Building An Affair-proof Marriage
by Dr. Willard Harley, Jr.
When a man and woman marry, they share high expectations. They commit themselves to meeting certain intense and intimate needs in each other on an exclusive basis. Each agrees to “forsake all others,” giving each other the exclusive right to meet these intimate needs. That does not imply that all needs are to be met by a spouse, but that there are a few basic needs that most of us strictly reserve for the marriage bond. Most people expect their spouse to meet these special needs, since they have agreed not to allow anyone else to meet them.
For example, when a man agrees to an exclusive relationship with his wife, he depends on her to meet his sexual need. If she fulfills this need, he finds in her a continuing source of intense pleasure, and his love grows stronger. However, if his need goes unmet, quite the opposite happens. He begins to associate her with frustration. If the frustration continues, he may decide she “just doesn’t like sex” and he may try to make the best of it. But his strong need for sex remains unfulfilled. His commitment to an exclusive sexual relationship with his wife has left him with the choice of sexual frustration or infidelity. Some men never give in; they manage to make the best of it over the years. But many do succumb to the temptation of an affair. I have talked to hundreds of them in my counseling offices.
Another example is a wife who gives her husband the exclusive right to meet her need for intimate conversation. Whenever they talk together with a depth of honesty and openness not found in conversation with others, she finds him to be the source of her greatest pleasure. But when he refuses to give her the undivided attention she craves, he becomes associated with her greatest frustration. Some women simply go through their married lives frustrated, but others cannot resist the temptation to let someone else meet this important emotional need. And when they do, an affair is the likely outcome.
His Needs Are Not Hers
When a husband and wife come to me for counsel, my first goal is to help them identify their most important emotional needs—what each of them can do for each other to make them happiest and most content. Over the years, I have repeatedly asked the question, “What could your spouse do for you that would make you the happiest?” I’ve been able to classify most of their responses into ten emotional needs—admiration, affection, conversation, domestic support, family commitment, financial support, honesty and openness, physical attractiveness, recreational companionship, and sexual fulfillment.
Obviously the way to keep a husband and wife happily married is for each of them to meet the needs that are most important to the other. No wonder husbands and wives have so much difficulty meeting each other’s needs. They are willing to do for each other what they appreciate the most, but it turns out that their efforts are misdirected because what they appreciate most, their spouses appreciate least!
Often the failure of husbands and wives to meet each other’s emotional needs is simply due to ignorance of each other’s needs and not selfish unwillingness to be considerate. By learning to understand yourself and your spouse as totally unique people with particular emotional needs, you can identify your needs and communicate them to each other.
When spouses fail to meet each other’s most important emotional needs, I have seen, strikingly and alarmingly, how they tend to choose the same pattern to satisfy their unmet needs: the extramarital affair. People wander into affairs with astonishing regularity, in spite of whatever strong moral or religious convictions they may hold. Why? When a spouse lacks fulfillment of any of the basic needs, it creates a thirst that must be quenched. If changes do not take place within the marriage to care for that need, the individual will face the powerful temptation to fill it outside of marriage.
If we are to make our marriages affair-proof, we cannot hide our heads in the sand. The spouse who believes his or her partner is “different” and, despite unmet needs, would never take part in an affair may receive a devastating shock someday. Instead, we need to understand the warning signs that an affair could happen, how such liaisons may begin, and how to strengthen the weak areas of a marriage in the face of such a relationship.
Willard F. Harley, Jr. is a nationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and bestselling author. His popular website, www.marriagebuilders.com, offers practical solutions to almost any marital problem. Dr. Harley and his wife, Joyce, host a three-hour live radio call-in show called Marriage Builders Radio and Marriage Builders Weekends across the country. They live in Minnesota.
Willard F. Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs, Revised and Expanded Edition, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2011. Used by permission.