Just as You Give Up, She Decides To Change… Now What?

I had near identical contact over the last couple days from two different guys who have gone from “holy crap she’s going to leave me” a while back, to “she just broke down sobbing because she’s finally understood that I’m either getting what I want from this marriage, or I’m finding someone else that will.”
The question is… now what?
Well that’s up to her. As long as she is making progress in the direction that you want, and actually making some positive changes, it’s okay to soften your approach somewhat. You’re getting what you want from her, so you do have to reward that behavior from her. It’s just usually frustratingly slow going.
The switch now is into more of a coaching approach of;
Alpha = I’m not letting you off the hook for getting yourself together. Aka “Stick.”
Beta = I’m going to support you in doing that. Aka “Carrot.”
If you are currently having sex once every two weeks and want sex twice a week, getting to sex once a week is an improvement. You have to acknowledge that as such rather than be mad that it still isn’t twice a week. You’re looking for consistent small gains.
Obviously if you walk into a gym for the first time, no one is going to expect you to push 400lbs on the bench press. If you were yelled at for failing to press 400lbs, you’d probably just give up and never come back to the gym. If you press 100lbs on the first week and then 120lbs on the next week and got a “good job”, then you’d be more interested. Maybe you hit 130 the next week, then 140 the one after that. Maybe two years later you hit the 400lb mark.
Change is a process. As long as you are seeing positive progress in the direction you want, you shouldn’t give up on her. Talk about it openly, “hey you actually initiated sex with me last night, that was really good that you did that, I appreciate it.”  “The house is looking cleaner, that’s good.”
It can be a case of two steps foward and one step back as well. That’s fine too, just look for the long term pattern of positive progress. But when you see things starting to really reverse track, you have to step in and ensure that she understands the consequences of that.
Don’t give up on her, just as she’s finally doing what you what. Ironically this often happens at your point of total exasperation with your marriage. You can’t undivorce yourself if you start the divorce right now, but you can start the divorce in three months if she was just all talk. So breathe…. you worked so hard to get to this point. Just breathe and see what she does.
Not what she says she will do… what she actually does.


  1. Ian Ironwood says:

    So true, Athol. It's taken my wife years to get from our unhappy past to our contented present, and I'm looking forward to the idealized future.

    A lot of guys need to realize that this is a "long game", and getting frustrated because you only gained a few yards is counter-productive. I usually loathe sports metaphors, but this one is apt. The goal isn't to score a touchdown on every play; the goal is to win the game. And a bunch of field goals, while not as glorious as a touchdown, still add up points. Being patient, persistent, and consistent is key to winning the game. Fundamentals, boys, fundamentals.

    But your point about positive reinforcement is also well-taken. I'd add a caveat, however: while directly rewarding a favorable action is always a good idea, ("you tried to talk dirty that time . . . I'm so impressed that I'll sit through two episodes of Grey's Anatomy and hold your hand") I'd also recommend spontaneous, unforseen rewards that are not directly associated with positive behavior ("You know what, hon? I think we're due for a bottle of wine in front of the TV night. Why don't you pick out a chick flick and I'll pick up dinner . . . why? I've just been feeling exceptionally loving towards you. Must be all the hot sex, lately.").

    The idea is not just to reward her individual achievement, but to reward an over-all pattern of behavioral change as well. By graciously indulging a whim unexpectantly, and tying it to her behavioral change, you encourage future behavioral change.

    On a side note, when planning these positive-reinforcement treats, try to involve some factor which engages her olfactory senses. That's why flowers, chocolate, or a favorite food (or something as simple as the smell of popcorn) are key to your game. Smell is the sense most powerfully associated with memory, and linking a particular smell to a particular feeling (say, the aroma of roses on a magical romantic night, or the smell of popcorn during a quiet, intimate evening at home) will assist in re-establishing those memories, and therefore the associated feelings, in your future Game. I know of one woman who confided in me that her panties get drenched every time she smells fresh-baked bread, and she's terrified her husband will find out. It's weird, but as men we oftentimes don't pay attention to subtle details like that.

    Good post, Athol!

  2. Confidunce says:

    The problem is walking the line between being too easily satisfied without demanding more (too weak) and being too big a dick even in the face of improvement (too alpha).

    I find it works well to keep doing things to attract her but without narrating the process — nothing turns a girl off like hearing "I'm trying" — but narrating HER process of improvement through expressions of gratitude, praise, and objectivity. "Thanks for dinner, honey, your ass looks good in that apron. Meet me in the bedroom in ten minutes." Then go do the dishes, then meet her in the bedroom.

  3. Hey Kay, u sure u never handled a few shweens?

  4. Athol Kay says:

    Ian – agree semi-randomized rewarding is an excellent strategy.

    Vito – I had a lot of trouble with an early girlfriend and failed badly with her. Jennifer is fairly easy going and I've had to nuture her out of her shell more than anything.

    I just pay attention and learn. I also work with behaviorally challenged teenagers as a nurse with a heavy psych component. I do draw on that heavily.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This all seems very risky, given the downside of divorce.

    Athol, if you were ever divorced, do you think you would remarry?

  6. It is risky Anon, I've been quite clear about that from the begining. See the "Risks" tab at the top of the blog.

    Should Jennifer and I ever divorce I don't really know what I would do. All depends who I met I guess. I probably would not remarry as I'm done with having children. I do like being in a LTR though.

  7. Anonymous says:

    If a man is not consistent in his changes toward Alpha and/or Beta he will be seen as weak or manipulative;that is, not really who you are presenting yourself as.A wife is not as easily fooled by this as someone you are just dating and sleeping with once in awhile. Consistency does take time when you are trying to change her impression. After all, if this came naturally to you what is there to change in your approach? If you were trying to improve your Alpha physical fitness level would you do 50 situps just one day or even a week and consider yourself now fit? I know you want to get to the more and juicier sex part but old impressions have to crumble by persistent changes.

  8. Personal experience says:

    I agree with Ian: it's way too obvious if you only reward your wife for "good behavior." If she catches on, she's just going to start testing you, meaning that she'll be "good" to get the reward. And then figure out what behavior gets what reward. Throw in some curve balls and keep her guessing.

    Also, Anonymous (2/4/11 9:14 AM) makes a good point as well: in a marriage, you definitely can't change your wife's perception of you overnight. She's probably seen you start to change and then drop the act once or twice before, so she won't fall all over your feet just because you've started showing some improvement.

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