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

Pimping Tenderness & Grooming Behaviors

Years ago John entered my office requesting help for his dilemma. “Women are always coming on to me,” he began, “and my wife is really upset about it. What can I do?” Puzzled, I asked him to give me examples. I assured him I was better looking than him and didn’t have the same problem, so there must be something more. “Well, one woman came into my office today, kicked off her shoes, came behind my desk and began to give me a back rub.” “Really,” I replied, “give me another example.” “Well at the little league game on Saturday, I was sitting in the stands watching my son play and this woman came up and sat beside me and gave me a great big hug and said she was counting the hours till she saw me. “Incredible” I responded, “I’ve been to a lot of little league games and I’ve never had that happen. Did you happen to know these women?”

I’ve always been amazed at how naïve people tend to be when it comes to the birds and the bees. It’s as if they have no clue how things get started. Of course John knew these women, but his blindness to his own behaviors continually put him at high risk for an affair. Upon further investigation I discovered his secret: he was the master of compliments. John had an incredible photographic memory. Each day he would go around the office and compliment the women on their dress. If they wore a new set of clothes, he noticed. If they changed anything about their hair he made a comment. If they had a new set of earrings he took note. Even if they changed the color of their nail polish he’d point it out. I suspect that for most of these women there had never been a man so attentive, especially their husbands. For that reason John had a constant stream of women coming by his office checking to see if he would notice what was new.

Grooming behaviors are those behaviors we use to cause someone to be drawn to us. For men that behavior is what I call “pimping tenderness.” It is a man’s way of stirring emotion and affection in a woman  and drawing her attention his direction. All a man has to do is fain interest, pay attention, give compliments, and the game is on. For women grooming behaviors may involve dress or flirting. “What’s wrong with flirting?” some will ask, and for a single person there is nothing wrong with the dance of courtship, but the committed man or woman is playing with fire. Even if in the beginning of a playful encounter there is honestly no interest in the other person, the emotions generated by a flirty conversation may well lead to rouge desires that threaten to destroy the lives of many.

Below are a few examples of the types of grooming behaviors I see most frequently.

The Rescuer:

The rescuer sees an opportunity to be overly concerned with a crisis or unmet need in a member of the opposite sex. This person will go out of their way to help them and save them from a situation they may not even know they need rescuing from. The rescuer sees a need to fulfill and seeks to meet that need for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves as a savior or hero.

The Protector:

The protector generates feelings of safety and security to woo those around them. You may hear a protector say things like “I would never let someone treat you like that.” “I can’t believe someone would do that to you.” “How could anyone ever do that to someone as sweet as you?” The protector assumes a role they’ve not been given to win affection and admiration.

The Flirter:

The flirter seeks any and every opportunity to affirm, encourage and flirt with others. The flirter looks for insecurities with an awareness of the ability to take that insecurity and affirm its counterpart. The flirter loves to be in the right place at the right time to create feelings of security and to make the other person feel “special.” The flirter likes to use statements like “As beautiful as you are, I’m just not sure how that would ever be a problem.”

The Complimenter:

This person notices with impeccable awareness any changes in jewelry, hair style, new clothes or talents. The complimenter is extremely observant and seeks to affirm though conversational applause. The complimenter also seeks to utilize validation empathy, which means showing care and concern for what others have or are currently enduring. Using validation empathy, they show themselves to be a safe place for validation and safety.

The Revealer:

The revealer loves to share secrets or create an air of emotional intimacy with their revelations. We often see this type of grooming behavior with old flames from years past. From a revealer you’ll hear things like, “I always had a secret crush on you.” Or, “I never told you this but you always made me feel special.” The revealer looks to unleash hidden feelings of affection to tap into attachment bonds from years earlier. The revealer also likes to tell secrets about themselves to create a perceived vulnerability. Therefore, the one they share with feels safe and trusted, creating a short term trust and intimacy.

The Encourager:

The encourager seeks to find any opportunity to build up members of the opposite sex as a type of manipulation. From affirmation to simple praise, their desire is to shift the person’s focus from their own success to the one actually encouraging them. It’s also an attempt to establish a bond which drives that person to continually seek out the encourager when they need a boost in self-esteem. While not only meeting the short term needs of each party, the encourager lays groundwork for the future intimacy that will continue to be reestablished each time encouragement or validation is needed.

Couples recovering from the betrayal of infidelity need a culture of safety in order for healing and re-engagement to begin. Creating that environment requires effort on the parts of both spouses. Examine how you interact with other people. You may be totally unaware of your high risk grooming behaviors. If you are unsure of your grooming behaviors  then ask your mate, I’m sure they will gladly point out any behaviors that they perceive as risky. Most of us tend to get defensive if our mate shares what they see as our risky behaviors. That’s because we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but others judge us by our actions. Because you don’t have corrupt intentions as you interact with others, it seems “harmless” to you. After all, you’re “just friends.” The danger lies in the probability of the positive attention you receive in return for these grooming behaviors catching you by surprise and stirring rouge desires. At the very least your risky behaviors will leave your mate feeling unsafe and uncared for.

