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Dating after Marriage

Learning the Skill of Affection

Willard F. Harley, Jr.


Ted had never been very affectionate with Rosanne. Even while dating, he didnít hold her hand, give her a hug, kiss her, or even tell her that he loved her. Flowers were given on Valentineís Day, but that was because he felt obligated. He didnít see the point of it all.

So, when I told him that their next goal was to learn to be affectionate with each other, he was very disappointed.

He could see the value of achieving their first goal: Learning to avoid demands, disrespect, and anger. Their fights had been unbearable to him, and he felt a great relief when they didnít argue about everything and anything.

The second goal of learning how to have an enjoyable conversation was also reasonable for Ted. He understood how conversation was an essential part of any relationship, and making it reasonably enjoyable made quite a bit of sense to him.

But affection? For him it was a tradition that was completely unnecessary. He didnít see its value because he didnít have an emotional need for it. Holding Roseanneís hand didnít do anything for him. Neither did giving her a hug. And telling her that he loved her was simply dishonest: He didnít love her and never had. When he had sex with Roseanne years earlier, he did express some affection, but sex ended after their third child along with any and all affection.

But he had made a commitment at the beginning of his counseling with me that he would follow my instructions to save his marriage. His children were simply too important to him to have them go through a divorce.

Even though Roseanne had a need for affection, when she first saw me for counseling, the last person on earth she would have wanted to meet that need for her was Ted. But when their arguing had ended and was replaced by pleasant conversation, she started to become less defensive, and more willing to accept affection if he was willing to give it. An emotional need is so powerful for those who have it, that it can be met by almost anyone, even by someone like Ted.

I asked Ted and Roseanne to read chapter three, Affection, in His Needs, Her Needs. Then, she was to describe affectionate behavior that she appreciated most, using the list from that chapter that a client had written years earlier. That list was the key to Roseanneís heart, if Ted would follow it.

Using the list of affectionate behaviors in chapter 3 as a guide, Rosanne made this list: ē Hug and kiss me while weíre still in bed in the morning. ē Talk to me while we are having breakfast together. ē Hug and kiss me when we leave for work. ē Call me in the morning to ask me how Iíve been doing. ē Meet me for lunch and hug and kiss me when you do. ē Call me before you leave work so I know when youíll be home. ē Hug and kiss me when you come home, and talk to me for a few minutes. ē Talk to me while we are having dinner together. ē Help me clean up the kitchen and help me with the dishes. ē Put your arm around me or hold my hand while we watch TV together. ē Hug and kiss me before we go to sleep. ē Buy me flowers once in a while. Hug and kiss me when you give them to me. ē When we walk together, hold my hand. ē When we sit in church together, hold my hand.

You may notice what was not a part of the list: Expressions of love. At no point did she want Ted to say that he loved her. Thatís because he had made it very clear that he didnít love her. So, why say it?

I asked Ted to make copies of the list that Rosanne had given him, and take one with him, checking each item every day when he did it. He was to bring the checked lists with him when I saw them for their appointments. Roseanne was to sign off on each list, indicating that all of the items had been done each day.

Is There Any Value to Affection When Itís an Assignment?

Why would anyone appreciate acts of affection from someone who didnít love them? Itís because the need for affection can be so great that the act itself can have a positive effect even when it lacks meaning. The same thing can be said about other emotional needs. A statement of admiration or appreciation can make a person feel good even when that person knows that itís their supervisorís job to say those things Ė if they have a need for admiration or appreciation. And someone with a need for sex can enjoy the experience knowing that their partner considers it to be an obligation.

Granted, the effect is not the same as it would be with heartfelt feelings of love, or admiration, or appreciation, or sexual desire. But for those with an emotional need, the craving can be so great that anything is better than nothing.

At first it was as difficult for Roseanne to accept Tedís acts of affection as it was for him to give them. Their hugs in bed were awkward, to say the least. Ted was simply checking it off his daily list of things to do. But even though it was contrived, Roseanne still felt very good being hugged and kissed so many times every day. Ted was making Love Bank deposits every time he did it.

Any change in habits takes effort, and affection is no exception. Ted had to learn to do something that he had never done before, and it took the very unromantic way of checking acts of affection off a daily list to achieve that objective.

By simply going through the motions of affection, he was developing habits that would make him an affectionate husband. Eventually, being affectionate would be very easy for him to do, even though he didnít have much of a need for it himself.

Affection Helps Create Good Will

Affection not only meets an emotional need, even when itís given reluctantly, but it has another very important value: It helps create good will.

Good will is an attitude of kindness and compassion. It reflects a willingness to do good to others Ė to help others thrive. It's what Roseanne and Ted had to feel toward each other if they want to resolve their conflicts the right way.

