Friday, February 13, 2009


In my counseling I often come across people who's relationship with their spouse is in serious jeopardy. Their spouse doesn't feel love towards them anymore; perhaps because of an affair, abuse, neglect, whatever. Their spouse is done and wants a divorce. Suddenly they realize that the relationship is in peril and they wake up to the danger. Hoping to win the person back, they pursue the person desperately, that is with desperate behaviors. Unfortunately when someone feels nothing towards you anymore, this kind of pursuit rarely helps you - especially in the long term. Feeling sorry for someone is not helpful to breathe new life into a relationship!

Here's why desperate doesn't work: it's not attractive and it doesn't usually have long term results. Who wants to be with a desperate person? We want to be with someone because we want to be with them. So why do we use desperate behaviors on people? My theory is that:

1. It's learned by watching others. If others do it, shouldn't we?
2. It often works - but only in the short term. It never puts off the inevitable.
3. We don't know what else to do. We panic!

We see desperate acting people all the time (and I fully admit that in general I have been there). . What desperate spouses don't realize is that their desperation often is the final nail in the coffin - it turns off the other spouse completely and reinforces their negative views of the other. Often it is also felt as manipulation (crying, begging, moping, seeking reassurances, being clingy) - and I don't know anyone who wants to be manipulated. We all have a desire to rebel against manipulation - we either do it externally or internally. Sometimes we think that the more desperate we appear to our spouse the more inclined they'll be to take us back but an angry or withdrawn spouse doesn't want that pressure and will often rebel against it.

People want the freedom to make choices; whether it is with having another go at a marriage, teaching Sunday school, or supporting a child in Africa. Are there cases where some sort of desperate reaction is acceptable and understandable? Absolutely. But when we try to use desperation to get what we want with something that is not a total emergency we lose respect with those we are trying to impress. As a camp director, the best advice on recruitment I ever got was to "stop sounding desperate" (Thanks Tim Reimer). If you use this strategy on people, ask yourself - are you long term getting the results you crave? My guess is you aren't. Maybe its time to switch strategies?

May Light increase!

P.S. The image is The Desperate Man, by Gustave Courbet.


Lifelines said...

That is so true and is applicable to so many situations, even in parenting! Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

How do you stop being "desperate?"