Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Romanticism: Don't Believe the Lie

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I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of watching the movie The Princess Bride, but it is one of my favorite movies. There is nothing better than watching a movie about "true love". The Princess Bride is a story of how Westley and Buttercup overcome adversity for the sake of "true love" in order to be united in a blissful union.

In one of my favorite scenes, Westley heads off to storm the castle to rescue his beloved Buttercup. Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie, yell after him,

"Have fun storming the castle boys!"

She then turns to her husband and asks,

"Do you think it will work?"

"It would take a miracle," he replies.

And so it seems with recovery after infidelity. Our souls resonate with the theme expressed in the movie. We long to experience what Westley and Buttercup portray. We relentlessly pursue what we don't have in an attempt to obtain what we believe will finally fulfill our desires and make us complete.

I Want What I Can't Have: Romanticism

Our only problem is that it never works. Culture's idea of "true love" is founded on a concept called romanticism. Romanticism is based on the dynamic of two individuals who are longing to be together but are separated by life's circumstances. Romanticism can only apply to love outside of marriage because the ingredients always consist of secrecy and mystery, for example, stolen glances or secret opportunities. Therefore, romanticized relationships have a premarital or extra-marital association.

Poets rarely write of the romantic love of marriage, the care required for children, or the mutuality of love in old age. Romanticized love, by its own definition, is something "beyond" or "out of this world" which cannot be contained in the defined walls of a marriage. The theme never differs; it is always the same song with a different verse.

Consider some of the great romantic plots through the ages: Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, The Notebook or Pretty Woman. There are endless examples to pull from, but they all have the same theme: two individuals searching for the fulfillment of love, who are longing to be together but whose efforts are tragically foiled by circumstances. Even more telling is what happens at the end of these stories when they finally manage to come together. The curtain falls, the music plays, and the story ends.

At best, relationships based on romanticism are immature and unrealistic. Indeed, they contain intense emotions, but they are not about mature, lasting love. Instead, they are based on wanting what I don't have and the sacrifices I'm willing to make to get what I want. They're not based on what's in the best interest of another; they are based on what I believe I need in order to be happy.

In the end, this romanticized "true love"
is incredibly and unequivocally selfish.

I Have What I Don't Always Want: Marriage

While romanticism is based on wanting what you don't have, marriage is based on having what you don't always want. There comes a point in every marital relationship where we are wounded or disappointed by our mate. It's not until that moment that we have the opportunity to really love another.

Until that moment, love is based on the belief that your mate can complete you, that being with them will result in happiness and fulfillment. But after that moment, when hope is crushed and you've abandoned your illusion that they are what you need, then your love (if you're able to love) becomes something more mature and, for some, divine. It is an opportunity for your love to become less about you and what you want and more about truly choosing the other person. Love is selfless and will continue to act in the best interest of the other, even when it doesn't immediately benefit or bring instant gratification to self.

Romanticism says, "Make everything about me." Love tells us to be compassionate and concerned for others instead.

If romanticism seeks "true love"
(which is nothing more than a selfish desire to have my needs met)
then I believe the real goal in marriage is to "truly love."

Truly Loving Our Mate

To truly love your spouse requires sacrifice. It requires you to be for them even when it feels they are against you. It requires you to choose them when they don't deserve it. It requires you to care more about saving the relationship than winning the argument. Above all, it requires selflessness.

Truly loving another is the most difficult, counter-cultural thing we can do. But, over time, it will lead to a more fulfilling relationship than you've probably ever known. That being said, truly loving your spouse does not mean you have to subject yourself to situations or relationships that are not safe. Truly loving your spouse does not include enabling poor choices or remaining in codependent situations.

Often, after a betrayal, I can hear the echo of Miracle Max telling Valerie "It would take a miracle." The biggest blessing of working with couples recovering from infidelity's devastation is the opportunity to actually see miracle after miracle take place. By the grace of God, we do have the ability to forgive and the ability to "truly love" our spouse.

My prayer is for you to experience the true love that comes when you least deserve it.

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This was one of the best reads you have put out. It Seems to me that you wrote this specifically for my situation. The only thing I would add is that it takes two to find that deeper and fuller love. My wife had multiple affairs behind my back and front of my children and in my face. I chose to forgive her and try and build our marriage through counseling. She couldn't see any benefit in saving our marriage. We had a great marriage it wasn't perfect but it was close. Her alcoholism and the affair was just too much for her to handle. As I work through my emotions and rebuild my life I look back and wonder if your program would've helped. but if anyone is looking to save your marriage I would urge them to try your program. They cannot go it alone, to not seek the help of a marriage counselor once a week or every other week depending on schedules.

God bless and keep up the good work. Divorce changes you and sometimes not for the good

Romance vs. Marriage


You hit a grand slam with this article. I plan to share this with my men and hopefully some of the wives will pick it up too. God bless

Great article

This article is so true. Six years after discovery of my husbands infidelity and 35 years of learning about the beauty of unconditional love, both ours and God's.


Why is it we have to find this out AFTER an affair? Why arent we learning this in in pre marital counseling and from our parents? It would have saved me so much heartache if my own wayward husband had had this taught to him before we married.


