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

Romanticism: Don't Believe the Lie

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." It's a story of how Wesley 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, as Wesley heads off to storm the castle to rescue his beloved Buttercup, Miracle Max and his wife Valerie yell after them, "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.

Our only problem is that it never works. What we call "true love" is based on a concept called romanticism. Romanticism is based on the dynamic of two individuals longing to be together, but who are separated by life's circumstances. Romanticism can only apply to love outside of marriage, and the ingredients always consist of secrecy and mystery (such as the stolen glances or secret opportunities). Romanticized relationships, therefore, 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 the great romantic plots through the ages, such as Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, or movies like “The Notebook” or “Pretty Woman.” There are endless examples, all with the same theme of two individuals searching for the fulfillment of love, 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 are 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 romanticism is incredibly and unequivocally selfish.

While romanticism is based on wanting what you don't have, marriage is based on having what you don't always want. There always comes a point in marital relationships where we are wounded or disappointed by our mate, and 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 you can complete me; being with you will result in happiness and fulfillment for me. But after that moment, when hope is crushed and I've abandoned my illusion that you are what I need, then my love (if I'm able to love) becomes something more mature and divine. It’s the opportunity for my love to become less about me and what I 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 me or bring instant gratification. That’s romanticism cropping up again, making everything about me. Love is compassionate and concerned for others instead.

So if romanticism seeks “true love,” which is nothing more than a selfish desire to have my needs met, I believe the real goal in marriage is to “truly love.” 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 thing we can do, and it’s completely counter-cultural, but with practice 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 the devastation created by infidelity is the opportunity to see miracle after miracle. 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.

If you struggle with forgiveness or want a new dynamic in your marriage, consider joining an EMS Online class. I’m sure you don’t want to return to the same old marriage, but something entirely new and more fulfilling. In EMS Online you’ll work through the betrayal and take steps toward that new relationship.



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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.

What type of affair was it?

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