I heard them before I even met them. I was wrapping up a session when I heard the arguing coming from my waiting room. My client looked flustered and lost her train of thought. I tried hard to stay on track with her as I thought, “Oh boy! This last session of the day is going to be a doozy if those people out there are my new clients!”
They were. They stopped arguing only long enough for me to invite them into the office. But before we had even hit the door the husband said, “This is a waste of my time. She’s impossible and this isn’t going to solve anything!”
At this, his wife threw back at him, “Well, if you didn’t spend time at work all the time, maybe this marriage would work!”
He came back with, “Why the heck would I want to be at home when you’re so stinking miserable to live with?” (His words were actually more colorful than that, but I’ll leave that to the reader’s imagination.)
My counseling work with *Bob and *Diana had begun.
Although regular sessions usually ran fifty minutes, this first session went close to two hours –- and even then we came nowhere close to unpacking everything that had brought Bob and Diana into my office.
The gist that I could get, amidst the arguing, sarcasm, and occasional silent withdrawals, was that Diana felt that Bob was “married” to his job and was neglecting her and the children, and was also spending money without consulting her. Bob felt that Diana was too critical and difficult to live with.
The first month of Bob and Diana’s counseling consisted of new arguments every week, but in every one, the common theme could always be traced back to his work and spending and her critical and unhappy spirit.
After letting them run with their fighting for a good month in order to get a sense of the underlying issues and to observe how they communicated (or didn’t, in their case) we began the hard part of counseling.
After reviewing some basic communication guidelines within the office and stating my observations as to what the underlying issues were, I introduced Bob and Diana to the book by Willard F. Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. I gave them a quick summary of the top five needs of men and the top five needs of women.
The top five needs of men, as expressed in the book, are Sexual Fulfillment, Recreational Companionship, an Attractive Spouse, Peace and Quiet, and Admiration. The top five needs of women are Affection, Conversation, Honesty and Openness, Financial Security, and Family Commitment.
I asked Bob, out of all of the needs, what stood out the most to him,he stated “sexual fulfillment“.
He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Diana snorted and said, “As if that’s going to happen when I can’t trust you as far as I can throw you!”
He immediately responded, “And obviously the other thing that really stands out at me… ” here he glared at Diana, “is the need for some peace and quiet!”
“Yeah, well, I might be able to give you some of that if you would take care of your family and not be so foolish with our money!” was Diana’s response.
I pivoted off of her words and pointed out that she was answering my question, albeit in a round-a-bout way, that the two things that she seemed to need the most were financial security and family commitment. The typical response that most couples have to learning the top five needs of men and women is to immediately agree with them and then focus on how their spouse is not meeting those needs.
Bob and Diana were no exception. However, approaching it this way was not going to work. They needed to get the focus off of what they needed, and begin to focus instead on what their spouse needed. In order to achieve this I had them each write down what their spouse could do to help them meet their individual needs.
Diana wrote down, “Bob will make an effort to come home in time to eat dinner with me and the kids each night, will sit down and create a budget with me and agree to communicate about all purchases, will take time for family outings at least once a week, and will spend time with the kids before bed instead of just watching TV.”
Bob’s list included, “Diana will initiate sex instead of pull out the headache excuse when I initiate it, she will let me have an hour to myself when I come home from work instead of greet me at the door with all the things that she is upset about, will make an effort to realize my job is not easy but I go to it to help support her and the kids, and won’t jump all over me when she discovers I went to Starbucks for a coffee a couple times in the work week”.
Bob and Diana then exchanged the lists and were given the instructions to meet at least one of those needs for each other in the coming week. I was only asking for one, I told them. That’s all. One should be doable.
The following week Bob and Diana came into my office, and for the first time since they started coming, did not start the session off with heated words. Instead, they both sat quietly and looked at me expectantly to start the session.
“Well?” I asked.
“Well,” Diana said, “Bob was home for supper five out of seven days this past week, and we went to the park as a family for a picnic on Sunday after church.”
“It was really nice,” she added, looking at him with a smile.
“I was shocked,” Bob continued, “Diana worked really hard to give me space when I got home and even thanked me at one point for being so faithful to go to my job every day. Then, after the picnic Sunday, she actually responded to my kisses after the kids were in bed that night and we made love for the first time in months!”
“I felt close to him because he had spent time with me and the kids,” she explained to me. “It’s a lot easier to have sex when I feel connected to him.”
Bob laughed, “And it’s a lot easier to make an effort to come home from my job in decent season when she feels connected to me instead of angry with me all the time.”
In one short week Bob and Diana had learned a valuable truth about marriage –- work hard at meeting your spouse’s needs and yours will inevitably be met in return. Bob and Diana didn’t have their marriage issues resolved overnight. They would often take two steps forward and then three steps back over the next year of counseling.
Bob had a hard time getting out of his habit of spending without adhering to a budget, and this would result in Diana feeling financially insecure. She in turn would begin to nag and criticize Bob and withdraw from him sexually again.
Diana had just as hard of a time getting out of the critical way that she interacted with Bob on important issues as he did respecting the family budget. As a result, there were days that Bob found dealing with a difficult work issue was more preferable than going home, and he would once again put more time into his job than his family. Despite these setbacks, slowly but surely Bob and Diana learned to meet each other’s needs and their marriage was gradually repaired and strengthened.
Diana learned how to thank Bob regularly for all he did for her (admiration) and, through communication exercise, learned how to state her needs and concerns without attacking him (peace).
She also took the time to run to the hardware store with him on occasion, and even agreed to try her hand at the driving range with him one day (recreational companionship). She made extra effort to shower and take care of herself every day (attractive spouse) and worked hard at being the one to initiate sex with Bob once in a while (sexual fulfillment).
Bob, in turn, learned to hold Diana’s hand and put his arm around her in public without expecting it to turn into sex when they got home (affection) and took the time to listen about her day and all the things on her mind each night (conversation).
He even began to share his own heart on a regular basis (openness and honesty). He agreed to a budget and became more frugal in his spending (financial security) and became a father deeply involved with his children (family commitment).
The day came when I walked out of my office and into the waiting area to find Bob and Diane on one of our love seats, holding hands and laughing quietly together as they waited for their session. Theirs was a marriage restored. Marriage is hard work. It takes time, effort, and commitment.
Sometimes it also needs professional counseling. If you have reached a point in your marriage where you and your spouse can no longer communicate without fighting and separation is looking more attractive by the day, it is time to seek out professional help.
I have seen even the most broken marriages restored, but not without a great deal of effort on the part of both spouses and, oftentimes, the involvement of a third party.
A note of caution as well: while we need to focus on meeting our spouse’s needs instead of focusing on how our needs are not being met, please be aware of the danger of meeting an abusive or controlling spouse’s needs at the cost of our own emotional and physical safety. Please seek safety as soon as possible and then seek the counseling needed to repair your marriage.
This article has been written based on the principles found in His Needs, Her Needs; Building an Affair Proof Marriage by Willard, F. Harley, Jr.
Additional recommended reading:
For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men,by Shuanti Feldhahn
For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women, by Shaunti Feldhahn, Jeff Feldhahn
*Names and specific scenarios and circumstances have been changed to protect actual individuals. This article is a composite of several different couples that I have worked with throughout the years in my counseling office.
Pic of the Day: Spaces make the difference