Playing the “Game” to Win Him/Her Back?

Here is a very insightful e-mail from someone who has poured over my material, and probably the material of many others. She describes a powerful dilemma, if not expressed by others, at least felt by others. Here is her e-mail:

It strikes me that you’re sending something of a double-bind message in these materials. On the one hand, I’m by no means to consider any of this to be my fault, but on the other, I should set about improving myself, perhaps with the underlying intention of “winning him/her back.”

And as I embark on my “improvement” program I find myself in competition with the OP (other person.) Now, how can I “win” that? She gets the candlelight, conversations and sexual excitement of dimly lit hotel rooms. I get the harsh and utterly unforgiving light of day-to-day reality.

Quite right that I need to be fit and happy for myself, but some of this seems like a game to me… a game I seemingly can’t win. I’m tired of the game.


My Response:

Gosh, you hit the nail on the head! THE dilemma: Do I need to play the game better? Or, How do I extricate myself from the game and still care about him?

After all, an affair is a game, initiated usually by someone who is developmentally arrested (most did not “do” adolescence very well), has a character disorder (loves “the game”), Struggles with addictions or suffers from feelings of inadequacy (needs to prove their adequacy or migrates to those familiar feelings of being inadequate).

Because he/she plays the game doesn’t mean that you have to. It also means you can (eventually, perhaps) care and “connect” with him/her.

Yes, The affair in NOT your fault. Did you make mistakes? Well, I would assume so! Who doesn’t? And really, you don’t carry the power to control the behavior of others! :)

Yes, the “improvements” are subtly conveyed as those things we need to do to win the game or get the guy. And, of course, they don’t work, or if they work, we get the guy and say, “Hmmmm, is this all there is!?” And, if we pursue these “improvements” to win him/her back we are merely playing the game, and feel this lack of personal integrity.

Not playing the game means standing back, learning about you, seeing the affair for what it REALLY is, and connecting to your partner by making comments “about” him/her, the situation and/or yourself.

For example, you assume this other person is getting something special – and our media does a number on us with their portrayal of “romantic love.” It may appear so, but affair relationships have a terribly horrible track record. I get a number of emails from those involved in an affair who feel trapped or on a course of self-destruction. And, usually those relationships self-destruct in very messy ways.

Learning about yourself is very different from “making improvements” you described. You don’t have to improve! You need not “get better!” You are ok. But, you do want to grow and create a richer more whole life for yourself and those you touch. This goes beyond a hard body, although a hard body might feel good and be what you want also. But, you want it for you, not to strut and seduce him (although sometimes that is fun!).

Here are some questions you may ask, to move you in the direction of self awareness and away from the game playing:

1. What am I tolerating? What am I willing to tolerate? How and what can I stop tolerating?

2. How can I simplify my life – getting rid of all the relational and physical clutter – so I live from a center of peace (well, sometimes at least)?

3. How do I clear my mind of all the thoughts of what I should’ve, could’ve or would’ve done? How do I throw off the baggage I carry?

4. How do I become a person of extreme integrity – doing that which is right/healthy FOR ME?

5. How do I speak my personal needs in a way that others naturally want to respond, “yes, let me know how I can help you.” How do you get beyond your neediness?

6. What do I need to do right now to manage my life (finances, children, body, work, etc.) in a way that gives a sense of well being, where I can say, “This is good!”

7. What boundaries need to surround me to protect my soul, heart and mind from the slings and arrows of toxic people and situations?

8. What are the standards in my life? How can I double my standards to be more fully me?

9. How can I create reserves of time, space, money, energy, opportunity, love, information, wisdom, self and integrity in my life – getting beyond my neediness so I may live bound by purpose?

10. How can I live RIGHT NOW rather than regretting the past or fearing the future?

11. How can I surround me with people I want and who are good for me and me for them?

12. How do I protect what is vitally important for me?

13. How do I orient my life around my values so I feel truly fulfilled by the goals I set and met?

As you move through these questions (and you won’t complete this in a couple days, or weeks, or months) declare your thoughts and findings to him/her. Act on tolerating less, let him/her know your boundaries, state your standards, live out your values in his/her presence.

And, feel free to make comments regarding what you observe, or don’t observe in his/her life.

Don’t compete. Don’t try to measure up. Be you. And, be curious about him/her.

I know – easier said than done. But here is a game plan that puts you above the “game.”


  1. Yes, why wouldn’t the thought that improving yourself would be a way to win him back show up? Me, I credit it to having become preoccupied with this situation. This pain become the primary point of reference for every other thought I had. The idea that taking care of myself for myself became obscured by that ever present thought of changing HIM. I’ll even admit to thinking of self improvement as a way to become so fulfilled and radiantly serene that he grovels in his own regret! Along with that thought comes some rebellious ice cream eating “why bother, looking good didnt stop him from doing this in the first place”

    I still have these thoughts and I take note of them. But I dont let them direct me anymore.

    In reality, taking care of myself is a good thing, even if he never changes. I’ll be better for it either way. I find that in taking care of myself, the focus gradually changes back to me and what’s good for me. My thinking changes, like a fog lifting. I think of it as taking back the space in my head that the hurt preoccupied and replacing it with a better me. It just doesnt happen overnight.

  2. a couple of thoughts – it has now been 2 years since I discovered my h’s affair and almost 18 months since he once and for all ended all contact with the OW. I really did want him “back” and he said that he wanted our marriage to continue – he never actually “left” and never said he wanted to but rather tried to maintain two relationships. That didn’t fly with me so taking good care of myself and improving had several aspects for me. He had to make a choice and if he chose me he would be choosing the stronger of the two womem (she got all helpless and clingy to him once the affair was revealed; as my therpist kept saying, helplessness can be appealing for awhile but then gets tiresome and people are usually drawn to strength); if he chose me, he would be getting a better marriage (because as Dr. Bob said, of course I had made mistakes too and was willing to work on changing) If he chose her, by taking care of myself I would be in better condition to deal with that huge life-change.
    I completely believe all of Dr. Bob’s analyses of these situations but it’s hard to deny that there is an aspect of “competition” in many of them. He was out to soothe his ego among other things but she was definitely out to “win” him. Believe me, I was certainly not prepared to compete for my husband after 35 years of marriage and am still angry at times that he put me in that position. But in taking care of me, I had to figure out what I really wanted – for me. I really wanted to keep my marriage and to go forward in my life with him, without the presence of a third person. That was my goal but I also knew that I didn’t have complete control over every aspect of this – and the best way to gird yourself up for dealing with things over which you have no control is to be in the best possible shape mentally and physically that you can be.

  3. I found him kissing her in the neighborhood park. We had been married 33 years. He had been sneaking out and sending me out of town so he could see her for a couple of months.
    I realized that he has always been a sucker for female flattery. Now (2 years later) I know its his insecurities that made him seek that flattery. I now know (most days) that his problems are his and that they were something that I could never give enough to solve. Sure I made mistakes too but I have learned that I was not able to give him enough to make up for this flaw in him. No one could have given enough.Somehow he had to see that I would keep giving and giving to prove I loved him.
    He left her immediatly, she did not mean anything to him just fed his ego. I have to wonder if that is not usually the case.
    We are working on things but I am now begining to wonder if I needed him back from my own neediness?
    We have both lost in this situation, I am sure she did too

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