My friend’s wife described this feeling succinctly. They were grocery shopping and a tall gorgeous blonde seemed to stride past them at the turn of every aisle. The wife didn’t say a word to her husband as he continued to gawk at her. When they finally made it to the car, she said to him, “I saw you staring in the produce section.” He’d learned in recovery not to get defensive or try to cover his tracks. He just replied, “Yeah. And in the dairy and meat sections too.” He was waiting for the lecture, for the yelling, for the scene, but what she did instead crushed him. She looked up at him and replied with an air of defeat, “I wish you would save some of those looks for me.”

Be willing to lay down your rights for the sake of the relationship. This may include your right to flirt, right to have friendships with members of the opposite sex, or even your right to get your legitimate needs met in an illegitimate way. You may feel your mate needs to “get over it” and that this is just how you are and they need to accept it. Perhaps instead we need to grow in our capacity to love and learn to care about the feelings we may be creating in our mate and the feelings we may be stirring in others. Just because it’s the way you’ve always done things or the way you’ve always been doesn’t make it a safe and loving act. Learn to protect your relationship. If you’d like help learning how to protect your relationship, or perhaps how you ever got to the place of needing protection, join us at an EMS Weekend. You won’t leave the same person. 

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Describes my husband to a T

Almost every scenario you describe was my husband before his affair. He was always every women's best friend. All our friends would say " oh that's just Stuart. He's the biggest flirt but he's harmless". For years I put up with this behavior often telling him how I felt and that it was inappropriate for a married man but he always just said don't be silly everyone knows I don't mean it. Well then he did it to his AP when he worked with her on a work project but only this woman gave it back to him and then more and he didn't say no. When I first discovered the affair I told him that he flirted just like always only this one called him on it! And he agreed. Now we are in recovery and he has revealed that now he knows the way he was before was wrong. He has apologized to me for the years of bad behavior and vows to change. And I have witnessed how careful he is now with other women and not trying to give them the wrong idea. Thank you for another great article.

Nailed it!

This is exactly my husband. Noticing every woman's new hairstyle. Trying to protect and help every damsel that crosses his path. It used to be funny the way other women would seek him out at neighborhood functions. I do wish he would act as interested in me when we are in public. He has always ignored me and laid the charm on my friends. He is complementary to me in private but never acts like I matter in group situations. Thank you for another spot on article. Very timely and helpful!

Women Do It Too

Women do similar behaviors too. They may be slightly different than men, but evoke similar responses. My wife has to be the life of the party. Boasts that she's acting so funny, people asked her if she needs a ride even though she wasn't drinking (much). Sing loud, get up on stage and dance, kind of exhibitionist. "I just love to have fun and laugh with people...that's how I am and have always been!" Even after it went too far into a full affair with an old boyfriend, she still doesn't get it. Feeling hopeless.

I can't "get over it"

About a year and a half ago, one of my husbands employees was killed in a collision. My husband took it upon himself to stand watch 24/7 over the "bereaving" wife and the two children who lost their father. The now widow, had been seeking a divorce from the man who accidentally died. Come to find out. This woman began sending my husband nude photos of herself, calling "needing" him to drop everything and come help her. I did not find these things out until I snooped our cell phone records. Finding out that my husband was spending an untold amount of time on the phone with her. He would call her within minutes of leaving our home - headed to work. It turns out, he had a special ring tone for her and would hand carry financial papers to her even though she lived 2 hours away. He went to her daughters band concerts, and never once invited me to go. All of this while my father was extremely ill with a sudden illness and ended up passing away. I went through that alone. Had I not snooped and found out all of these things, who knows what would have happened? To this day, my husband denies any wrong doing. Now he emails with another person from work, who happens to be a female. He says they are friends and talk about football scores and make little bets on the weekends games. I can't get him to answer a text or a call from me, but I see on the phone bills (yes, I looked again, because I just "felt" like something was going on). He used to have lunch bills on our bank statement that definitely were in the amount of enough for two people. I asked about it, he looked like a deer in the headlights. But from that point forward, I see he just takes out extra cash and the only debit charges are for gas and things like that. But now, I see he has been going one or twice a week to a little town that is about 45 min away. Once again, fuel purchases or 7 dollars or so at a convenience store in that other town. When I ask - he responds that I am just a snoop and if I did not snoop around, everything would be find. That when I snoop, my imagination just makes things up and that I have lost my mind. So what do I do??? I have stopped saying anything about it, but I am building up such resentment. We have been married 28 years - but I would rather be alone than have a husband who thinks these actions are okay. He is definitely a "rescuer"...has to save the world and every damsel that needs him. Our three children are all in college, two of them are going to school in town so they live at home. I am in full-time graduate school and I work full time. He blames our "distance" on the fact that I am always doing school work. Truthfully, it is my escape from the torment I feel when I think about his actions. The only time I get to have a conversation with him is when he is watching football or Fox news. And these are not quality conversations. I am a very lonely wife. He makes fun of me, I have a habit of tapping my toes and he really bugs me about it. I'm just so overwhelmed by this whole things and the distrust that I feel. I honestly trust my gut instincts. They have NEVER been wrong. Do I just end this marriage? I can stand the lies.

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