How Your Efforts to Win Her Back are Killing Your Chances
Updated: Sep 8
Hey - check out our YouTube Episode where we discuss this in person!
This one is directed more to you guys out there, but ladies, there is insight for you as well.
First things first - don't get offended. We may bring some things to your attention that you don't want to deal with, things you don't want to hear, but hey - aren't you here for some help? Secondly - there are no guarantees that these tools are going to work - we hope that if you're struggling with this that they do help you, but every person and every relationship is different.
Issue #1: There is something wrong with your relationship - you might be separated or "on a break" (love that catchphrase from Friends!), or your partner is withdrawn and distant. Pat your self on the back for recognizing the problem.
Issue #2: Men are notoriously insecure creatures whether they accept it, cover it up with narcissistic features, closet narcissistic features, dependency, or whatever.
Issue #3: Women are hard to understand. Sigmund Freud said: “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’”. (SIGMUND FREUD, as quoted in Ernest Jones' Sigmund Freud: Life and Work)
So you've recognized that the relationship is in trouble - now what? Well, you need to ask yourself "what is it about ME that is contributing to this problem? Like I said - you may not want to hear all of this.
Let's talk about another issue.
Issue #4: There is nothing you can do to CHANGE your spouse. All you can do is CHANGE yourself. You are always in charge of how you act, what you say, and how you feel. Is the way you're acting, speaking, feeling helping, or hurting the situation?
Issue #5 Identify the "relational dance."
In Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) there is a very important dynamic called pursuer and withdrawer. A healthy relationship will have two pursuers. But how do you pursue your spouse without driving them away? You need to recognize if they are also in pursuit of you, or if they are withdrawing. If they are withdrawing - you have a problem; and you need to address it right away.
On the other hand, the withdrawer needs to express how they're feeling. If your spouse asks "are you okay" and you're NOT okay you need to tell them. The "I'm fine" answer that we so often give is not acceptable if you're NOT FINE. You are only adding to your spouse's insecurities when you do this. Classic tactics that ladies like to use are the silent treatment, saying you need some "space", or being passive-aggressive towards them.
Asking if your spouse is okay isn't bad; what changes the dynamic is when your motivation changes from really wondering if your spouse is okay, to worrying about YOURSELF, and validating yourself. And don't let it become an interrogation to get your validation - otherwise, you may as well grab the spotlight and handcuff her to the table until she tells you what you're fishing for. If you ask the question and get a response of "I'm fine", but you get a sense that she is upset the next words should be "Okay if there is something you want to talk about later just let me know". Then take a step back and ask yourself, “what did I do wrong, what didn’t I do, did she make a comment that could give me a clue".
Sometimes guys get defensive and prideful and that leads to anger or sarcasm towards your spouse. Guys will turn the situation back around and give their own silent treatment (now no one is talking).
Over time, uncertainty will become buried and replaced with frustration, anger, and a level of jerkiness we never thought we could reach. When this happens, men develop a damaging pattern called Projective Identification. What is Projective Identification? It is one of the most destructive coping strategies in a relationship that I have seen throughout my career. See, typically men don't like to feel certain emotions (e.g. insecurity, jealousy, uncertainty, fear, and so on). Over time we learn to deal with these emotions by getting rid of them. We project them onto our spouse. Let’s say you feel insecure about your weight. You don’t like that feeling so you project it onto your spouse by telling her she is fat. What happens when your spouse is not insecure about her weight? Hearing this form you will start to plant that seed of insecurity, and the more you say it, the more it grows. She could be a Victoria Secret model, but that insecurity can start to grow within her. And by causing her to feel insecure, she now feels the emotion we projected on her.
Let me give another simple example. You feel insecure because she is not telling you what’s bothering her. It even feels like she is giving you the silent treatment. You had enough of this nonsense, so you are going to give her the better silent treatment. In fact, you will give her a silent treatment as you walk out of the house and not tell here where you are going. Guess what, she is now probably feeling that same insecurity you felt during the silent treatment. This insecurity may cause her to isolate emotionally, leading to more desperation for you.
