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

Pleasing Versus Loving

What makes a woman lose interest in her husband?

About a decade ago my daughter decided she’d like to get hitched. I well remember when she brought her first serious boyfriend home to meet the family. As her father I felt it my duty to vet this young man out. I wanted to know what type of metal he was made of. Was he good enough for my girl? I loaded my pickup with axes and chainsaws and took him out to the back of our property to do a little land clearing. Much to my chagrin he hurt his back in the first hour and spent the rest of the weekend in bed.

After depositing him at the airport for his trip home, my daughter came in and asked what I thought. Her mom and I were standing in the kitchen and I can still remember the look on her face when I gave her two thumbs down. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. Stephanie, being none too pleased with my performance, sent me to go after her and straighten things out.

I found her sitting on her bed with mascara stained eyes. “Why don’t you like him?” she cried with fists clinched. “I never said I didn’t like him” I replied. “Then why did you give him two thumbs down?” she asked. “He’s not right for you. You’re like your mother, stronger than an acre of garlic. That boy is crazy about you and worships the ground you walk on. He’ll do anything and everything to please you and make you happy because he’s looking to you for his validation. He believes if he can get someone like you to love him then his life will be complete. He’ll never have an opinion because he’ll always be so desperate to please you. He’ll never stand up to you and say ’no’ because he’s too afraid you’ll reject him. You’ll end up going over his head so much that he’ll get athletes foot on his scalp. You don’t want someone who looks to you for their validation, you need someone who’s willing to be known and who will stand up and be real with you. Someone with enough courage to share their opinions even if it’s something you won’t like. Someone who can speak honestly about his fears and disappointments, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. Anything short of that would be boring and only a façade of what marriage was made to be.” (Thankfully she heeded my advice.)

Older and wiser, I was much more prepared for the second young man who captured her heart. When he called and asked if he could fly to Austin to speak with me I said, “Absolutely not.” “First I want you to write me a letter telling me why you want to marry my daughter and don’t tell me it’s because you love her. Next what type of husband do you want to be? How do you plan to support my daughter? How do you plan to lead my daughter spiritually? What type of father do you plan to be for my grandchildren? What principles guide your life? What do you hope to accomplish in life? Why do you even want to be married? I also want to know how you see yourself as a man. Once I receive your letter I’ll let you know whether you can come speak with me.”

Fortunately he responded with an eight-page letter that, as Stephanie proclaimed, was better than I could have written and I avoided getting scorched by my daughter for driving her beau away. Even more, candidate number 2 had a vision and passion for life. He loved my daughter, but was also healthy enough to be authentic and vulnerable. He wasn’t afraid of intimacy or conflict. I felt he was going to be an authentic man who would lead and protect his family.

Which of these two men do you think ended up being more appealing to my daughter? Was it the one who desired to please her who lived in fear of being a disappointment, or the one who desired to love her who had both vision and passion? In my 30 years of experience working with couple’s, nothing kills appeal faster than a needy man. Women want to be a part of the adventure they don’t want to be the adventure. A husband looking to his wife for validation leaves her feeling bored and ends up feeling like an albatross around her neck.

It makes no difference if the man has been unfaithful or betrayed; the problem remains the same. Far too often, men who’ve been betrayed work desperately (almost codependently) to please their mate and win them back. It’s not out of  love though, it’s because they can’t be okay unless their mate validates them by choosing them over their affair partner. Even more tragic, this man’s neediness creates burdens in the marriage, which can make the marriage even more laborious, uninteresting and vulnerable.

Unfaithful men are no different. The very act of looking to their wife for validation makes them potentially vulnerable to an affair; especially if it feels nothing they do is good enough. The key to a healthy marriage is enjoying your mate and learning to love them rather then needing them to love you (loving versus pleasing them).

There are two ways the male pursuit for validation plays out in marriage. The first is pleasing through passivity. A man will compromise who he is if he believes it’s his responsibility to make his wife happy. If, after all his sacrifice, she’s still unhappy he’ll either look elsewhere for validation or continue to pressure her by becoming even more needy in an attempt to suck the validation right out of her. The second approach to seeking validation is aggression. When his wife fails to validate, this man will either punish his mate with anger or he will try and bludgeon his mate trying to get her to become what he needs for his validation.

