Tuesday, February 10, 2015

His Needs Her Needs by Willard F. Harley, Jr. (Book Review #11 of 2015)

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage
My wife and I listened to this book together on a long car ride, where we could pause and discuss when prompted. This is the worst book on marriage that I have read, there are a host of others I would recommend above it. While Harley claims to write from a Christian worldview, the Gospel and the meaning of marriage is completely absent from this book. That, alone, makes it ineffectual and makes me sad that it's held up by so many Christians. If you have an incorrect view of what marriage represents, then you will also diagnose and treat conflict within the marriage incorrectly. In this book, humans are nothing more than products of biology responding to various stimuli and cognitive biases. Therefore, this is a 2-star book at best. My understanding is much of the material of the book comes from the 1970s, even though the first printing was 1995 and this was an updated 2001 version.
Over this book I would recommend Arterburn's Seven Minute Marriage Solution, Emerson Eggerichs' Love and Respect, and many more.

Harley breaks down the basic needs of husbands and wives into five each, focusing more on the male aspects. He is a psychologist and I felt he was coming at everything from an old-school Freudian approach-- everything on the male side comes down to sexual fulfillment. He makes the false claim that 50% of spouses are sexually unfaithful. The reader is treated to the sordid details of stories of extramarital affairs, perhaps made up whole cloth by Harley.

Men's needs:
1. Sexual fulfillment
2. Recreational companionship- the wife should take an interest in doing things the husband likes-- watching football, for example. If she tries it and really doesn't like it, she should find something else they can do together. Couples should spend "15 hours a week" of "undivided attention" on each other, doing the same things.
3. An attractive spouse- there is very little in this book about acceptance and celebration of differences. The wife should change her weight, clothes, and hair to suit her husband. If he doesn't find her "irresistible" he will likely have a passionate affair from which he'll never completely recover.
4. Domestic support- The wife should not pursue a career, and if she does work household chores should be divided according to the needs of the husband. Harley had a good point here about making a list of everything that needed to be done in the house and having each partner put priorities on the item. Whoever ranks something with the highest priority gets to be responsible for that chore.
 5. Admiration - This mostly came at the end of the book, which is a shame because respect really is ultimate to a husband and is the driver (not sex) behind many of the affairs Harley describes.

Women's needs:
1. Affection - Men should learn to be more affectionate. (Eggerichs would just focus on #5 above and #1 here).
2. Conversation - women have affairs with men who will actively listen to them.
3. Honesty and openness - Husbands should have no problem turning their schedules over to their wives, especially if they've been unfaithful.
4. Financial support - Men should be the breadwinners.
5. Family commitment - Fathers should be dads, otherwise women will have affairs with other men who will raise their children better-- including relatives of the biological father. Harley writes that there should be 15 hours together with the children (is that added to the 15 hours of undivided attention for the spouse as well, or do parents get out of that?).

I think my wife was most offended by the section where Harley tells women readers to do their hair nicely, consume fewer calories, exercise more, and consult magazine articles for tips on beauty, or else their husband will cheat on them. Most books on marriage deal with the importance of the man fulfilling his wife's needs during daylight hours ("women are ovens, men are microwaves") by being a supportive husband, this did not put as much impetus on the man. It's up to the woman to respond to her husband's wants, no matter what. 

There is no grace in this book, no acceptance of your spouse as a spiritual creature with a history and a brain, no dealing with expectations or letting go of them and preconceived notions of marital bliss, and no growing together to be like Christ. Your wife is a biological partner you can have fun with, nothing more. While he strongly cautions against divorce, he is pretty flippant in saying sometimes these things just don't work out.

Read this book if you're not a Christian but want a step-by-step how-to guide to fix your marriage as though it were a piece of IKEA furniture.

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