Preparing for Marriage

Letter #2

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?


Dear E.C.

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 unsolvable.

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 Mind in 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.

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