Twenty years ago psychologist Willard Harley’s book His Needs, Her Needs became very popular. His research found men to need primarily the following five things from their wives, in this order: sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support, and admiration. Women on the other hand, he found reported needing the following from their husbands: affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment.

My own experience would change these lists somewhat. The man’s list would have less importance on the wife’s looks and more on her being financially faithful and emotionally stable. The woman’s list I have less problems with, but they need kindness (forgiveness, acceptance, gentleness during conflict, etc.) and fidelity right up there too.

Every marriage needs a check-up from time to time, to insure that each understands what the other is needing more of. Consider the following seventeen needs, which ones you need more of in your marriage or love relationship. List your top five needs (what’s most important to you personally), and the top five you want more of from your partner. Then ask your partner to do the same. Finally, exchange lists and talk about it.

Admiration: knowing your mate is proud of you

Affection: physical and verbal warmth, "I’ve missed you"; compliments

Attractive Spouse: good looks, health, energy

Conversation: spending time talking and sharing with each other

Domestic Support: keeping a comfortable home; cooking, cleaning, restocking, picking up

Family Commitment: Child care, spending time together as a family

Fidelity and Loyalty: with sex, affection, information, time, and money

Financial Support: faithfully, earning, saving, spending, sharing, and appreciating money

God: God is loved through worship, prayer, service, and fellowship with other believers

Honesty and Openness: sharing thoughts, feelings, events, life stories

Kindness: forgiveness, acceptance, "I’m sorry", making amends in conflicts

Recreational Companionship: having fun together

Sense of Humor: Good-natured teasing and light-heartedness

Sexual Fulfillment: including romance, tenderness, flirting, and seduction, as you might like

Socializing Together: Enjoying get-togethers with friends

Stress Tolerance: optimism, emotional stability, ability to handle frustration

Other: Describe one other thing you feel you need more of

 If you’re not into math or written homework, you might just want to take two or three of these a week, and discuss them over a dinner date (oops, is that another need?). Be prepared to say how you feel you’re doing at fulfilling this need in your partner, and how well your partner is doing at giving to you. Just talking about a need is a great start toward fulfilling it. Even if all is well, showing appreciation helps to strengthen your relationship even further.

If one of you resists both writing and talking about it, that’s a pretty big problem. That would be sending this message: "Not only am I unwilling to meet that need, I don’t even consider it important. That part of you doesn’t matter to me." In this society of so much infidelity and divorce, it won’t take long for that I-don’t-care attitude to kill a relationship.

Of all the columns I’ve written, this is the one I’ve had the most requests to send out, and to expand and revise. The following is a 60% longer version of a column I wrote three years ago. Though it will talk about marriage, it is also meant for those in long-term committed love relationships.

The opportunity to have a healthy friendship with the opposite sex comes often to married people—at work, at church, at family gatherings, in the neighborhood, at parties and on vacations with friends, and talking with other parents at children’s school and sporting events, just to name a few.

I am continually amazed at how many people fall into sexual infidelity and divorce from enjoying too much of what seemed to them at first like a perfectly normal opposite-sexed friendship (OSF). They are like the frog in the kettle of slowly warming water—they don’t jump out, because the temperature rises so slowly they don’t know they’re being cooked. Here are some meat thermometers for you.

Emotional infidelity does indeed damage a marriage, and every couple needs to agree on where to draw the line. As a suggestion, I have seen certain guidelines that will enable OSF’s to remain just friends, and that will at the same time enhance and preserve a marriage. When OSF’s get too close and personal, either the friendship or the marriage will get destroyed. The following guidelines aren’t widely observed, but they need to be.

1. Avoid discussing your or your Friend’s love-life or marriage, past or present, good or bad. That would set up strong desires to meet each other’s needs. Tell them they can assume your marriage is good, and that if it wasn’t, to protect your friendship, you wouldn’t tell them so.

2. Don’t discuss your "relationship", or even your feelings for each other. Even in your own mind, don’t compare the feelings you have toward your Friend with feelings you have toward your Spouse. The two different kinds of relationships, settings and conversational topics naturally would bring out different emotions, regardless of the personalities.

3. Don’t touch or make glances at your Friend in any way you wouldn’t do in front of your Spouse.

4. Don’t go alone with your Friend into any place that has a bed.

5. Get a same-sexed Buddy who’s well married, and who knows and likes your Spouse. When you’re tempted to violate these guidelines, or if you have overstepped your bounds, promptly talk it over with this person, and do what your Buddy says to make your marriage healthy.

6. Avoid spontaneous getaways. Before being alone with your Friend even in public, especially over a meal or beverage, and especially at any time you aren’t working and your family is available, give your spouse prior knowledge of your intentions, including the time, place, and agenda, before you set it up. Give your spouse veto power, and the power to suggest modifications of your plan, such as your Spouse planning to join you. If this veto or revision privilege is in your opinion abused, you all need to have given in advance to your Buddy the power to mediate and propose compromises.

7. Don’t hassle, argue or go on and on about temptations. Thoughts and feelings should be confessed to Spouse only if Spouse agrees to it, and agrees not to bring it back up once the temptation has been discussed. Questions can be asked and answered if they are not angry, panicky, accusatory or repetitive. Why?

Because if Spouse is not able to gracefully handle the truth about your temptations, that is if they don’t take responsibility for getting over the feelings the confessions produce, if they can’t help pressuring you to say certain things, he or she is making it harder for you to be honest, and is undermining their own need to trust you. People cannot take full responsibility for their partner’s feelings without compromising their capacity to be honest. Honesty is a more important need.

8. Finally, about things covered and not covered above, establish in advance what your Spouse would want to know, when, and then confess faithfully as agreed. If this seems to you impossible or unwise, consult your Buddy, or a counselor. Then you can enjoy life within your revised boundaries.

The guidelines above for emotional infidelity are the same ones you should use for excessive jealousy. When a spouse insists on stricter guidelines than above, his or her jealousy has probably become overprotective and harmful to the relationship. As harmful as emotional infidelity is to a marriage, excessive jealousy (called irrational by many men and possessive by many women) can do just as much harm. Overly jealous spouses will be miserable until they get themselves some help.

Try This at Home!

Copy this column and make a list of what changes you’d suggest making in the guidelines I have given you here, to suit your marriage or relationship. Ask your partner to do the same. Then exchange lists, think about it silently for ten minutes, and combine them again into one set of guidelines you can both agree to abide by.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt