Mercenary Love – Repeating the Same Relationship Over and Over

I hear the questions often… “Why do all men cheat? Why are all women selfish? Why are all men immature?”

These sort of questions will lead one to try to answer an unanswerable question. The question is unanswerable because the question is biased. It leads you down a line of thinking which masks the true problem. It assumes that all men or women are cheaters, or selfish, or whatever. The truth is that only some are. It would be more accurate to ask “Why do I only notice cheaters and only let cheaters into my life?”

A mercenary is different from a soldier in that a mercenary fights for money whereas a soldier fights for love of country. While both get paid, the primary motivation is different.

Love can be mercenary as well. Mercenary love’s primary purpose is to fulfill a need other than the desire for emotional intimacy with that person. One common complaint of attractive women is that men seek them out only because of their appearance. Men seek sex, but don’t want to know them. Confusing sexual attraction for love is a type of mercenary love. The person who seeks a relationship based on sexual attraction makes the rest of the relationship work because it satisfies their sexual needs.

Some people marry because they have children and want to “do the right thing” or because they need a father or mother for their child. This is also mercenary love. Some enter into relationships for financial security. There a number of reasons that people are attracted to others… and often the true attraction is not actually love, but based on another need. This does not need to be purposely deceitful. Often people do not realize they are seeking out relationships based on mercenary need. Often they fool themselves into believing they love their partner… when the truth is that they need what their partner has to offer. These are very different motivations. Good people can enter into mercenary love without realizing they do it. Sometimes mercenary love works out. More often it does not.

Movie stars often date other movies stars. While it may seem that this is because they happen to be around other actors, that is probably less true that it initially seems. Think about how many support personnel and non-actors they run into. Marketing people, sales people, administrators, agents, hotel staff, restaurant workers, and a lot of other types of people are probably encountered quite a bit by movie stars.   I believe movies stars date movie stars because they know that their prospective partner doesn’t need their fame and doesn’t need their money. An actress like Jennifer Aniston would be wise to wonder if a person showing interest in her is interested in her money, reputation, appearance, or the movie star lifestyle. It must be difficult for her to determine if a potential husband wants her for her… or because she is “Jennifer Aniston”.

Beyond these obvious sorts of mercenary needs are psychological needs. Often we have the desire to “fix” our relationships with our primary attachment figures… our parents. Take, for example, a girl who is physically abused by her father. At their core, children want the affection of their parents… even abusive ones. A child will try all sorts of ways to get love… or to turn the abuser into a truly affectionate protector. The desire is to be lovable. To find a way to change rejection into acceptance. And this unconscious desire can follow us into adulthood.

In later relationships, this same girl (now a woman) might unconsciously seek out abusive men in order to find a way to change them into loving men. In that way they can scratch that itch they have to be special… to validate themselves… to become lovable. If the woman simply wanted to be loved then she would seek out loving men. But instead she seeks out abusive men who she then tries to turn into loving men. Caring men might be seen as boring or weak… not real men. Of course, most of us define what a man is by our fathers, and what a woman is by our mothers.

The problem is that people rarely change… even they themselves are motivated to change. Trying to change another person without their cooperation is a hopeless proposition. But even if the woman miraculously manages to change her abusive boyfriend into a genuinely loving guy, she would not be happy for long. The mercenary need is to change the abuser into a caring man… not to have a caring man. It is the process of change which is sought out, not the end result.

If you find yourself involving yourself in the same type of negative relationship over and over, please consider seeking out a qualified therapist to explore the possibility that you are unconsciously trying to resolve childhood issues. It’s hard work, but it is achievable. Finding true love within mercenary love is likely not.

The Attention-Seeking Child (or My Kid Drives Me Crazy)

Many parenting books, parenting experts, and even teachers will encourage a parent to reward wanted behavior and punish negative behavior. But what do you do if you tried taking away everything or offering great rewards and your child still isn’t motivated do what you require of them?

What you may not know is that various suggested parenting strategies have a set of underlying assumptions about the purpose of child behavior. Often these assumptions are not stated by authors of parenting books. Being unaware of the basic assumptions of a parenting model can be problematic because if those assumptions are wrong then then parenting strategies is unlikely to produce results.

Parenting strategies can be generally divided into two categories; behavioral and non-behavioral. Behavioral strategies assume that the child will act much as any other animal. In other words, the child will seek out pleasurable consequences and avoid unpleasant ones. While this may seem to be an obvious motivation, it is not always the case. Non-behavioral models focus on a child’s individual thought processes. They work to change the child’s internal motivation, not the external motivation.

Behaviorist parenting strategies are based on the psychological approach of Behaviorism. Behaviorism was developed by John B. Watson and others. It was based on research done on animals. Animals avoid pain and seek out food. In its early stages, Behaviorism completely ignored the idea of internal thoughts or cognitive motivations. Later on, B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov and others acknowledged the existence of internal thoughts, but largely ignored them. Popular books such as 1-2-3 Magic and methods taught by Certified Behavioral Analysts (CBAs) are behavioral in nature.

Why is this important to a parent? Because Behavioral parenting strategies are based on the idea that human children act on similar motivations to animals. Certainly, some child behavior can be influenced by rewards and punishments. However, children are also much more complex in their thinking than animals generally are. While a hungry animal will almost always see a piece of food as a reinforcer of behavior, a hungry child may well have a different outlook on the matter. If a child values attention above all else, they may do the opposite of what a parent or caregiver would like them do simply to gain negative attention.

The easiest way to determine if you have an attention seeking child may be to pay attention to how you feel when attempting to deal with unwanted behavior (or an absence of wanted behavior). If you feel a sense of frustration, you may be dealing with an attention seeker. The parent of an attention seeker may say something like “I don’t understand why they won’t tie their shoes. I try to reason with them, give them praise or other rewards, but nothing works. I know they can tie their shoes but they are just being impossible for some reason.” What the parent is failing to see is that the child is actually getting the reward which is valued above all else… attention. As the parent attempts to reason and bargain with the child, the parent’s attention is completely focused on the child. As soon as the child “gives in” and does the wanted behavior, the parent may will shift attention to some other matter. It is therefore in the child’s interest to simply keep the parent frustrated and locked in on the issue at hand.

In the same example, the parent (and child) would be much better off if the parent simply shrugged their shoulders and emotionlessly said to the child, “I guess we can’t go to the park because your shoes are untied.” After saying this, the parent would simply attend to some other matter rather than keeping focus on the child and the struggle to get their shoes tied.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Behavior techniques and certainly CBAs can be successful in increasing wanted behaviors in children. However, when struggling with a parenting strategy that doesn’t seem to be working… one might be better off exploring an alternate philosophical approach to parenting.

If you have any further interest in non-behavioral parenting styles, I recommend reading Children: The Challenge by Dreikurs & Stoltz as well as The Parents’ Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer & McKay.

Eric Leever, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC
1555 NW Saint Lucie West Blvd
Suite 201
Port St. Lucie, FL  34986

772 284 6030

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