Most couples enter married life with a proverbial pink cloud over their heads. Their former girlfriend/boyfriend is now their spouse, and they expect that the wonderful, warm, and exhilarating relationship they have enjoyed before their marriage will only get better in married life. As they enter the first months and years of their marriage, both parties typically realize relatively quickly that the person they married is not necessarily the same as the one they dated – and they feel let down by the realization.
The book His Needs, Her Needs: How to Build an Affair Proof Marriage seeks to address the root causes of marital letdown and offers methods to ward off marital failure. It offers a good variety of insights into the areas of the relationship that can build or destroy marriages; however, ultimately it generalizes the needs of couples to a degree that while the book will apply to many couples, some may feel themselves not depicted accurately.
Summary of “His Needs, Her Needs”
The idea for the book His Needs, Her Needs: How to Build an Affair-Proof Marriage arose in author Willard F. Harley, Jr. head after teaching a 13-week course on marriage at his church in 1978. The audio recordings of these sessions became useful tools for Harley as he mentored couples in his counseling practice. Ultimately a transcript of the tapes reached a publisher who was excited to print the book, which was first published in 1986.
Harley begins by asking the question how affair-proof the reader’s marriage is. His premise very early on is that affairs typically are started because deep-seated needs are not met. To help his readers understand how unmet needs can contribute to spouses becoming unfaithful to each other, he offers a chapter on a concept he terms “Love Bank.” To Harley, each spouse has an internal bank that deposits or withdraws love units based on the emotional response offered or withheld by the partner in a relationship. Typically, in Harley’s observation, “Love Banks” are the fullest when the relationship is headed towards marriage, but sinks, often drastically, after the realities of life sink in.
The bulk of the book addressed five emotional and physical needs, which Harley has identified as being applicable to couples. He has divided them into the needs of females and males, alternating between the genders in the book. The areas of emotional need for the female in the marriage are identified as affection, intimate conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. For the man, critical emotional needs are defined as sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support, and admiration. Harley describes in each of the sections through a series of stories why the need is so critical to the female or male in the marriage and how not meeting the need can lead the spouse in question down a path that might involuntarily – and to them inexplicably – lead to an affair.
Harley concludes the book by adding a section on what to do if an affair has happened, and how a marriage might still be salvaged and turned around to become a solid and fulfilling relationship once again. In his final chapter, Harley summarizes what he has described in the prior chapter to show the path from finding a spouse incompatible to having the other spouse change in a way that makes him or her seem irresistible. In an appendix, Harley adds a variety of tools and questionnaires to further allow a couple to work on topics such as an inventory of emotional needs and their perceived strength, a tool to develop a needs and wants budgets, and a recreational enjoyment discovery tool allowing spouses to find mutually enjoyable activities.
Critique of the Book
Harley’s approach to identifying emotional needs arose out of his work with couples in his counseling practice. His insights are very detailed, and his tips and advice are very practical. Yet some of his depiction of needs seems over-generalized, as there will hardly be a complete fit for every couple reading this book in the identification of emotional needs. Some women may struggle with some male needs and vice versa. The list of emotional needs may include other topics that are deemed more relevant by other couples and which are not listed in Harley’s book. His book seems to suggest a bit that Harley has found the end of all relationship wisdom and the final answer to wedded bliss. Even with this caveat, what Harley writes in the pages of his book does contain great bits of truth, which should not be neglected and which can prove very beneficial in the course of one’s marriage.
Another point of slight disconnect in reading are the seeming semi-anachronisms in the pages of the book. Harley first created these lessons in 1978. To say that the world has moved on, and that this is also reflected in our Christian marriages, may be redundant. One example here may serve to prove the point: in his referring to the husband possibly seeking for a job that allows him to be home more often rather than travel for business, Harley betrays a 70s mentality that no longer depicts relationships accurately. Many couples in the 2010s have dual incomes, oftentimes with a wife who outearns her husband and who travels more than he does.
The book seems written from a very male perspective – not surprising since the author is male – which does not represent female emotions or thinking accurately from time to time. His section on sexual fulfillment highlights this as an almost entirely male trade, yet women can and do experience strong sexual desire and seek to have it fulfilled. Harley speaks of the “reluctant husband,” which looks at physical issues with the man that might need to be addressed. In some marriages, it is the female who has the stronger sex drive, while there is nothing physically wrong with the husband (or the wife, for that matter). In general, the section on sexual fulfillment is filled with content that would be better kept in the confines of a sex manual. The importance behind the emotional need of sexual fulfillment could have been conveyed in less “technical” terms in the confines of a book that wants to center on emotional (not physical) needs. Coupled with the chapter on the male emotional need of physical attractiveness, it makes men sound superficial to this reader.
What seems completely missing from the pages of this book are biblical insights that could and should direct Christian couples. It may be that the target audience for this book from a publisher’s perspective needed to extend beyond the somewhat limited audience of church-attending couples, but it seems that this solid advice that is part of Scripture should not be withheld, as God, in the pages of Scripture, has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3, ESV), and the topic of marriage and marital relationship is no exclusion. Even the topic of sexual intercourse in marriage is addressed: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5, ESV)
Overall, the book contains a plethora of good advice, which couples would certainly find useful, especially those that are embarking on the first months and years of their marriage. Even couples that have been married for a good number of years can still find areas of behavior that will prove to be beneficial to their marriage if course-corrected. The author makes a plausible case for a couple to indeed find marital bliss, despite the forces of the world around them. Affairs can be avoided, if couples are attuned to each other’s emotional needs and to the difference in approaches to spousal relationship their gender may provide.
Harley’s book, while flawed in some respects, provides valuable aspects that married couples are well-advised to research and implement in their marriages. While not all emotional needs Harley lists may be applicable for all couples or even for one marriage partner, the sum of the book’s engagement with emotional needs makes it a valuable tool to discover how a marriage can not only be safe from the risk of an affair, but how it can become a fulfilling and ultimately God-glorifying part of the here and now of Christian living.