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

How to Get Your Mate to Cooperate (Without Being Controlling)

Love will always act in the best interest of another. It is not self-seeking; rather it is others centered. There are times in our lives when we lose our way. Love is the force that offers hope in those dark times. Self-destructive patterns as well as patterns that harm others are bound to come, but we are not victims. . . however difficult it may be, we need to respond in love. We need to be willing to cry out, "bridge out ahead!" and show an alternate path.

Research shows four areas typically at the core of failed marriages:
Finances, Sex, Children, and Family.

The reason these four are at the top of the list is because they are the four topics we tend to be most passionate about. If you have a difference on one of the big four, or if your mate has a problem with addiction or moral failure, you're normal. It's not unusual for couples to struggle with these things, but it is tragic when we are unable to address the problem.

I am not responsible for making my mate do the right thing, but out of love I do need to act in their best interest at all times.

What follows is a simple three step process I recommend when talking with your mate about choosing your marriage rather than divorce or choosing life rather than death. It may or may not have the desired outcome, but I believe it to be the right thing. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Likewise, you can show a path for health to someone you care for, but you can't make them choose life. However, you can have peace by knowing that you acted out of love (in their best interest) rather than out of fear or controlling tendencies.

I love horses. I find their responses to life to be amazingly similar to mine. Like me, they tend to know what they want, find relationships to be frightening, want the relationship, but seem afraid of what it might cost them, and even seem to need coaxing and training. So if my responses are somewhat similar to those of a horse, you may wonder if some of the techniques that work with a horse might possibly work with people.

What does this have to do with approaching or motivating your mate? When working with a horse there is a simple three step approach to help them understand what you want them to do. Failure to understand these methods will result in frustration for you and your horse (likewise between you and your mate).

Step one: "Asking"

Ask the horse what you would like it to do. With the horse, that would be a verbal request such as making a kissing sound to signal "Go" or a "Whoa" to "Stop". If you and the horse are on the same page then that's all it takes. In fact, to start at any other place besides "asking" would be poor form and would not be honoring of the relationship. The same is true of our mate.

To fail to ask and give your mate the opportunity to do what you want or need robs them of the opportunity to give you a gift.

It doesn't mean they'll have the desired response, but it is respectful. Often we'll assume they won't do the right thing. But this assumption means we fail to love and reveals a negative attitude. Give them a chance and "ask". If they don't want to respond to your request then you have two options: first, you can decide that it's just not that important, or second, you can go to the next step.

Step two: "Telling"

Too much asking and not enough telling is one of the best ways to confuse a horse. When I "tell" the horse to do something, I will give them a nudge with my heels and be firm with my voice. If you simply ask, the horse may think that it's just a request and not something that has to be done. It's not fair to the horse if they are led to believe it's not that important. Continuing to "ask" may not communicate the importance and it will leave you both feeling frustrated, discouraged and defeated.

If you really feel something is important, then you need to be willing to tell them what you need.

Don't expect them to read your mind. It is possible that they may just not "get it". For many, telling our mate what we need and want feels like the wrong thing. We may feel it's not loving because if we really loved them, wouldn't we be willing to accept them just the way they are? The answer is "yes" if it's just about how they are; but if it's about a hurtful or harmful behavior that impacts you, then it's about a lot more than their personality. Now it's about what they do, and you most certainly have a right to fight for your relationship and for their life. Failure to do so is not love. We need to be able to speak truth in love. The second reason we resist "telling" is our false belief that if they "loved us" they would know what we need. Trust me when I say that you and your mate are two separate people, which indicates that you may not think alike.

I'm not sure where the myth originated that "being in love" somehow means you can read minds, but it's a lie.

Give your mate a chance to do the right thing by speaking up and telling them what you need or want.

When "Telling" your mate, it's important that the truth be spoken in love. It's not to be a personal attack. Rather, you need to be able to clearly state what you desire. For instance, if our marriage is failing and I've asked my mate to go to counseling with me, to no avail, then I need to tell her what I need and want. Asking sounds like this, "Would you go to counseling with me?" If the answer is no, then you can turn up the volume. My wife is the consummate expert at this; she'll actually ask me in the middle of a discussion, "How loud am I going to have to get before you hear me?" At that point I am aware that we're moving from asking to telling. Telling sounds like this: "Because I love you and want this marriage, I need (or want) you to go to this marital class with me." It's not a question it's a statement.

It's a good idea to begin with a positive statement, but it's imperative that you end with what you need. If you end with a "wish" then your mate may still view it as "Asking" rather than "Telling".

"Telling" is not a personal attack. It's not about character assassination; instead it's speaking clearly about what's important to you. Try to avoid the use of "you" statements when addressing your mate. Rather, stick with what "I" want and what "I'm" going to do and tell them that you want them to join you.

Step Three: "Demanding"

For the horse, there are now consequences for not responding. This is the hard one. Some of you may believe you have no right to "demand" your mate to do anything, but I'm not suggesting that you rob them of their choice. I'm simply suggesting you also have a choice and it's more loving to inform them of your intention to use that choice rather than allowing them to continue in a self-destructive pattern, a pattern that's destructive to you, or a pattern destructive to the marriage. This is not a step to use when there's a simple difference of opinion. The demand is reserved as a last resort when their behavior is harmful to self or others. This is where you are willing to go to the mattresses. . .where you say: "If you don't ___________, then I will _____________".

A consequence has to be tied to the demand or the demand carries no weight.

I'm not giving license to abuse your mate. If this type of intervention is done with any motive other than love (which is acting in their best interest), then it's the wrong motive.

Telling someone what you're going to do if they don't respond or change is not controlling them. Rather, it's warning them and deciding to break the cycle of dysfunction. They still have a choice; it's just that they are now aware of the consequence their choice carries.

