 weeks (the amount of time it takes to break a habit), he should stop.

What you need to know to make this work:

In between now and then, when you are issuing this delta (oh no you didn't) you will notice that he will get angry and frustrated with you. That's part of the process. It's called an extinction burst. Basically it means he may get worse before he stops. Don't get mad at him for this - it's part of the process. Doesn't mean he's horrible, just this is what happens when you unlearn a behavior.

Be Nice:

If he stops and smiles and makes a joke back and tries to do better - thank him. Don't underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.


 Find a "curse" that is socially appropriate that he can say in lieu of the "bad" ones and give him positive props for using it when he does. The key is to make it positive and encouraging. This isn't something to argue about. Just retrain him.

If you want to learn more about this technique, get my book: The Bully Vaccine or take one of my courses - like Why is Change so Hard

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