Meeting The Emotional Need For
Physical Attractiveness

Letter #1

Dear Dr. Harley,

My husband and I have read His Needs, Her Needs and agree with most of it, but I was totally disgusted with your viewpoint on women's appearance. At the time, I was so offended that I couldn't stomach any more of your views and had to put the book down.

When you talk about women keeping up their appearances for men, you treat them like objects. Personally, I like to judge a person on their worth, not on their appearance. And, how come you never mention that a man should stay in shape for his wife? You sure don't say anything about beer bellies or flabby couch potatoes.

I wear make-up maybe twice a year, if that, and my husband then asks me why I'm wearing it. And, as I grow older and more wrinkles appear, a normal part of the aging process, I hope my husband is mature enough not to want me to have plastic surgery!


M. K.

Dear M. K.

I appreciate hearing your reaction and will definitely be rewriting the chapter to clarify my position, which has been frequently misunderstood. Maybe the following will help until I can get it into the book.

First, and foremost, chapter 8 (physical appearance) is addressed to spouses, male and female, not just women, who are married to someone with an emotional need for an attractive spouse. I'll grant you, throughout the book I divide emotional needs into sexist categories, "his" and "hers." I do that because most men I've counseled identify with half of them, "his needs," and women tend to identify with the other half, "her needs." But I try to explain that each couple should choose their own needs from the list. Many women pick "his needs" and many men pick "her needs."

Incidentally, a number of women have told me that physical appearance is one of their most important needs. One of them mentioned, with her husband present, that if she did not find him physically attractive, he could forget about having sex with her. That should be enough incentive to work out!

The priority of emotional needs is a personal thing and is determined by each spouse. I focus on ten: Admiration, Affection, Conversation, Domestic Support, Family Commitment, Financial Support, Honesty and Openness, Physical Attractiveness, Recreational Companionship and Sexual Fulfillment. When one spouse identifies Physical Attractiveness as one of their most important emotional needs, it means that physical appearance effects them in a dramatic way. When they find their spouse physically attractive, it makes them very happy, and when they find their spouse unattractive it makes them very unhappy. The Emotional Needs Questionnaire helps couples identify and prioritize their emotional needs.

If you are married to a man who does not identify physical attractiveness as one of his most important emotional needs, then why worry about your weight, makeup, hair style, choice of clothing or even physical hygiene? You may want to look attractive to others, but for him, all your efforts would be useless. You should focus your attention on his most important emotional needs and forget about the rest--they simply don't mean that much to him. In your case, if your husband feels that your appearance means very little to him, my chapter on physical attractiveness should be irrelevant to you.

On the other hand, the woman that I describe in Chapter 8 of His Needs, Her Needs, married a man who had such a need. When Harold married Nancy, she was a knockout, and had just lost 80 pounds through diet and exercise to look as good as she did. Since Harold had not known Nancy when she was heavy, it was quite a shock to him when she gained it all back again!

If you feel that people, men or women, should not have an emotional need for physical attractiveness, then I'm afraid we simply disagree. I don't think that emotional needs can be legislated or wished away. They are determined by very complex physical and environmental factors that are easier to meet than to change. My job as a marriage counselor is to help couples identify what it is that they can do to make each other happiest, and being physically attractive is sometimes at the top of their lists.

To summarize, all the needs I discuss in His Needs, Her Needs apply to both men and women. They are relevant only to those who have such needs, or are married to someone with those needs. I believe that every husband and wife should discover and learn to meet each other's most important emotional needs, even when one of them is physical attractiveness. And I will be rewriting chapter 8 to clarify my meaning!

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