I had the fairy tale. Everything about my marriage was what I'd hoped and wished for. We were both very happy and all our needs were met. For 10 years we never even argued. Then a woman from his past moved 3 blocks away. He lost his mind and persuade her to have an affair. Although she was coming to my home pretending to be my friend, they carried on a relationship for 15 months behind my back. I accidentally caught them. My world has turned upside down. He says he's sorry and wants to stay married. It has been over a year since dday and he still "can't remember" anything about what happened between them. The things I know for fact, he denies. Suddenly, I just can't believe this has happened. Why? Just why?


Great article Rick! It is a great reminder to invest in what's real as oppose to letting out feeling deceive us into thinking of chasing after the feeling. During the early days after discovery , I felt like I was Alice In wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. I'd hate to throw what I have now away to chase after illusions . Sonetimes there are days when I really struggle. Those are the days that I have to say a little prayer to ask the HS to give me strength and courage. And , not to tempt me beyond I could beat. Sometimes it works sometimes not but what I think is important is to keep getting up and to persevere


I truly love my husband. I am able to do all the things mentioned in the article, which was wonderful by the way. However I am not sure that he can. He has become so self centered that I am not sure at this point he can or even wants to change. He does not ever take the time to even consider how his actions might effect our family. He stopped the affair, but now avoids dealing with any of the after math or problems in our home by working 70+ hours a week. I keep warning him that if I am going to single parent and be responsible for all the household stuff, then staying married has no benefits. I do the very best that I can to meet his needs and wants. I am willing to take responsibility for my contributions to the issues in our marriage and do the work to restore things, but I am still not sure that my husband is. He says that he is and says that he will do the work, but so far his actions do not back that up. At what point do I throw in the towel? How long do I give it? The first D-day was 7 months ago then another D-day 2 weeks after that when he admitted that this was not his first affair, but his 3 spanning our 21 year marriage.

Are they "really" working on surviving infidelity

SLM- From what I know of your situation (reading your comment here) I am in much of the same situation in dealing with my husband and his infidelity. He will say a lot of the right things but I feel like his actions dont match his words. He has never outwardly expressed any remorse, shame or any understanding of what pain this has caused me. We are together and do get along but something is still missing in our relationship. 20 years together and he says this is where he wants to be but i somehow keep waiting for him to walk in one evening and declare it's over. I'm just curious how your situation is going as i continue to attempt saving this marriage. Sometimes it feels like he only stays because he wont admit he has failed (in many ways) as a husband and a father too. I feel like he is still searching for that illusive romantic love to save him, because he certainly doesnt put much effort into "us". And has never answered most questions (even though he says he has told me everything). I'm probably just fooling myself that he wants me because it's always all about him and his needs.


For someone who was never taught this kind of love...how do you learn it?

Stage 1

I agree why come back to good old stage 3 when stage 1 is so great for them. Is it just so they can gear up for another stage 1. They weren't happy with stage 3 why try it again. What are they thinking if it wasnt good enough then why would it be good enough now

There is hope

Just my opinion, but the unfaithful have to come out of the fog of limerance where they can realistically see the affair partner as they truly are, and the situation as it actually is instead of the embellished one in their mind. Then if the unfaithful can figure out what is the flaw in themselves that made them turn to this type of behavior, there is hope. In my case, my husband did finally lose interest in his affair partner. But he could not/ would not accept there is a flaw in himself that he had to set up boundaries to prevent the cheating from starting again. New affair partner and I am done this time.

3 stages of love


Your video on the three stages of love makes sense to me on one level, the Betrayed, but 6 months since D-day and in therapy with my husband... I can’t get passed he told me he loved “her”. The I love her to wanting to work things out with me happened within 3 to 4 week period.
I can’t get passed he loved her. No matter if it was phase 1 etc.
I wish you would do more on this. I’m really trying not to throw away 35 years of marriage.
Thank you

I’m in the same place.

I’m in the same place. Personally I thought we were at stage 3, as unbeknownst to me, he had been a liar and deceiver since before we were married. He hid it very well (job allowed that).

How do you know that you want to continue in a marriage that was based on lies? After almost 35 years and just finding out (SA), some days I just want to throw in the towel. I showed him this video this morning. He wants to get to Stage 3. Sad he didn’t think about that until after he got found out.

Just leaning into God. One day at a time.

Stage 1

I’m also wondering how a person would want to leave the high of a stage 1 relationship, if that is what it truly is, a relationship? Is the AP only being seen through rose colored glasses by the betrayer? What is the sex addicted person seeing? At what point do the rose colored glasses come off and the betrayer begins to process what they have been doing to themselves and also to their spouse?

Stage 1 2 or 3

Perhaps this is the reason some people have 5 or 6 marriages. They spend their lives looking for something that does not exist.

Romanticism in Youth VS Romanticism in an Affair

I recall developing romantic ideals in my youth, even before I developed an attraction to the opposite sex. I don't think that there's anything wrong with romantic ideals, and how they can help singles grow their relationship in the first place (as long as the couple is grounded in the real world, and not relying on fantasy or escapism).

As a single guy, I pursued my girlfriend for a long time before she finally accepted my [second] proposal and we got married. She was a single mom who was trying to support herself and her daughter, so she had to be firmly grounded in the real world, and it was only my own romanticism that kept me from giving up on a relationship with her. After we married, she was finally able to let herself be romantic again, like she had been back when we first dated in Jr High.


Now, she's in a limerent affair, she so she's experiencing the kind of fantasy romanticism detailed in this article. It's like she's trying to live out the script of a TV show or something.

What type of affair was it?

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-D, Texas