He Won't Go Away
Q: This gentleman and I have been going together for seven years, and for three years I've been trying to tell him that our relationship is over. It will not end in marriage for several reasons, and I want out. I'm not happy, and I'm ready to move on. Problem is, he keeps trying to come back . . . e-mails, flowers, phone calls. He just won't quit and won't take no for an answer. How can I get him, once and for all, to realize that it's time for him to move on, too? -- Ellen, 50
Dr. Susan: Have you tried calling 911? Because you make it sound as though your gentleman friend has imprisoned you in a basement with nothing but an internet connection. But wait--you say he sends you flowers. How beastly of him. Okay, Ellen, here is the most important you need to know right now: Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful motivator of all. If you occasionally respond to your pal's phone calls and e-mails, you're continuously giving him hope. Rats will continue to peck at a lever for randomly given pellets until they're half-dead, but if the pellets simply stop and stay stopped, the rats will eventually quit pecking. Think of your guy as a large rat and use simple psychology on him. Don't respond to his e-mails. Not at all. Not a word. Be sure you have Caller ID and never answer his phone calls. Tell whoever delivers the flowers to Return to Sender.
The reason he won't take no for an answer is because you keep trying to argue him out of wanting you, instead of making yourself utterly unavailable so he can get used to the idea that you're no longer interested. Because you are no longer interested, right, Ellen? What he realizes needn't concern you. At this point you're responsible only for what you want. So stop being such a softie and unlock your own prison.
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Advice for Her
Advice for Him
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.