Willard Harley wrote a book entitled His Needs, Her Needs. Although I have heard repeated references to the book since its first publishing in 1986, I have rarely heard the subtitle mentioned: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. Nonetheless, in the Introduction to his book he makes a helpful distinction between two types of marital conflict:
Marital conflict is created one of two ways: (1) Couples fail to make each other happy, or (2) couples make each other unhappy. In the first case, couples are frustrated because their needs are not being met. In the second case, they’re deliberately hurting each other. I call the first cause of conflict failure to care and the second, failure to protect. (Harley, p. 15)
It is this insight that I have found particularly helpful because resolving conflict is among the most central challenges of the marriage and family therapist. Learn how to deal with our differences in a healthy, respectful way and you can address most of the other issues that many relational conflicts center around such as money and finances, sex, religious differences, and in-laws.
Harley’s idea of a “Love Bank” is worth noting as a useful metaphor for loving ‘deposits’ when we focus upon pleasing each other and negative ‘withdrawals’ when we try to hurt each other or fail to please each other. It is this last part…the failure to care…that provides the focus for his book.
Alternately, he addresses the woman’s need for affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. On the other hand, for the man Harley notes his need for sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, a spouse who cares for herself, domestic support and her admiration.
One of the things that I have found over the years is that the principle of caring for one another is an abiding value that stands behind loving relationships. Working to please each other by listening for our partner’s needs and desires and strive to satisfy them and your relationship will improve, particularly when it is a two-way exchange. Quid pro quo (i.e., this for that) is a simplistic definition for how this works best; but, it is, in truth, a critical element. Too much quid in contrast to a partner’s lack of quo can devolve into an unhealthy imbalance as one partner takes advantages of the other.
Relationship books come and go, groomed to apply ancient, tested principles to new cultures with differing ideas about implementation and application. In other words, the function of loving and caring for one another is as old as marriage and relationships. It is the form of how one goes about doing this that shifts from one generation to another as each couple searches out the unique qualities of their partner and pairs them with their own unique perspectives, preferences and commitment to please the other.
So, if you wish to build an affair-proof marriage, go back to the basics. Sometimes, this can seem tougher than it sounds because of past negative withdrawals from each other’s love bank. Sometimes the withdrawals can exceed the balance and cause a dangerous pattern of overdrafts. Marriage and family therapists can help couples make choices that will help them discontinue the damage being done and get back to the basics of relationships, helping them reach towards achieving their potential.