What we have to wake up to is that some of us are in relationships that are based on intermittent reinforcement. In this kind of relationship, the things we need, like love, are only granted inconsistently, unpredictably and occasionally. But the fact that they are granted occasionally, keeps us hooked. We are owned by the relationship. We build up so much despair and starvation that when we get a single scrap, the relief we experience by getting a scrap feels like nirvana and we begin to chase that feeling and do anything we can do to get it. If you are in this kind of a relationship, you are either the scientist tormenting the rat with the potential of pellets or you are the rat in the cage caught in a cycle of torment. No matter what, if you are in an intermittent reinforcement relationship, you are in an abusive relationship. Abuse is usually not the conscious intent, but it is abuse nonetheless.
Intermittent reinforcement can happen with any need or want we may have. It is especially prevalent in relationships relative to emotional needs. Needs like connection, belonging, appreciation, affection and commitment to name a few.
Some people fear intimacy and struggle with insecure attachments, like avoidant attachment for example. When this is the case, they subconsciously try to get away from the fear that comes up in the relationship by gaining control in the relationship. They do this by intermittently reinforcing their partner. They have no idea that they are in fact doing this. They partner ends up at their mercy, desperate for the occasional closeness they grant. An example of this is a man who spends a wonderful night with you and you talk and connect on a deep level one day and the next, he doesn’t return your phone calls and acts like you are strangers and pulls away. Then, randomly is able to connect again, especially when he senses you pulling away. The classic hot and cold relationship usually falls into this category.