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

Pleasing Versus Loving

About a decade ago my daughter decided she'd like to get hitched. There were a couple of serious contenders I'd like to tell you about.

Boy #1

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 clenched.

"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.

Boy #2

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—that's a given. Tell me why you even want to be married and what type of husband 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? 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! Even more than great answers, 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 and lived in fear of being a disappointment? Or was it the one who desired to love her and maintained both vision and passion?

The Validation Trap for Men

In my 30 years of experience in working with couple's, nothing kills appeal faster than a needy man. Women want to be 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 can oftentimes feel 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. But it's not out of love. It's because they can't be okay unless their mate validates them by choosing them over the 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 can deal with the same struggle. The very act of looking to their wife for validation makes them potentially vulnerable to an affair; especially if it feels like nothing they do is good enough. The key to a healthy marriage is enjoying your mate and learning to love them rather than needing them to love you. This is the difference in loving versus pleasing them.

Neediness Kills Passion

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 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 to satisfy his validation.

In marriage both of these 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 likely 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 possibly lose desire for his wife and begin to look outside the marriage to get the validation he feels he so desperately needs.

Regardless if the man was the unfaithful or betrayed spouse, the husband's pathway of healing from infidelity is the same. He needs to focus on becoming someone he can respect. He needs to mature into a healthy man, who isn't dependent on his wife, but who instead learns how to love his wife. He needs to learn how to grieve how his choices have hurt others and learn how to take responsibility for his behavior. But you won't be able to do this on your own. Typically this cycle has been operating in your life for several years and will not be broken overnight.

Are You Trying To Get Them To Love You?

Change is difficult. It's especially hard if you've always sought others for your own acceptance and validation. But the crisis of infidelity can serve as a catalyst for positive transformation. Men, I hope you'll take this charge to heart. Said with the greatest compassion and respect for each of you, I want you to know you don't have to remain a boy forever. 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 actually help strengthen what is weak. Now may be the time to mature and 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 I'm sure is not ultimately what you want.

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. Our EMS Online program may be the change you both need in your recovery work. Registration opens today at 12pm CST. Click here to learn more about this program: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/ems-online.



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One of the best

Rick, thank you for your supportive and beneficial articles. I have been reading them for 7 years, since learning of my spouse's adultery, and I think this is one of the best for my circumstances. Every point you make fits him/us perfectly. Sadly and ultimately, I think selfishness, pride and lack of teach ability may always be greater than his desire to change, to walk out what it means to love, to learn, and to grow his faith. I am terrible stuck in bondage.

A woman's POV

How can I turn this about me. What if I'm the one who needs validation?

passivity combined with infidelity....

can ruin any marriage.

What type of affair was it?

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-D, Texas