How about another example. She seems distant from you and there has been little intimacy.
Something must be going on right? You start to feel jealous and this is driving you nuts. You exchange that jealousy for anger, project the jealousy on her and then hop on Facebook and friend that cute girl you work with. Oops, and she “accidentally” found your Facebook page open and saw all the messages you sent to “the other woman.” Yep, now she is feeling insecure and a bit jealous. But just like you, this is being exchanged for anger, because she doesn't like feeling that emotion either. Tit for tat as they always say, and she starts sharing her emotional pain with the guy in the office across the hall.
How do we address this issue of Projective identification? Often, those feelings we have deep in our gut are the same feelings that your spouse is feeling. You must understand this. If you are feeling it, she is probably feeling it as well. If you feel insecure, what is making your wife feel insecure? If she feels secure with you, I doubt you will feel insecure with her. Get my point? This same process goes with other emotions such as jealousy, and fear. It is our job to understand our true emotions and how to effectively communicate them; not relying upon the projective Identification process.
Also, ladies, when you see this happening - SHUT IT DOWN! You need to be able to trust yourself and recognize that these are your spouse's insecurities, not your own. You have to create boundaries against these things so you don't end up tearing yourself down.
Something else that can result when you have one pursuer and one withdrawer is that guys get desperate and become stalkers or smotherers. I'm not really talking about the Night Stalker, or literally smothering you with a pillow (although who knows - things can escalate in ways we never expected). Let's examine what these look like.
The secret stalker will check their spouse's text messages when they're not looking; they'll listen in on their spouse's phone conversations; they'll follow their spouse from a distance when they leave the house. You don't realize that they're all up in your business - but they are.
The spooky stalker is totally obvious about it. They'll demand to look through their spouse's phone and question them about who they've called, texted, etc. They won't want their spouse out of their sight and will either demand that they always accompany them, or they won't let their spouse leave the house.
The smotherer will call their spouse 10 times a day; text their wife over and over. They'll constantly be asking their spouse "are you okay?", "are you happy?", "did I do something wrong?"; they want to spend every waking minute with their wife.
We'll use experience from our own lives to help illustrate smothering better. When we started dating, things were so great - for a while. I carried some insecurities with me into our relationship because of the issues I had had with previous girlfriends. I was always (and I mean always) asking Heather how she was doing, was she okay, did she need anything. Heather went on a vacation to Thailand with her family for about 10 days and I called her every single day. This was also the time before we had cell phones, so I'm talking about calling LONG DISTANCE to THAILAND at least 10 times. My phone bill was over $400! This was a lot for Heather to take in; we'd only been dating for a couple of months at this point. Shortly after this vacation, my behavior escalated and Heather broke up with me. She was feeling smothered and overwhelmed by this relationship. It was way too much for her, this early on.
Now - what did Heather do wrong here? She NEVER told me how she felt. She never told me that she felt smothered. We never talked about why this was happening. Instead, she shut down, and gave me answers like "I'm fine", "I'm just tired", "I don't feel good today", and then she was ornery and annoyed and finally broke it off. She thought I should just know that I was driving her crazy; I should know that my actions were smothering. But what I was doing, was feeding into my insecurities and acting desperate. As I sensed Heather withdrawing from the relationship, I doubled down my desperate acts and made things worse.
Obviously we worked things out and after about 6 months apart, we got back together. Did all of those issues go away right away? NO. But we learned better how to deal with them.
