The Behavior Window Saves the Day and My Dog Is Finally Allowed to Visit My Boyfriend's House

Written by Denise Montgomery

My boyfriend and I are a classic, almost laughably complete case of Opposites Attract. Pretty much the only thing we agree on is sushi (we love it.) Otherwise? You can bet if he’s into it, I’m put off by it, and vice versa.

  • I am a flamboyant extrovert; he is a measured introvert
  • I love sci-fi and fantasy; he refuses to watch “anything with spaceships”
  • He loves baseball; I despise professional sports of any kind
  • He eats nothing but carbs; I’m a protein-and-veggie kind of gal (at the dinner table, we call each other Mr. and Mrs. Sprat and finish things the other won’t touch)
  • He loves beer; I drink wine

I could go on, but there’s only so much room on the internet, and I’m afraid if I kept listing our differences, I’d run out of space.

Despite all these potential sources of conflict, we normally gel very well, finding the other’s “weirdness” quirky or charming or amusing rather than maddening. The differences normally do not get in the way of getting our relationship needs met.

But our most serious area of disagreement—the one that led us long ago to conclude that while we love each other very much, we will never, ever, under any imaginable circumstances, live together under the same roof—is the Order vs. Chaos Problem.

I’m going to borrow a useful little rubric I first learned in a leadership training workshop developed by Dr. Thomas Gordon. In its original form, it’s called the “Behavior Window,” and the basic idea is that somebody’s behavior will always fall into one of two areas: acceptance (no problem) or un-acceptance (somebody has a problem = unmet need). It’s the first step in identifying who owns the problem; then you can determine what to do next. In the example below, the child has a need to play, and the parent has a need not to replace windows “accidentally” broken.

 It’s straightforward:

(Image source:

Enter the needs conflict.

After 18 months of dog ownership, my adorable, sweet, mellow, loving whippet, Ralphie, had never been allowed to visit my boyfriend’s house. This was because, once or twice, the poor pup had had an indoor accident. Once when he was sick, once when he was unexpectedly confined too long during a blackout (I couldn’t get home to let him out), and once or twice immediately after long vacations, during the workday (as an editorial statement indicating he really preferred the arrangement at Mom’s house, where somebody was always there to rub his belly and keep him company).  But he is reliably housebroken.

Corrupting the Behavior Window model a bit, I’ve taken the liberty of mapping, not behaviors, but what I shall call “Artifacts of Living,” onto a modified Behavior Window to succinctly explain why Ralphie was pre-emptively banned from my boyfriend’s pristine dwelling. 

As you can see, when it comes to chaos and potential chaos, my window is wide open, while my boyfriend’s window is darned near nailed shut.


Last weekend, the three of us finally came to a meeting of the minds and hearts. We would do a trial run to see if there was a way to reconcile my need to occasionally visit the boyfriend’s place without abandoning Ralphie, and his need to keep his place spic-and span would be strictly enforced.

So the three of us went to his place. Boyfriend got out a doggie bed I bought for his place (a year ago, but who’s counting?). We told Ralphie to lie down on it. He did.

And the few times he strayed from it, my boyfriend practically followed him around with a Swiffer.

But Ralphie was, in the end, very good boy.

Conclusion: I shall buy my boyfriend a big box of Swiffers, and we will visit more often. But we will never, ever, ever live under the same roof.


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