Itís hard to be affectionate toward someone that you donít want to help. But if you are forced to be affectionate, it tends to make you feel like helping that person. It creates what the psychologist, Leon Festiger, called Cognitive Dissonance. Simply stated, if a personís behavior is in conflict with his or her attitudes and beliefs, they are in a state of Cognitive Dissonance. When that happens, Festiger found that the attitudes and beliefs are likely to change to fit the new behavior. By so doing, Cognitive Consistency is created. In other words, the act of affection can change an uncaring attitude into good will.

So, the uncomfortable feeling Ted had of being affectionate toward Roseanne was resolved by caring for her. By being affectionate toward each other throughout every day, Roseanne and Ted began to create good will toward each other.

When they came for their appointment each week, they brought with them their Selfish Demands, Disrespectful Judgments, and Angry Outbursts worksheets which listed instances of those Love Busters. They were almost blank.

They also reported that they had taken at least half an hour a day to engage in conversation that emphasized the friends and avoided the enemies of intimate conversation. No conflicts were mentioned during these conversations, but their time spent was mutually enjoyable.

The effect of eliminating demands, disrespect, and anger, and replacing them with pleasant conversation greatly improved their feelings toward each other. They didnít like each other yet, but they didnít hate each other, either. Their attitude toward each other was improving.

Their newest assignment was to bring the affection checklists with them each week. Ted had become an affectionate husband: He dutifully performed each item on the list. He even brought home flowers on three occasions one week.

But had his affectionate behavior affected his attitude? He thought that it had.

Along with the Selfish Demands, Disrespectful Judgments, and Angry Outbursts worksheets that were almost empty each week, I asked them to include the Thoughtful Requests and Respectful Persuasion worksheets which represented their efforts to change Selfish Demands into Thoughtful Requests, and change Disrespectful Judgments into Respectful Persuasion.

At first those two new worksheets were as empty as the others. But after a few weeks of following the affection assignment, a few entries began to appear. They started to think of ways of accommodating each other.

Up to that point, they avoided conflicts by not bringing them up. They each dealt with their children as they saw fit, and tried to avoid interfering with each otherís form of training.

But, after a few weeks, I began to see a glimmer of cooperation when I read their new worksheets. They were starting to make an effort to find common ground.

Negotiating with Good Will

Since Roseanne had been pregnant, she and Ted had not seen eye to eye on much of anything that involved raising children. They both had diametrically opposing views with Roseanne being strict and Ted being lenient. So, their children, Amy, Rodney, and Martha, who were now age 14, 13, and 11 respectively, grew up hearing their parents fighting about how they should be raised. And they used that opportunity to play one parent against the other to get what they wanted.

While Roseanne and Ted were in counseling with me, I told them to avoid trying to resolve conflicts regarding child training until they knew how to do it successfully. They could make requests of each other, but if the request was denied, they were to let it go. Roseanne thought that was an unfair rule because it meant that the children could do almost anything they wanted to do, because thatís what Ted wanted.

Without Roseanneís demands, disrespect, and anger, the children had newfound freedom. They did their homework when they felt like it, didnít keep their rooms cleaned, went to bed at all hours of the night, and ate food considered by Roseanne to be very unhealthy. Ted could see that the new routine made the children very happy, but made Roseanne very frustrated.

So, when I reviewed their Thoughtful Requests and Respectful Persuasion worksheets that they brought one week I saw a change of attitude in Ted. He could see how unhappy Roseanne was about the childrenís behavior and decided that he would try to help her with it. It was the first sign of empathy that I had seen in him.

One night that week, Roseanne had asked Ted how he would feel about helping her to get the children to do their homework. It was in the form of a Thoughtful Request that I had taught them to use when they wanted something from each other. In the past, he would have told her that it was up to them whether or not their homework was done. They would learn to do it by suffering the consequences if they didnít. But this time, he decided to help her.

He told the children that he and their mom wanted their homework done before they would watch TV, call their friends, or do anything else before going to bed. By putting it that way, Amy and Rodney started to do their homework right away. Rarely had he ever told them to do anything, and they figured that he meant it. Martha asked if she could watch TV for a while first, but after he said no, she got to work, too.

Roseanne was very grateful. For once, her children were doing something that she wanted them to do without her having to get into an ugly shouting match with Ted. But he didnít give into her, as he had done sometimes in the past after a fight. Instead, he could see the wisdom of her request. His newfound feeling of good will toward her opened his eyes to see that what she wanted made some sense. After all, over the past few weeks, without her demands, their children seemed to be on a path of self-destruction. His empathy toward her enabled him to make a thoughtful decision that was also a wise decision.

For more information on the importance of good will in marriage, read my article, Peace and Good Will: Essential for Effective Conflict Resolution.

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