When we reach a point of desperation we start to emotionally suffocate and this makes you look desperate. Have you ever seen singles add that reads, "desperate man looking to emotionally suffocate woman?" Probably not, because women would run as far away as fast as they can. When you do this to your wife it is no different. What if instead, you were to say, “I understand, if there really was something wrong I want you to know that it’s okay to tell me whenever you want. I’m here", "Since you’re tired, can I get you a pillow?” and leave it at that. Don’t say anything else about it! This is doing a couple of things. First, it shows that you care. Second, it shows that you’re not dumb. Third, it shows that you have confidence in her and that you are not one of those insecure guys who smother. Fourth, it shows that you can give her time and space. See, time and space don’t typically mean what most guys think. Time does not mean eons and space doesn’t mean that she's moving to France with that waiter down the street. Give it time. Take it slow. Show consistent concern and keep working on yourself.
Let's address the stalker actions as well. Desperation leads us to do stupid things like hack Facebook accounts, check cell phones, or hover over them to see who they're texting. It’s no different than a stalker sitting outside of their bedroom window; and it makes you look creepy. Look, if she is going to cheat there is no stopping her. If she isn’t planning on finding someone else, your creepy behavior may just change her mind. I understand that desperation is bred from uncertainty, but you can be certain that you will be even more desperate if you keep it up. Now let’s take a look and the next step we take down this rocky road of bad choices.
As you spin down this downward spiral, you adopt another coping strategy called Reaction Formation. Reaction Formation is acting or believing the opposite of what you truly want. You want her close but the anger and frustration have become so strong that you push her away. You want intimacy, but you feel so rejected that you reject your spouse. Too often the statement "It'll be her loss,” is tossed out. Guess what? That nonsense only sounds good to friends. Doubtful it will continue to work as you tell this to your unshaven and unkempt self in the mirror in an effort to boost your ego. If it was her loss, why are you feeling the way you do? We need to swallow our overly puffed up male pride and admit that we hurt, we want her back, and that we need to grow up and be a man. You know that chick flicks they watch all the time. You know the one where she is about to leave for a faraway country and he chases after her to tell her how much he loves her. Notice that little tear in your spouse’s eye when that happens. Guess what, your spouse sees that as chivalrous. Chivalry, a word that is becoming extinct in our modern culture. It is a word that means brave, courageous, daring, loyal, and willing to do what it takes to protect those we love.
If we haven’t already dug the hole deep enough, the next step in our destructive process is to go into double desperation. So far nothing has worked. Your fear has turned to anger and you are pushing her further away. What do we do now? We make them scared for us. We must somehow make them care for us; to be concerned for us. Some may make subtle suicidal threats, some may become physically ill, and some may disappear altogether. Although your spouse may feel concerned, underneath that concern is contempt. A contempt that you made her feel emotions that she is not ready to feel. A contempt that you scared her. A contempt that you made her concerned about you when she doesn't even feel safe with you. Women know that this is a trick in the desperate man's playbook. One single incident of double desperation will damage your chances of making this work. Just don't do it. If you have already made this mistake you need to make amends. When your spouse feels safe enough with you, you and her need to sit down together and talk heart to heart. You need to share your shame about making such a move and causing them pain. You need to, as best as you can, assure them that you never want them to go through that again. Double desperation makes you look frightening, unstable, and quite honestly, not like someone she would take home to meet mom. It is a guaranteed backfire in your attempt to win her back. Even if it appears to have worked, in the long run, it will harm the relationship.
Our desperation leads us down a very dark and destructive path, yet we think that it is the only way to win them back. What we really need to do is become men. Not the emasculated image of the modern man found in our current culture; but confident, strong, caring, loving, protective, patient, trustworthy, trusting, and safe men. Your spouse should see you as her partner, not her enemy; her protector, not a threat, her rock not a dependent wimp. Get out of your own way, but the pride down, stop being your own worst enemy and listen to what she is telling you. She is giving you the answer.
Use the comment box below to tell us the healthy ways you pursue your spouse. If you're a stalker...you'll probably keep that to yourself!
This information is simply for consideration and is not intended to serve as clinical advice. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, I encourage you to seek professional guidance from a pastor, counselor, or psychologist.