Coupling Connection - Dr. Jenn Oikle
Coupling Connection - Dr. Jenn Oikle

Are You STILL Dating That Jerk?

Understanding the Super Glue
of the Relationship Universe

Article by Jennifer Oikle, Ph.D.

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It’s an age-old question: “Just what does she see in him?!” or “How can he stay with her- she treats him so badly!?”

We see it all the time, nice people putting up with nasty (bad) behavior from their partners.

We think, “God, I’d never put up with that behavior!” Until our next dating relationship, when we are, in fact, putting up with equally distasteful treatment. It’s a painful, maddening, frustrating, and perplexing dilemma!

So, just why do we do it- when we know we deserve better?

While there are lots of complicated and deep psychological reasons why different people put up with bad behavior, there is also a simpler reason that affects us all: Intermittent Reinforcement.

Yup, that’s right. Remember that white mouse from your Psychology 101 class? If you were paying attention that day, you learned that when a mouse is trained to push a lever for a reward (such as food), he learns best if he gets the food only some of the time, not all of the time.

It may be counterintuitive (and not very nice), but the best way to teach any behavior is to reward someone only randomly when he performs the action. Since the mouse never knows when the reward is coming, and he really wants that treat, he’ll keep pressing away at the lever all day long. When a behavior is learned this way, it becomes a strong habit and is highly resistant to extinction, that is, he’ll keep performing the behavior for a long time even without any reward.

Well, you might say, that sucks for the mouse, but what does that have to do with my Saturday night date with Jack, Mr. He’ll Probably Show Up Late, If He Bothers To Show Up At All? Unfortunately, learning principles apply equally well to people as they do mice.

And the power of intermittent reinforcement is a scientifically proven fact! If someone treats us well only part of the time, we are more likely to keep coming back for more. As long as our partner treats us nicely some of the time, we have the hope that they will treat us well more of the time.

Their good behavior creates an expectation, an anxious anticipation, of the next time we’ll get positive attention. Think about it this way, if you are Mr. Mouse, when you get your food reward each and every time you press the lever, you get full pretty quickly and soon you lose interest in the activity. But, if you only get the food reward, say one out of ten times, then you are still hungry and will keep hammering at that lever, eagerly awaiting your next morsel.

So there you have it. The good news is, unlike poor Mr. Mouse who does not have higher thinking, YOU, as a more evolved species, have the power to recognize this negative pattern and the ability to exercise willpower to change it.

You do not have to be a slave to learned habits You have a choice. The next time you are in this situation, Ask yourself one question: Do I really deserve to be treated well only one out of ten times?

Of course not! You deserve to be treated well 9.8888 times out of 10 (sometimes people slip up).

If you chose to stay in a situation where you are being treated poorly, recognize that on a deep level you are telling yourself: “I am not worthy of being treated well all of the time. I do not deserve more.”

That’s a dangerous message to be telling yourself because another psychological principle is this: You get what you insist on.

In other words, people will treat you in whatever ways you allow them to treat you. If you don’t insist on good behavior, you probably won’t get it.

Make your standards higher and be prepared to walk away if your latest beau can’t or won’t live up to them. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Because only by ungluing yourself from Mr. Wrong, will you be available to meet Mr. Right.

And you can bet that you deserve that!

 

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