Preparing for Marriage
Introduction: This next letter demonstrates the struggle a spouse has after marrying
someone who did not meet one of her important emotional needs prior to marriage. Now
that she's married, what should she do?
Dear Dr. Harley,
I am 41 and my husband is 45 and we were married a year ago. Before we were married,
I expressed my frustration with the way he showed affection to me and he promised me
that he would work on it. But now, he has done a reversal and says that he shouldn't have
to change; after all, I know that he loves me, he made the big commitment and married me,
so I should be happy and just accept what he can give!
We went to a counselor with this problem for about 2 months, after we were married.
Then, my husband would not go any more. He gets angry with me any time I try to
express my needs to him. He says he needs me to drop the subject. I love him, but how
can I meet his need to be accepted when I'm so frustrated?
Some day I will write a book about what happens when a spouse refuses to meet the other
spouse's needs. It happens all the time. Many spouses, mostly women, refuse to have sex.
Many men refuse to go to work (financial support), or be affectionate, or even talk.
Whenever that happens, it opens the door for an affair, or at the very least, a bad marriage.
One point I would make in this new book would be that if you don't see the ability to meet
your need while you date, chances are, you will not have that need met after marriage.
Those who are moody during courtship, can be even more moody after marriage. Those
who have a difficult time being affectionate during courtship, often express affection rarely
after marriage. Those who don't talk much before marriage, talk less after marriage.
But even those who do a good job meeting needs during courtship can become lazy after
marriage and stop meeting those needs. I have my greatest success with this type of
person, because I simply provide the motivation they need to return to behavior they have
already mastered. However, when I must start from scratch, teaching a skill the person
has never had, that's when I often hear the reaction your husband has, "I want you to
accept what I can give you."
Your husband probably meets some of your emotional needs or you would not have
married him. You certainly would not have fallen in love with him if he were not doing
something right. He may be meeting three or even four of your most important emotional
needs and he wants you to appreciate what he is doing for you. But he also wants you to
ignore what he isn't doing. As you have discovered, you can't do it. I'm sure you have
tried to ignore the fact that he does not meet some of your emotional needs, but it doesn't
work. It still leaves you very frustrated.
When you were first married, your husband was willing to become trained in meeting
your need for affection, but the counselor you saw was apparently ineffective in training
him. The counselor may not have known how to train him.
After two months of frustration on his part, he finally gave up. A lesson to be learned is
that if the counselor you see cannot help you, seeing a counselor can sometimes be worse
than not seeing one at all, because you can become convinced that your problem is
While it's difficult to teach people to have sex more often, or to be more affectionate, or to
talk more often, or lose weight, or find a job, or meet any of the other important emotional
needs, it can be done. The first step is to identify the problem by knowing precisely what
you want: The quality and the quantity. How do you want him to express affection and
how often do you want him to do it. Once it is clearly defined, the second step is to create
a plan that has a reasonably good chance of teaching him how to meet your need for
affection. Third, you put the plan in to action, and the fourth step is to evaluate the success
of your plan (are you satisfied with his affection).
Granted, your husband may be hard to reach now. He doesn't want you to bug him
anymore. But there may be moments as early as this coming week when he will be willing
to discuss the problem again, and at that time you should have a plan ready that he will
find appealing (read my page entitled "Negotiating in the Three States of
Marriage"). The longer you wait, the less love you will have for each other, and the harder
it will be to learn to meet each other's emotional needs. So don't delay, and don't try to adjust
to not having your need met. Keep working at it until the problem is overcome.