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 and patterns that harm others are bound to come, but we are not victims… we need to respond in love. We need to be willing to cry out, "bridge out ahead!" and at least show an alternate path.

Research shows four areas which will tend to be 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 are passionate about. So 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.

To be sure, 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 will be the right thing. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, and you can show a path for health to someone you care for, but you can't make them choose life. You can have peace, however, 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. They tend to know what they want; that's just like me. They find relationships to be frightening; that would be me. Actually, they want the relationship, but seem afraid of what it might cost them; that would be me. They even seem to need a lot of coaxing and training; yes, that would also be me. So if my responses are somewhat similar to those of a horse you would have to wonder if maybe some of the techniques that work with a horse might possibly work with people.

You may be wondering what this has to do with approaching or motivating your mate, but you'll find it quite relevant. When working with a horse there is a simple three step approach to helping 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".

You simply ask the horse what you would like it to do. With the horse, that would be a verbal request such as a kissing sound to "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 and based on our assumption we fail to love and to expect the best, but that course of action only reveals your 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 just 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 the 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 would tend to indicate that you may not think alike. I'm not sure where the myth originated that "being in love" somehow means you can mind read, 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.

It's important when "Telling" your mate 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?" or, "Would you be willing to go to marital 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. Ending with a need or a want is important. If you end with a "wish" then your mate may still view it as "Asking" rather than "Telling".

"Telling" however, 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 stay 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, and for the marriage it's the same. 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 have a choice and it's more loving to inform them of your intention to use that choice rather than to allow them to continue in a self-destructive pattern or a pattern that's destructive to you personally, or the marriage. This is not a step that is used when there is simply a 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 state: "If you don't ___________, then I will _____________". A consequence has to be tied to the demand or the demand carries no weight. At the same time 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 point where all else has failed. If there is infidelity, then it's time to demand action. If there is abuse, then it's time to demand action. If there is addiction, then it's time to demand action. To fail 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 looking for a safe and effective method to help you both, I’d like to ask you to consider the possibility that the EMS Weekend may be the perfect place for you.  If you’re going to demand your mate to take action and get help, our EMS Weekend is a safe place where my team and I care for couples and share our own stories of what has helped us all become survivors of infidelity, addiction, and even divorce.  While all of us are therapists with long histories of professional care for those in crisis, we’ve also survived some of the very same nightmares you have.  Come see us and we’ll give all we have to give both professionally and relationally.  




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Add New Comment:


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!