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

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

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During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist - all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand - as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

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Are you having difficulty approaching or motivating your mate? After infidelity, it's not unusual for couples to struggle with this. In fact, I'm frequently asked these questions:

  • How do I get my mate to address their addiction?
  • How do I get my mate to work with me in parenting?
  • How do I get my mate to be more financially responsible?
  • How do I get my mate to talk to me, or a third party, about our sexual issues?

One reason why I get these questions is because one spouse isn't responding to the other's request. Ted Huston, a researcher at the University of Texas, conducted a study with more than 168 couples over nearly a decade-and-a-half. He discovered that the biggest predictor of a split in a couple wasn't conflict but rather, it was a lack of responsiveness. It's something that we all struggle with. I think especially with infidelity, when you ask your mate to do something and there's a lack of responsiveness, it can add to the pain that's already there from the larger rupture that has occurred in the relationship. In the long run, we want to know that:

  • We matter to our mate.
  • We're important to them.
  • They choose us.

When our loved one doesn't respond, it can make us feel insignificant, unimportant, and even unloved by them.

The other reason why I often get questions about finances, sex, children, and family is because they are the four topics we tend to be most passionate about. For that reason, they are also the four areas that are typically athe core of failed relationships. If you and your mate disagree regarding any of “the big four,” or if they have a problem with addiction, you'll want to be able to address these important issues together.

Of course, you're not responsible for making them "do the right thing." The purpose of these conversations is to show you're invested in the relationship and want what's best for both of you. Sometimes, a change in how you approach them can motivate them to do something that's helpful, loving and, in the long run, what you both want.

3 Steps for Approaching and Motivating Your Mate

This might seem random, but bear with me. 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, and want the relationship but seem afraid of what it might cost them. They might even seem to need coaxing and training along the way. Because there are so many similarities, I've found that some of the techniques that work with horses sometimes work with people.

Of course, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. Likewise, you can show your mate a path to health, but you can't make them choose it. You can, however, gain peace by knowing that you acted out of love, and in their best interest, rather than out of fear or the need to control.

When talking with your mate about your needs and the relationship, I recommend using this simple 3-step process. The outcome you desire may not be possible, but I've seen it help other couples and it might help you, too.

Step 1: Asking

Going back to the horse analogy, it's best to make a simple and kind verbal request of your mate. Communicating a simple, "Go," "Whoa," or "Stop," will enable you to gauge if you are on the same page. Sometimes, that's all it takes to get them to cooperate. Starting at any other place besides asking doesn't honor the relationship. The same is true when we speak to our mate.

When you don't ask your mate to do what you need, it robs them of the opportunity to give you a gift. Again, their response may not be what you desire, but asking them for what you need is respectful communication. Sometimes, we assume our mate won't do the right thing. This assumption isn't based in love; it's based in negativity. I encourage you to not only assume the best from your mate, but to also give them a chance to do right by you by expressing your needs.

If they don't respond to your ask, then you have two options:

  1. You can decide that it's not that important and move on.
  2. You can tell them it's what you need, rather than ask for it.

Step 2: 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'll 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 needs to be done. By continuing to only ask your mate to act, it may not communicate the importance of your needs. It may also leave you both feeling frustrated, discouraged, and defeated.

If something is really important to you, then you need to be willing to tell your mate it's what you need. Please don't expect them to read your mind. It's possible that they may not "get it." Nevertheless, it's common for people to resist telling their mate what they need because of this false belief: If my partner or spouse "loved me," they'd already know what I need. Trust me when I say that you and your mate are two very different people, and there will be times when you just don't think alike. Give them a chance to do the right thing by speaking up and telling them what you need.

Additionally, some people feel that it's not a loving act to speak up. They believe that if they really loved their partner or spouse, they should be willing to accept them just the way they are. This depends on the situation:

  • If you want your mate to change who they are, that's an unloving and unreasonable request.
  • If you want your mate to stop engaging in hurtful behavior that impacts you, that's a loving and reasonable request.

It's not fair to dissect or criticize your mate's personality just because you're in pain. If their actions are what's causing you the pain, then you most certainly have a right to speak up. When telling your mate something, it's important that the truth is spoken in love. This shouldn't be a personal attack, and you need to be able to clearly state what you desire. For instance, if your relationship is struggling and you asked your mate to go to counseling with you to no avail, then you've got to tell them, to the best of your ability, what you need.

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 relationship to work, I need you to go to this counseling session 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 to end with what you need. If you end with a "wish," then your mate may still view this as asking rather than telling.

Telling means speaking clearly about what's important to you. Try to avoid the use of "you" statements when addressing your mate. Instead, stick with what "I" want this and "I'm" going to do that, and tell your mate that you want them to join you.

Step 3: Demanding

For the horse, there are consequences for not responding. This is the hard step. Some of you may not believe you have a right to demand your mate to do something. I'm not suggesting that you rob them of their choice, I'm simply saying that you also have a choice. It's far more loving to inform your mate of your intention to use that choice, rather than allow them to continue in a pattern that's destructive to you, themselves, and the relationship.

This isn't a step to use when there's a simple difference of opinion. The demand is reserved as a last resort when your mate's behavior is harmful and destructive.

I recommend using this format when making a demand: "If you don't ___________, then I will _____________." A consequence has to be tied to the demand or else it carries no weight.

A demand isn't a threat or a means to control your mate; it's telling them what you're going to do if they don't respond or change. It's a warning and an attempt to break the cycle. They still have a choice; it's just that they're now aware of the consequence their choice carries. If the demand has any motive other than love, then it's the wrong motive, and the demand is inappropriate.

