Tuesday, May 05, 2015

He Wins, She Wins by Willard F. Harley, Jr. (Book Review #37 of 2015)


He Wins, She Wins: Learning the Art of Marital Negotiation
This book is just as devoid of the Gospel as His Needs, Her Needs. Who would I give it to? Probably hard-core atheists who still believe in an idea of "love" and want some principles for maintaining respect and romance through conflict without any principles overtly connected to the Bible. So, should Christians relegate this book to the rubbish bin? Not necessarily. Too often, committed Christians think all will be well if they just put their spouse's needs ahead of their own and submit to one another (Philippians 2:3, Ephesians 5:21-33). When conflict or resentment arises, we fall into a "if I would just submit harder," or "if only my spouse would submit like I am..." mentality that doesn't solve the problem. This is where Smalley's book can be useful-- given a Gospel-centered view of marriage and nature, how can I improve our communication and the overall satisfaction of both my mate and myself in marriage? I think evangelicals could also do a better job reading about biology, neurology, behavioral economics and the like to understand how habits develop.

His Needs, Her Needs operated from a clearly Freudian foundation and this book is no different. Much of it revolves around the man's sexual satisfaction as the base of marital happiness. Harley has a PhD in psychology and a long-time marriage counselor; he opens the book with a look at neuropsychology and how the brains of men and women are biologically different. These differences explain differences in perceptions, judgement, decision-making, and personality.

The basic premise: Continual self-sacrifice creates a "win-lose" situation where one spouse may be submissively unhappy with his end of the bargain. So, a wife who submits to her husband's wishes because that's how she understands her role as a wife is likely unhappy about much of it. My personal takeaway from this idea is that in marriage we should not suffer in silence. We should not submit with a silent hope that "I'll go along with what he wants this time, and hopefully he'll reciprocate by doing something I want another time." That's not grace, it's secretly trying to earn merit and hoping for the best, and it's a recipe for bitterness. Harley is right that the spouse submitted to will likely not see the submission as sacrificial and will simply come to expect it. "Of course that's how it should be done," he might say. Instead, a wife (for example) can say "I'll go along with this because I love and respect you. I trust that the consequences of this decision will lead to a happier husband who is also willing to listen to my needs and concerns and help me out as well. But let's sit down and work out something we can both be happy with."

"Don't be a dictator," writes Harley. Too often spouses play "dual dictator" roles, playing a game of tit-for-tat over how something should be done. You will each be in an "I told you so!" mode, which is unhelpful. Harley advocates a "democratic marriage" in which both parties win and decisions aren't made unless both parties can be in "enthusiastic agreement" about the decision. He refers back to the "love bank" idea of His Needs, Her Needs-- win-win agreements allow couples to make simultaneous deposits in the others' love bank.

Reluctant agreement on issues is "dangerous" and "enthusiastic agreement" is a "must." As a practical example, Harley recommends grocery shopping together without the kids frequently. Fill the cart with things you know you'll both be enthusiastic about eating. Then, allow for some experimentation--the wife can pick a couple things she's most confident the husband will like if he just tries it. If he doesn't like it, it never gets bought again. Only buy things you will both be happy about.

Now, think about the impractical nature of this for a minute (I owe this critique to my wife). What if there is a particular food allergy one spouse has, or one is a vegetarian? Should they only buy foods they both really want? Harley allows for the rule to be broken in times of urgency or medical emergency. But, in general, he seems to be saying that husband and wife should always eat together and never differ in their choices. Separate interests are listed as "harmful," and Harley encourages husbands to find activities that the wife enjoys doing to. Trading horses by saying "I'm going bowling with the guys tonight, and you can go shopping with the girls tomorrow" are two different win-lose situations-- they violate Harley's rule and he discourages such trade-offs. Harley applies this thinking to career decisions as well, pursuing a career because you're gifted at it or you particularly like it is not a good enough reason-- you should only do it if both you and your spouse agree on how the career affects each other. Remember, no self-sacrifice of one spouse putting career behind the other--at least for the long-haul (his wife worked while he finished his PhD).

The other practical problem is with "enthusiastic agreement." How many times do you make a decision that you're truly "enthusiastic" about? I approach decisions with probability in mind: there is uncertainty what the result of the decision will be and how happy either of us will be with the outcome. We'll likely be revisiting this decision down the road and adjusting or wishing we'd done something differently. When writing about how to meet others' needs when you are not enthusiastic about it, Harley gives somewhat of a cop-out in the form of self-sacrifice called something else. He basically says "enjoy the consequences" you'll have of having a happier spouse. Communicate about it and see if you can reach a different arrangement in areas where you're unhappy.

Harley gives some principles of negotiation. Negotiation can only happen when you've established a framework that you guarantee the others' safety and be kind. Ground rules include being "pleasant and cheerful" throughout negotiations. If you reach an impasse, come back to the table later. There has to be trust, in other words. First, both sides need to come to the table knowing what he/she wants. (This also might be unrealistic if one spouse feels strongly about the issue more than the other, see the "enthusiastic" critique above). Ask "How would you feel if...?" questions to introduce what you want. Brainstorm together, use a notebook to record ideas. What are the possible alternatives? Lastly, among the alternatives listed, "reach enthusiastic agreement" about one.

You can read these guidelines and other themes of Harley's books at his website. http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi3550_summary.html
Harley concludes the book with an application to sex, time with extended family, and basic budgeting. He reminds the reader that his system demands no fewer than 15 hours of undivided attention for your spouse each week.

In all, I give this book 2 stars out of 5. It was much shorter than His Needs, Her Needs but has the same fundamental flaw of an unbiblical worldview and absence of the Gospel. I gleaned a few good points about communication and negotiation, but recognize that much of what he writes about "enthusiastic agreement" is unrealistic. It is a publish-or-perish world out there, so I guess Harley has to keep cranking little books like this out to maintain an income flow.


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