A Critique of His Needs, Her Needs by William F. Harley
Martin has written a critique of His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, a book we have discussed on this blog before. Martin wrote it for his seminary class and has given us permission to post it here for all of us to read.
Give it a read! He did a really good job. And he even got a good grade:)
Liberty Theological Seminary
A Reading Report of
William F. Harley’s
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage
Grand Rapids: Revell, 2011.
Submitted to Dr. Donald Hicks
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Course
Ministry Matters: Preventing Ministry Failure
November 2, 2012
Willard Harley’s book His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage, first published in 1986, is going on its third full decade of providing marital advice in a world where depravity and divorce abound. In this book, Harley, a nationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, attempts to address the one problem which remained largely unsolved in his education and early professional practice. The answer, according to Harley, lies in building relationships which are focused on meeting one another’s needs. This review will provide an overview of Harley’s book, including several important illustrations used throughout the book, along with a critique and personal applications, including recent use of the book in the reviewer’s personal ministry efforts. A conclusion is offered summarizing the future usefulness of this book for ministry.
Summary of Book
Harley’s book begins with a startling discovery made early in his professional counseling practice. He was constantly failing to help couples avoid divorce, but even more so “everyone else working with me in the clinic was failing as well!”1 Harley, as a psychologist, saw the answer in what he describes as love; an emotion he describes as “a feeling triggered from learned
associations.”2 To Harley, then, what makes a marriage work can be determined by understanding the triggers to unleashing the love emotion in a partner. Everyone, says Harley, has a “Love Bank,”3 where they keep accounts of the balances of love they have been given by others. When a husband triggers the right association for the wife, producing the love emotion in the wife, the husband’s love account grows proportionately with the wife.4 If spousal love bank balances can grow simultaneously, a marriage will flourish. If either spouse’s love bank balance is to be neglected, the marriage is destined to failure.
Harley contends that the love emotion is a feeling generated by the meeting of emotional needs. To assist readers searching to trigger the love emotion in their spouses, Harley identifies what he introduces and discusses the ten most important emotional needs which must be met; (1) Affection, (2) sexual fulfillment, (3) intimate conversation, (4) recreational companionship, (5) honesty and openness, (6) physical attractiveness, (7) financial support, (8) domestic support, (9) family commitment, and (10) admiration.5 Much of Harley’s book is aimed at providing advice to spouses who are searching to produce a love reaction in their spouse by meeting these emotional needs. While Harley provides a tool for individual determination of emotional needs6, for the purposes of his book, he addresses specifically what he considers to be the most important needs of women (affection and intimate conversation) and the most important needs of men (sexual fulfillment and recreational companionship).7
For the wife looking to gain the love of her husband, Harley suggests first and foremost the importance of the wife completing her husband’s need for sexual fulfillment.8 Harley gives clear indication through the book that a lack of sexual fulfillment is a major cause of infidelity in men. At one point in the book, Harley illustrates with a man (John) whose wife (Mary) has gone back to finish college after giving birth to two children.9 Harley explains that “John is not too happy about it all. What bothers him most is that Mary rarely seems in the mood to make love.”10 When the adulteress (Norene) enters the scene and offers John casual consensual sex, “Whatever guilt John feels he quickly quashes with a thought of his unfulfilled needs.”11 Harley also gives detailed advice on what he considers to be the second most important emotional need of men – recreational companionship.12 Harley suggests that spouses who “play together, stay together,”13 and that adultery and divorce are likely for those couples who drift apart recreationally.14
For the husband looking to gain the love of his wife, Harley suggest first and foremost that he must address her emotional needs for affection. He describes affection as “the cement of a relationship,”15 and that through affection a husband “adds units to his account in her Love Bank.”16 He offers a bold incentive to the husband, appealing to the man’s most important need, suggesting that “when it comes to sex and affection, you can’t have one without the other.”17 Harley also offers husbands advice regarding a woman’s second most important need – intimate conversation. Again, the focus for Harley is on meeting the wife’s need to steer clear of impending adultery for if the woman’s need is unfilled she will inevitably meet that need elsewhere.18
The book also addresses approaches to meeting mutual needs related to honesty and openness, physical attractiveness, financial and domestic support, family commitment, and admiration. Harley also offers advice for surviving an affair.19
Given that His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage is now in its fifth printing, surviving twenty-five years from its first publication in 1986, and was written to offer a much needed solution to an epidemic problem, this reviewer finished the book with a simple question; “Is this really the answer?” The book, written by a Ph.D. in psychology with decades of clinical experience, boasts a solution to a problem that continues to plague modern man. However, the book itself contains only casual observations and illustrations from professional practice with virtually no credible statistical support for the approach. Even the author’s ministry, Marriage Matters,20 offers no statistical support for the effectiveness of the program. Having had thirty years pass since the first formulation of his breakthrough approach, one would have imagined far more clinical support. In the face of only casual support, this Christian reviewer is left to examine the book as it may or may not stand on Biblical standards.