When is it appropriate to make demands? In my opinion, this step should be reserved for when all other efforts have been exhausted. They need to know you are doing this, making this demand, because you care for them — not just for yourself. A demand is sometimes effective when you're dealing with infidelity, abuse, and/or addiction. It can show that you love your mate too much to allow them to continue their destructive patterns. Again, you're not responsible for making your mate "do the right thing." They have to want to save themselves and the relationship. Even if the marriage ultimately fails, so much good can come from getting help and putting in the work to repair the damage.

Don't assume you know how your mate is going to respond and, in turn, refuse to take the risk of speaking up. You never know what they're going to do. It's certainly not a guarantee that they're going to go along with you but, in the long run, if you do request and they don't respond — if you tell them what you need and they don't respond — if you make the demand and they still refuse to do it — at least you won't have regrets. For love's sake, I urge you to have the courage to speak up and address the hard issues with your mate.

Cover more ground faster with the life-changing experience of EMS Weekend for couples.

This isn't another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. The EMS Weekend Experience is a safe space for you and your partner to start putting the pieces of your life back together, transform your trauma and begin healing from infidelity. Skeptical about the effectiveness of this experience? Don't be! Backed by a slew of previous participant testimonials, EMS Weekend delivers results month after month for countless couples.

During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist - all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand - as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

Sign Up Now!



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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.

Demands? How about non-negotiable boundaries

It may seem like just a difference in language, but Vicki Tidwell Palmer makes a clear distinction between "demands and ultimatums" and "non-negotiable boundaries" in https://vickitidwellpalmer.com/requests-demands-ultimatums/

To me, the difference is attitude. The word "demand" has negative connotations for a reason -- no one has the right to tell someone what to do. And Rick makes that point -- what he calls a demand is really a request with a consequence. What I think is important is to remember that no matter how strongly we feel about it, it's still a request -- the other person always has a choice. And then we have a choice about how we'll respond, and as Rick says, it's much better to communicate that clearly to the other, so they know how important it is, and so we are giving them a fully-informed choice.


I was the unfaithful.I have sought to reconcile for over 2 years. I have been in counseling and have 18 months sobriety.

She is seeking divorce. We have mediation Friday. Is it too late to demand.

Wife won't re-engage

My D-Day was in July 2015 when I found out about my unfaithful wife's affair. In the past nearly 6 years we have done individual and marital counseling to no avail. My wife basically has refused to try and heal the damage she has done. For the past 20 months, we have been on an in-house separation with her in the master bedroom and me in the guest room. No physical touch (other than a couple half hugs) in over two years.

And then the bombshell in November before Thanksgiving when she announced she wanted to divorce (and of all things, said God gave her peace to release herself from the marriage) after my youngest son graduated high school in mid June and that we could maintain the same living arrangements until then.

So I have been praying, fasting and standing that things change. It infuriates me that she is the one who had the affair and that she is the one who has not been bothered by anything, not tried to make things right, has had all the success in her career (I have been floundering losing two jobs since D-Day) and she didn't even barely lose any relationships when the affair was exposed. God has blessed her financially, emotionally, relationally, and I -- the betrayed -- have been devastated financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, health-wise. Wow, to the cheater goes the spoils, I guess.

I want nothing more than to reconcile our nearly 27-year marriage and keep our family intact. If we divorce, I will be forced to move cross country 2500 miles away and quit my job here and live with my parents (as I turn 50 in June) because I won't be able to live on my own (my wife makes two-third our income). Once again, she will get everything she wants and I will be left to burn in the ash heap that she has left in her wake.

Next steps

My betrayed partner doesn’t see a way out of this pain, let alone forgiveness. He said maybe months or years. I am balancing my healing and growth, giving his space, and slowly chipping away at his heart. What can I do to make this better?

I was a betrayed husband.

I was a betrayed husband. For me the hurt and shame of my wife giving herself sexually to another man was almost too much to bear. She clearly did not understand this. Stuck in a cycle, I expressed it (loudly/angrily) to her 1,000 times. When she finally stopped being defensive about what she'd done and sought to understand my hurt and shame, we started making progress.

Be patient, be honest, and be

Be patient, be honest, and be your best self. For all of the havoc that you have created its going to take a strong dose of humility, patience, and care on your part to show him that you royally screwed up and got lost in your selfishness, but are a redeemed spouse capable of having a fulfilling life with.

Hmm - Something Is Missing Here

As one of those "betrayed spouses" for which the pain has gone on way, way too long, I can only partially agree with your solution. In my world, something is missing. And I think your advice to "be yourself" may be at the heart of it. Intentionally or not, "being herself" is what got into this mess. Something needs to change. And deep down, I think the betrayed spouse really is both looking and hoping for something that has not yet happened. In many cases, healing is closer than one realizes. But it requires the person who did the betrayal to look into a whole different world - the world the betrayed spouse lives in, and do something from that world that would actually mean something to HIM. Whatever, I wish them both well.

what if the betrayed isn't wanting to work on the marriage

I was unfaithful. we had an open marriage. I wouldn't/ couldn't see that she was saying this because as she put it "atleast she knew where i was and with who." She says she is trying to work through things but she isnt getting help and wont even really talk to me about any of it. Her father was a serial philanderer. She says she can't help think of me in the same way as her father. Any suggestions as to how to help move past these issues?

What type of affair was it?

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