Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Needs are not Rights

The best marriage book I've ever read (several times) is His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage, by Willard F. Harley, Jr.  Dr. Harley does not speak of the rights that each spouse has of the other nor of duties, one to the other.  Instead, he speaks of the needs of the husband and the needs of the wife, so different in many respects.  His is sort of a transactional approach: if husband wants a marriage that meets his needs, then he meets his wife's needs.  If wife wants a marriage that meets her needs, then she meets his.  There is very little talk of husband's entitlement or of wife's entitlement.

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 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.

From several sources, I have heard the statement, "one has no rights in marriage, only duties."  That is one way to put it, I suppose.  I think I would put it this way,  "one has no rights in marriage, only needs."  If one wants those needs to be fulfilled, then he must meet those of the other.  It's a sacramental bargain, marriage.  There is no entitlement.

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