Evaluation on Biblical standards, however, is nearly impossible. The book is nearly absent of God. While the book uses the word love over 400 times, the word God appears only once and not in relation to love. The instructions of Jesus are referred to only once,21 and less than a handful of Scriptural directions can be found throughout the book. On reflection, it becomes quite clear that the book is far less about God’s directions to man and far more about a very carnal approach to relationship. The central theme of the book is recapturing that feeling of being in love when a couple was married. But, does the Bible reflect that love is, as Harley contends, “a feeling generated from learned associations?”22 While this may be reflective of a love of flesh expressed in the Bible,23 it is nowhere near the love expressed in Scripture that is intended between husband and wife.24 The Bible provides a clear picture of love that fulfills marital needs – the love that husband and wife are to share as Paul described to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:21-33). Here, husbands are to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Christ did not need his emotional needs met in order to fill a love bank for the church. Jesus Christ our Lord wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), sweat drops of blood to the ground in anguish on the eve of his death (Luke 22:44), and even cried out in pain on the cross as he died for our sins feeling as if forsaken by God (Matt. 27:46). In all his suffering, our Lord uttered not a word of his unmet needs. Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.
A complete review into the depths of Biblical problems with Harley’s text is beyond the scope of this review. However, as just one additional perspective, consider Harley’s use of the word affair, which appears 153 times throughout the text. If one was simply to replace the unbiblical word affair with the biblical world adultery they would be utterly appalled with Harley’s implication. Consider, for example the following sentence; “Couples start out irresistible and only become incompatible as they leave each other’s basic needs unmet. When someone outside the marriage offers to meet those needs, an affair [insert: adultery] starts.” While heathen make this type of excuse, adultery is the result of an unregenerate heart (cf. Gal. 5:19-21). The perpetrator of such grievous sin should get their soul right with God instead of taking inventory of their unmet needs for the spouse whose confidence they violated. The word adultery does not appear once in Harley’s book. By using affair instead of adultery Harley creates an environment of enablement for wrong doers.
This book has provided the reviewer a tremendous opportunity in ministry related to Christian counseling for victims of domestic violence.25 These people, usually but not always women, have often exercised their Christian convictions to supernatural heights – offering their bodies up in sacrifice as many of them suffer beatings while desperately pursuing any and all measures to save their marriage driven by a deep love and obedience to our Lord. As these women suffered, they devoured many marriage self-help books, programs, and therapies. The result is a seasoned team of experts in what works, what doesn’t, and why. In effort to gain a professional opinion, this reviewer enlisted Barbara Roberts – one of the creators of the Cry For Justice ministry. Roberts put out a call to victims who might have tried His Needs, Her Needs in the past. Reactions were very helpful in three specific ways.
First, Harley’s book appears in many cases to have become a one-size fits all solution for marital counseling. The following victim was given one as a wedding gift and, to no avail, it did not keep them from being abused by their spouse:
I remember this as a really noxious book. My pastor at the time gave it to every couple as a wedding present. It is shallow condescending nonsense. For people who have an abusive and entitled spouse, following the book’s advice could be very harmful. I might try and find the book to look at it again, but I have a feeling I filed it in the rubbish bin.26
Second, despite the incredible lack of Biblical depth in the text, Harley ventures to order sins, suggesting that an adulterous affair is worse the rape.27 The result, after victims of abuse look outside the marriage for affection and intimacy, their abusive spouses use Harley’s book to suggest their infidelity worse than any abuse their spouse could give them. Infidelity stops while abuse continues. In the victim’s words:
One of bugbears about this book, or rather the author, is that he insists that discovering that a spouse has had an affair affects a person more than anything else, even rape [p. 190]. Whether the statement is true or not, it has been twisted by perpetrators of abuse to harass and denigrate victims who have unfortunately had affairs as a reaction to an abusive marriage. If they confessed an affair, and their guilt, especially if they were constantly punished for it by their abusive spouse, abusive readers would add to the abuse by quoting Dr Harley and his authoritative statement that their affair was worse than the abuse they suffered. This, to me, seemed rather offensive. I wrote to Dr Harley’s office seeking clarification, and got a reply from someone saying that Dr Harley stands by that statement and that it was based on their findings.28
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is a common complaint regarding the class of books to which Harley’s belongs – the How To approach to fixing your marriage with formulas or sure fire fix it solutions. Such promises of restoration are well beyond reality for many in difficult circumstances. The following victim’s comments reflect the common frustration with this approach:
A week before my ex’s relapse we went to a marriage conference. It was stuff I’d heard before, and stuff I knew well. As every talk was given I checked off a little mental tick in my mind. By the end I was severely disturbed because I’d done every step of “the program”, and where did it lead me? Certainly not the ideal marriage they presented. I guess I was doing it wrong . . . The insidious idea that we have the power to change our spouse through good behavior needs to be over and done with. I’m not saying that we can’t foster a healing atmosphere or one of understanding by approaching our spouse with humility, but we don’t control and we can’t fix. Making my wife behave better was not my right, responsibility, or even possible.29
This opportunity to gain feedback from users of the book has allowed the reviewer an important opportunity to delve further into the experience of healing Christians. The insights gained will be most helpful in ministry.
This report has provided a concise but comprehensive review of the book by Willard Harley, His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. In 1986, Harley, a seasoned clinical psychologist, provided this book as a proposed breakthrough in marriage counseling, and since that time he has built a substantial practice related to marriage counseling. The book outlines a compelling approach to marriage, focusing on spouses creating a robust marriage relationship by meeting through meeting each other’s needs. However, the approach is without either well-documented psychological research or Biblical support. With respect to the love between husband and wife as described in Biblical text, Harley’s book misses the mark. With respect to the potential for this book in difficult situations, including domestic violence, it has been illustrated that the book may in fact do more harm than good.
Harley, Willard F.. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Revised and expanded ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011.
Harley, William F.. “Home Page.” Marriage Builders Â® – Successful Marriage Advice. Marriage Builders [Internet Archive link] (accessed October 30, 2012).
Roberts, Barbara, and Jeff Crippen. ” Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst.” A Cry For Justice. A Cry For Justice (accessed October 27, 2012).
Roberts, Barbara , and Jeff Crippen. “His Needs Her Needs: Any Feedback?” “His Needs Her Needs” – any feedback? (accessed October 30, 2012).
1 Harley, Willard F.. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Revised and expanded ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011:11.
2 Ibid, 12.
3 Ibid, 24.
4 For a complete description of this process, see Harley, 24-34.
5 Ibid, 205-212.
6 Ibid, 213-224.
7 Ibid, 34.
8 Ibid, 49-65.
9 Ibid, 29-33.
10 Ibid, 29.
11 Ibid, 31.
12 Ibid, 87-100.
13 Ibid, 99.
14 Ibid, 91.
15 Ibid, 37.
16 Ibid, 38.
17 Ibid, 39.
18 For a specific illustration Harley’s logic, see pp. 73-75.
19 Ibid, 183-196.
20 Harley, William F.. “Home Page.” Marriage Builders Â® – Successful Marriage Advice. Marriage Builders [Internet Archive link] (accessed October 30, 2012).
21 Ibid, 64.
22 Ibid, 12.
23 See, for example, Jacob’s love for Rachel in Genesis 29:18.
24 See Ephesians 5:21-33.
25 The reviewer is occasional contributor to the blog ministry of authors Roberts, Barbara, and Jeff Crippen. “Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst.” A Cry For Justice. A Cry For Justice (accessed October 27, 2012).
26 Kay E in Barbara Roberts and Jeff Crippen. “His Needs Her Needs: Any Feedback?” “His Needs Her Needs” – any feedback? (accessed October 30, 2012).
27 Harley, 190.
28 Anonymous in Barbara Roberts and Jeff Crippen. “His Needs Her Needs: Any Feedback?” “His Needs Her Needs” – any feedback? (accessed October 30, 2012).
29 Jeff S in Barbara Roberts and Jeff Crippen. “His Needs Her Needs: Any Feedback?” “His Needs Her Needs” – any feedback? (accessed October 30, 2012).