In marriage both approaches are unappealing to a healthy woman. I’m not saying it’s bad to love your mate or to do things that bring her joy, but if you do the right thing for the wrong reason you’ll end up at the wrong place. We don’t fall over what we do, we fall over why we do it. If a man’s actions are driven by love then that’s something that will never grow old. However if his actions are driven out of a need for validation then his wife will lose interest in the marriage, lose desire and respect for her husband, and eventually become resentful. At the same time, the man will become frustrated and at the very least lose desire for his wife and begin to look outside the marriage to get the validation he feels he so desperately needs.

Whether the man was unfaithful or the woman was unfaithful the pathway for healing from infidelity for the husband is the same. They need to focus on becoming someone they can respect. They need to become a real man, a healthy man, who isn’t dependent on their wife, but who instead learns how to love their wife. They need to learn how to grieve for how their choices have hurt others and how to take responsibility for their behavior.  They won’t  be able to do this on their own. This cycle has typically been operating in their lives for several years and will not be broken overnight.

Change is difficult, especially if you’ve always sought others for your own acceptance and validation. The good news is, the crisis of infidelity can serve as a catalyst for positive transformation. For you men out there, I hope you’ll take this charge to heart. With great compassion and respect for you, the truth is, you don’t have to remain forever a boy. I know it’s scary to change the dynamic of your marriage when it may already be frail, but learning to love your wife instead of just trying to get her to love you can help strengthen what is weak. It just may be time to grow up and at the very least be a husband to your wife instead of a burden for her to bear. I fear you may end up just another thing for your wife to worry about, which no one wants I’m sure. I hope you’ll hear my heart behind these strong words. My desire is never to shame you, but to help you find extraordinary lives of meaning and purpose. The dynamic of passivity compounded with the trauma of infidelity can be a killer to any marriage if not handled appropriately. What seems forever lost can be found, redeemed and restored. I hope you’ll both take this challenge today to find new hope and life through the implementation of a new approach.     

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"Pleasing vs Loving" article

WOW ! Best one yet . Thank you !

Thank you!

Thank you for saying exactly what I have been trying to say for over 25 years. This is what God has been working in my life, our marriage and my husband's life. Even though we have come a long way this has been the missing link and what a huge link it is. I just never was able to phrase it correctly and you did. 110 percent! He is going for counseling next week and this is an answer to prayer, perfectly timed. I am going to have him print this article and give it to the counselor. This is the meat if the work needing to be done

If only

"Unfaithful men are no different. The very act of looking to their wife for validation makes them potentially vulnerable to an affair; especially if it feels nothing they do is good enough. The key to a healthy marriage is enjoying your mate and learning to love them rather then needing them to love you (loving versus pleasing them)."

As a recovering codependent husband who needed my wife's validation to feel loved, this was a hard lesson to learn. It has now been 5 years since I entered my recovery period and I still catch myself starting to look to her from time to time for validation. The difference is now I recognize it and am able to express my feeling of love to her instead of through her. For those who see themselves in this situation Rick has given us great advice. I think the letter is a great exercise I want explore and write. Thanks Rick

an insecure wife

I was once a confident and hard working man, who was proud of his family and his marraige. I wanted my wife, I loved my wife, but I didn't need her to be my own person. I was slightly older and already into my career. I worked hard for our family. She was a wonderful compliment to my personality and filled my life where there were voids. She had her own unique and beautiful talents. She was an amazing woman and loved me with all her heart...or so I thought.

Our problem was the opposite of what Rick describes. I had a needy wife, who was inwardly very insecure. She felt that she had trapped me into a marriage and she did not believe she was on my level in intelligence or contribution. She was convinced that I had married down and there were better women out there. She never told me just how deep those issues ran.

Mind you, I NEVER felt this way about her...but I should have been better about reading these insecurities and helping her understand her importance to me and to our family. These were just her own personal issues and insecurities from when she was younger.

A younger man (who we found out was a serial AP with several other women) came into being around my family, he truly preyed upon her and used that insecurity to his advantage. She knew what she was doing, but detached herself from the consequences that would befall her. Her ego was being fed and she was feeling that this was someone on her own level. Thus, the affair ensued.

So my problem was an insecure and needy wife, who let herself go outside our marriage for validation. Rather than simply explaining where she really was in life, she ruined our lives. Honest and open communication would have stopped this from happening. Now, she feels she will never be on that level with me again.

