Harley addresses ten needs—five belong primarily at the top of the man’s list and five entirely different needs at the top of the list belonging to the woman—which are often found starving in relationships soon to be or already marred by an adulterous affair. Chapter by chapter he boldly shines a spotlight into areas that often are felt but not regularly examined or discussed. His approach at times seems controversial in the modern western society; however, his book is well read and any married reader will likely sense some truth in Harley’s observations. “The Purpose of this book,” writes Harley, “is to teach you how to discover, and then learn to meet, each other’s most important emotional needs.”
Harley untimely opens his work with a hard-hitting question. He asks his reader to examine how affair-proof his or her own marriage presently might be. The reader in a healthy marriage might jump to the idea that she is in a strong marriage free from the threat of an affair, and the reader in a marriage taking blows from the effects of cheating will most likely resent the question. But even the strongest-willed men and women can and will face the threat and temptation of an affair. “Some men never give in;” argues Harley, “they manage to make the best of it over the years. But many do succumb to the temptation of an affair.” An affair may happen to anybody if the needs of one spouse or the other are not being met. When the Love Bank Account is low or empty and the future of deposits from the spouse is dim, the ability to have needs fulfilled from another almost seems to slip in unnoticed. At the conclusion of one example that started with harmless chitchat and a polite hug, Harley says, “Jolene simple felt so starved for affection that she was literally hugged into have an affair!”
While not every person or every relationship is the same, through many years of counseling, Harley has discovered ten common needs among men and women. When ranked, men and women seem to prioritize these completely opposite of their spouse’s list. The difficulty then is found in the reality that in thinking they are doing good each spouse attempts to fulfill the needs that actually reside at the bottom of their mate’s list rather than those most important to their spouse.
The woman’s needs are generally affection, conversation, honestly and openness, financial support, and family commitment. According to Harley, “A husband can make himself irresistible to his wife by learning to meet her five most important emotional needs.” Interestingly, the man on hot pursuit of a wife will typically demonstrate these well in the courting phase of the relationship, only to shift modes in an attempt to meet five other needs. Thinking he and his wife have the same needs, he will begin trying to fulfill the same top five on his list. His wife will then be left feeling used or unloved. And when this happens, she will attempt to resolve the problem by striving to provide her husband with the things that are at the top of her list, not his. What is on his top five? Sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support and admiration.
In a simple back-and-forth format, Harley addresses the man and the woman’s top five needs. He starts with affection, the woman’s top need. Then he goes to the man and explains sexual fulfillment. This continues onward until he has spent a chapter dealing with all ten needs typically found in the martial relationship. Each of these chapters almost appears to be written to the opposite spouse. It is as if when he is dealing with affection, he is explaining to the man what the woman needs because the man is clueless while the woman has felt her husband should have known this all along. But with a new chapter comes a change and the explanation is provided to the woman. This book has been written not to the husband or wife, but to the couple. “I encourage you and your spouse to read these books together,” urges Harley, “complete the questionnaires, and answer the questions at the end of each chapter.” In addition, Harley knows that affair-proofing is not just as simple as reading this book and discussing the content as many chapters encourage, it is a process. He writes, “Keep these books in a place where you can refer to them regularly, because you should be reminded of the lessons they will teach you.”
His Needs, Her Needs should hit close to home for most couples because Harley addresses the needs of a man and woman in ways many marriage books do not. In fact, many people may find the content of Harley’s work offensive. His worldview clearly does not align with the modern western idea that men and women are exactly the same. He presents a portrait of men and women as equal in value but very different in their needs. However, his supporting arguments for these differences are compelling. His examples are convincing. And his observations seem reasonable, although not cited or supported with anything other than his personal twenty years counseling with couples. It is difficult to know if his observations are universal or if there are cultural, religious, geographical, or socioeconomic factors that may influence relationships in ways he may not have observed. In this way, Harley does not appear objective, but this is not to say that his observations are wrong, simply that he wrote more for the masses rather than for an academic audience.
Another difficulty with His Needs, Her Needs, is found in how much the blame for an extra-marital affair almost seems to be placed on the spouse not meeting the needs rather than the person having the actual affair. The idea that the spouse should communicate his or her needs with his or her partner is hinted at in nearly every chapter and the discussion questions that conclude each chapter demand this; however, the argument still stands: when the needs are not met, affairs may happen. But one cannot meet his or her own needs. It is the job of the partner to meet the needs. Therefore, the finger seems too eager to point in the wrong direction. It may not be the feeling or intention of Harley, but the feeling exists nonetheless.
Despite some of the negative aspects of His Needs, Her Needs or maybe the oversight, this book is still fantastic in addressing feelings and needs that may simply rest just below the surface of most marital relationships. Harley does not shy away from difficult realities. And this is what makes His Needs, Her Needs a necessary and valuable book for couples hoping to marry, those who counsel couples, and anybody who is married—regardless if for only six months or for forty years.
1. WillardF Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage(Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011), 15.
2. Ibid., 17-19.
3. Ibid., 37
4. Ibid., 18.
5. Ibid., 200.
6. Ibid., 16.
* I have no material connection to this book and am receiving no monetary compensation for this review.
** The original review was used to meet the partial requirement in the completion of an M.Div. This review has been redacted for this post.