Some of you may be asking about when it is appropriate to utilize the "demand". In my opinion, it's used at the point where all else has failed. If there is infidelity, then it's time to demand action. If there is abuse, it's time to demand action. If there is addiction, it's time to demand action. Failing to do so is tantamount to your failing the relationship and failing your mate. Love requires more. We need to be willing to act in their best interest and point them back to life.

If you're a betrayed spouse looking for a safe place to heal and develop community with others walking the same journey, I encourage you to register for Harboring Hope today at 12:00 PM CST.



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mate to cooperate....

"If you don't______________, then I will_____________."
Personally I would have to add "Because I Love you" at the end of that sentence. But Hey, that's just me!

Appropriate Consequences

My husband is very controlling and verbally abuses me and our teenage daughter. He does this under the guise of "Truth in Love". I need to model loving behavior for our daughter and protect both of us from these verbal rants. What are some appropriate consequences for this situation?


What do I do? My husband keeps telling me that he wants to go back to the "old me". He is asking me to put behind all the infidelity (it's the past) but he wants to be the old him. Please advise me I'm confused

Great for addiction issues!

This is a perfect guide to dealing with addiction in a spouse. Al-Anon, S-Anon and other programs for spouses of addicts tell you to stop trying to fix or control the addict. It will only backfire, they say. You've become just as obsessed as the addict. He must "own" his addiction and deal with it himself or find a sponsor. Then how do you set boundaries? How do you get your needs met? How do you negotiate a better relationship? All you can do is "detach with kindness" when your spouse binges on pornography late at night when you're already in bed ... or gets sloppy drunk again. Or you can choose divorce. Black or white.
I tried the Al-Anon way while my spouse did therapy for his addictions to porn, sexting with strangers, secret friends with benefits, alcohol, and food to a lesser extent. Things improved greatly, but he was still drinking secretly in the closet and getting sloppy drunk at family occasions. I calmly told him to move out for a week, so I could think clearly about what I needed to have a decent life, and whether that would include him or not -- the consequence. He spent one night away, sampling his new solo life as a man who destroyed his own marriage, and he hasn't had a drink in 6 months. By 2 1/2 months off alcohol his morning depressions were gone, and he wasn't even a heavy drinker!All the other therapy is finally kicking in ... and all areas of life are getting better. We did EMSO, which laid the foundation for this recovery of our marriage. This was the third time I laid out a serious consequence ... I guess the 3rd time was the charm. Huge thanks to Rick Reynolds!

What do I ask?

I want to know everything, so I know what to forgive. But what questions should I be asking? What questions work best to avoid defensiveness? For those of us who never dreamed to be here... ever... you should have a list of questions we can download.

Asking/Telling/Demanding – How I handled this

This is a very helpful column by Rick. As a betrayed spouse I resonate with the sequence of asking, telling and demanding. After years of my wife stonewalling me about the realities of her affair, I wrote her a long letter setting out the issues as I saw them, the questions for which I needed to have answers, and the movements I needed her to make. I also assured her of my love for her, my hope for healing and my confidence that we could get through it. Yet I was also clear that this was a crucial turning point to which she needed to respond. Near the beginning of the letter this is how I put it:

"I know you don’t want to have a conversation about the issues. You don’t want ‘to ruin a beautiful sunny day,’ or a perfectly good week – or whatever. You don’t want to be brought down by this when you’re happy, or further down when you’re sad or anxious.

"You do have a choice. You can respond by stonewalling impatiently. That will result in increasing alienation, less honesty, and diminishing joy in our marriage. Or you can respond honestly and transparently, with the hope that we can move to deeper joy, creativity and celebration in our marriage.

"If that sounds like an ultimatum, that’s because it is. You have issued many ultimatums in our marriage: ‘I’m going to leave you and take the children’; ‘This is the last conversation we’re having about this’; ‘I’m never going to have sex with you again,’ and the like. This is not that kind of ultimatum. It’s an ultimatum that we must talk. And we must talk for as long as it takes, which might be several sessions of talking. The alternative is not divorce or adultery or any such thing, which, as you know, I have never threatened or even thought about threatening because they’re not options for me. The alternative is diminishing returns in our relationship. I don’t want that. I hope that you, deep down, don’t want that either."

I'm glad to say that she responded positively. Since then there have been plenty of two steps backwards after three steps forward, plenty of resentment expressed about my having raised the issues, but overall we're in a much, much better place than we were. Crucial was my clarity about what I needed, my refusal to be emotionally bullied into backing down, and my resolve in, yes, demanding that she make the needed movements.


My husband left me 46 years ago for someone he thought he was in love with. She had 3 kids and was looking for someone to support her. We had just sold our farm. She didn’t get the money. I couldn’t have kids. They had a son. I just can’t remember understand why he left me. I think to have a baby with her. He wouldn’t adopt. They were married 4 years and fought all the time. How can I come to peace with this. We remarried 10-17-17. Very happy but I can’t get it off my mind and have days I am depressed.

46 years ago

You have remarried after he left you 46 years ago? And, why did you remarry? What is his why? It doesn’t seem like there is any transparency here. Did you ever remarry after he left 46 years ago? Have you had a life in those 46 years? “I think to have a baby with her?” Is the child in his 40’s now? You are very happy but days you are depressed doesn’t seem to be very happy to me. Our happiness is not dependent on others, we determine our own happiness.


"I just cant't remember understand why he left me." Sometimes we will not be able to understand why they cheated. There are many factors why the spouse leaves their family. Maybe your unfaithful ex-spouse has/had deep rooted issues, which had/has nothing to do with you. "But I can't get it off my mind and have days I am depressed." It sounds you need closure. Considering seeking individual therapy in order to come to peace within yourself. Do not let this rob your happiness.

What type of affair was it?

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