That resonates

Thank you for your message. Your story really resonates as I am very similar to your wife. I have betrayed my husband due to deep rooted insecurities. And when I should have talked to him about it (well tried harder ... I did try from time to time but I think it's hard for people who are not insecure to understand really how deep it gets) - I ended up turning to someone else. He was also a serial cheater and I believe now preyed on people like me. I also detached myself completely from the reality of what I was doing
The sad part is though that my husband does not yet recognize this. He is hurt and angry understandably but also cannot I think understand what I was going through and why I did what I did. He is a very different person to me. How did you come to terms with what your wife did? Or have you?

Trust and Respect are easy to lose and difficult to regain.

I thank you for writing, but please know this will not be a very easy response. My efforts are to always write the truth, as hard as that may be to hear. If this is difficult, I am very sorry.

I'm sad to say that I have not come to terms with what my wife did. I have not forgiven her, but I have come to accept what happened. That doesn't make it any better, but I've learned that I cannot rewrite history or wish it to be same as it was before the affair. Acceptance is stop on the path to forgiveness, but it does not always lead to reconciliation.

Here is the mad mind of a betrayed husband - My wife's affair so shocking and against her very nature, that I sometimes doubt it even happened. If it wasn't for the evidence I found (the pictures, the emails and finally her confession), I wouldn't believe it. It destroyed everything that I ever thought about her. It has made me doubt that she is telling me the whole truth, everything she was as a wife and even who she really is as a person. That hurts her, as she wants to be judged for who she is now...not who she was at that moment. Being honest...I don't value our marriage the same way and I don't value her the same either.

I know that is a shocking statement. Clearly, I have issues with forgiveness. I have cut people out of my life for far less. I was working on that with a therapist and have come to realize that we are all fallible. It is human to make mistakes and I have made many myself, including hating my wife. She does not deserve my hate. She deserves my understanding and compassion. Slowly, I am understanding more about the "why"...but to me that does not excuse or justify what happened. I am so utterly disappointed in her actions and the affair.

For me now, the issue is about respect and trust. The things she did were awful. The lies she told were disrepectful. The places she went were seedy or even disrepectful to our home. It is a hard pill for me to swallow and I often find myself being repulsed by her. That is not an uncommon reaction. Again shocking, but it is the truth.

To be in a loving relationship, you have trust and respect your spouse for what they've done and who they are. An affair instantly destroys both those aspects and I believe they are the two most difficult to regain.

As I do with my wife, I believe your husband does (now) recognize that you had these insecurities...most men don't get this concept until it is pounded into them. We are not good at reading inaudibles. I believe he does recognize this man preyed upon you. However, he had a faith in you to do the right thing. You did not. I warned my wife about this person, but respected and trusted her to be faithful. Your own insecurity prevented you from being 100% honest with your husband and now look what has happened. Your affair caused far more damage than would have ever occurred by telling him exactly how you felt and being open with your insecurities. I'm sure you're realizing that now, but as they say...hindsight is always 20/20.

I'm not sure how far you are from D-Day, but we all measure our recovery in time (days, months, years). That expectation of time puts too much pressure on the recovery. I am disappointed every time we reach a time-milestone, but I do not feel forgiveness. I always fall apart after missing that expected recovery date. That is when it becomes obvious that I am on a journey in finding forgiveness. Compassion and love go a long way in healing. I know that your husband does not want to have this anger or pain toward you. He wants to love you. He needs you. He's fighting his internal compass about what to do.

I am still with my wife because I love her and she really is a great person. Your husband probably feels the same about you. The shock and betrayal are so much to bear that betrayed spouses doubt that they can ever trust, respect and believe in their spouse again. Keep up the work of being patient and fully transparent. Tell him how you are feeling. That honest vulnerability brings so much compassion and love to the relationship. I know it is a tough road to walk and may seem nearly impossible. You can only do your best. You owe this much to him and any efforts you make will go a long way toward both of your healing.

Like your husband, I am not the same person to my wife. We both know that. I do not feel the same about her, but this is because of my conflicted feelings. I do love her. I do not want to feel this anger, disgust or disappointment that I feel. I want it all to go away. I want only the loving and tenderness to remain. I don't know how to recapture all of that, but I will continue to search for it.

Healing Words

I think this might be one of your best articles yet! I say that for several reasons: 1) the part about how you handled the boyfriends was funny 2) the entire article explains A LOT regarding conflicts that arise in relationship 3) you gave an excellent example of the type of man a woman's heart desires and eloquently contrasted it with what is unappealing to a woman 4) you presented a strong and compassionate challenge to men. Thank you for continuing to express your heart so others can gain understanding about their situation!

A Pro Po

This is one of the best articles I have ever read, and it so described the husband that I have married. His need for validation has led him into several inappropriate emotional affairs that have devastated my life. His is trying to become a better person, but he has damaged me so badly, I cannot see myself loving him again ..ever !! I am content where I am which is just toleration and ready to jump ship when I can. But this article is right on, I have sent it to him, he appreciates it, so we will see where it will take him, Thank you so much for your insight fulness

Every blessing

Pleasing vs Loving

Right on!! Can't wait to share this with my teenage sons!

Oh So Spot On!

Rick...this is an unbelievably brilliant and potentially life changing article. My husband could be the poster boy for the passive man you describe who did break his marriage vows. When you combine this passivity with a propensity for silence, it makes for a very lonely and frustrating existence. Intimacy is such a relationship is non existent.

In the early years of our marriage, we were the perfect example of the Passive Man/Wild Woman syndrome which didn't help the situation. The Wild Woman doesn't exist anymore, thankfully, but she has been replaced by a very tired, beaten down and dare I say maybe even passive version of her former self.

I haven't discussed this article yet with my husband, but after 37 years of marriage, I don't have a lot of hope that he will change. For more years than I care to remember, I have tried to explain to him that the "things" that he does for me isn't the same thing as loving me. Maybe he doesn't love me which is of course the way I have felt for most of our marriage. Perhaps he doesn't know what "love" is.

It would be so helpful if you could paint a picture with examples of what "loving" vs. "doing" would look like, and if you could throw in some examples of what "intimacy" looks like, it would be the perfect recipe. You have been the first person, after many attempts at counseling, who has been able to explain things in such a way that my husband seems to understand, and you are the first person who he seems to believe is credible. I can't thank you enough for sharing.

Yep, but now what?

My husband for years said that nothing he did was ever good enough. I never understood what he was saying because I did not feel that way at all. He was physically attractive, fun, hard-working. We had passionate sex, shared similar interests, love of reading, learning, travel, cooking, sports, our kids, our dogs, our house and yard. We enjoyed each other. But, I could never "complain" or gripe about anything because he took that too hard even if I was just having a bad day with kiddos and wanted to talk about it. This whole dynamic plays out in very strange ways and leaves a woman feeling like she has to be happy all the time even if the kids are screaming to keep the man from being upset and at home. As we all know, women have their ups and downs. Even happy people like myself are not happy all of the time. My Dad got this. So do my brothers. Think my sons get this as well. But, my husband: no. If ever I seemed the least bit "unhappy" even if I was complaining about the price of peanut butter, he got upset too and took it personally -- like he could do anything about peanut butter.

I have seen this more clearly post-discovery of the infidelity, but haven't been able to articulate it. So, thank you. And, I guess it makes sense that the 22 year-old that never complains, smiles all the time, and is happy with anything he says or does makes him feel validated as a man? How does a man get out of this once it is so ingrained? Can he ever be safe?

One of the comments above suggested that she would show the article to her boys. Think that is great, but two of mine are a bit too young for the article. I am wondering how do you teach staying away from this pattern in the boys we are raising if dad models poor behavior in this arena. Is it more dependent on what mom does? Think they get pleasing versus loving, but how do I make sure that they do? Any insights on raising boys to avoid this pattern? Think my husband's mom went all wrong on this one. What happens to men in childhood that molds them into this erroneous way of thinking? Any thoughts, Rick?

Interesting

My husband is a pleaser. He lives by an invisible score card. Every nice thing that he does for me is really just for that score card. When he gave me my engagement ring so long ago, he said "I want people to see that ring and say, WOW he must really love her." He's brought me flowers into my office and he's said it's to show everyone else, too. Nice car, fancy vacation, etc. I would just rather he be able to sit and talk to me about HIM. For example, why he liked a certain movie or book. I'm not sure he knows himself. He just does stuff as a validation and to put all the things he does for me on a score card. I'm not always sure that he does things for me from his heart.

I can tell, because I feel pressure also to get him fancy things. Yet, the stuff that comes from my heart are making him his favorite supper, fixing his coffee as he likes it, rubbing his head, picking up a shirt that I think he's enjoy. I would really rather him rub my back becasue he loves me, rather than feeling the subtle pressure that he's expecting something from me in return.

What if you as the betrayed

What if you as the betrayed wife are looking for validation, approval and acceptance? I love my husband but it is hard to feel healthy, independent and captivating when I feel so hurt and longing for his love.

What type of affair was it?

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