Willard F. Harley’s excellent marriage book His Needs Her Needs, is an exploration of the major emotional needs of husbands and wives. He asserts that the major cause of extramarital affairs is unmet needs, spouses rely on each other to have their needs met. When one partner goes long enough without major needs being met, they are more susceptible to temptation. He presents the 5 most important needs for each spouse, interestingly demonstrating how the corresponding need in the opposite gender can either compliment or conflict with it. For example, the most important emotional need for wives is affection. They need shows of affection, like touching, thoughtful gifts, loving words, etc. The corresponding need in men is sexual fulfillment. Men tend to do well meeting their wive’s affection need during the courting phase of the relationship. However, after marriage meeting the affection need becomes less urgent, though for most men having their own sexual needs met becomes a more pressing concern. As focus on fulfilling the wife’s need for affection dwindles, wives tend to be less in the mood for meeting their husband’s sexual needs, largely because affection in other areas of life is a large part of foreplay. It’s important to note that this cuts both ways. When women become less interested in ensuring their husband’s sexual fulfillment, men become frustrated and are less inclined to put effort toward showing their wives affection. When both parties take a stance of intentional selflessness toward their partner, the system works better. When one or both become overly focused on their own needs, things tend to break down.
Yesterday I posted an article that looked at the 5 most important needs to women. The following are the 5 most important emotional needs for husbands:
• Sexual fulfillment- Men are sexual and sexuality tends to be the most important need for many men. Please note that this is being classified as an emotional need, not a physical one. There is a tendency to think of men’s sexuality as being a mere physical need, but men largely experience affection sexually. There is a element of physical need, but the emotional element cannot be ignored. It is to men what affection is to women. Men’s sexuality is usually deeply connected with their sense of identity, which makes it important for this need to be met, as not having this emotional need met will affect the husband to his core.
• Recreational Companionship- Recreational companionship refers to engaging in activities together. Where women need conversational connection, men need to do fun things with their spouse. During the courting phase of the relationship, this is easier. Dating usually revolves around engaging in activities together. After marriage it’s not uncommon to find it easy to engage in their own hobbies and activities, going their own ways. Men have a need for companionship in activities. They like it when their spouse does things with them. This is largely because men tend to be doers and enjoy action over discussion. Relational companionship need not be active participation, though it’s a good thing when husbands and wives engage in activities together. Wives can watch their husbands, support them, or take an active interest in order to meet this need.
• Physical Attractiveness- This is a harder need to understand for many people. Men are very visual creatures. They tend to experience a lot of sexual attraction through what they see, which is why pornography for men is largely visual, because men respond to visual stimulation. This doesn’t mean that the wife must fit into the same dress she wore on their wedding day or resemble a supermodel at all times. Rather, a wife’s attention to visual cues is important. It’s generally important to men that their wives take care of themselves or try to look attractive. I’ve spoken to men who lament that their wives wear lingerie with less frequency the longer they are married or stop taking care of themselves physically altogether. It sounds shallow and crass, but it’s more a product of how men are hardwired. It’s not uncommon for men to become frustrated when they find their wives less attractive, but cannot discuss it because of the overall sensitivity of the subject matter.
• Domestic support- Whereas women often have a need for their husbands should work to support the family, men tend to want for their wives to help maintain and ordered household. This may come across as a desire for the ideal 1950s TV wife. However, it’s more a need for a spouse that helps take care of the home. How pressing this need is depends on the husband and the family composition. Many men are happy to help take care of domestic responsibilities, but feel a need for their wife to help with cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
• Admiration- Men have an inborn need to be respected and looked at with admiration. When a man feels disrespected or looked down upon by their wife, their pride can be significantly wounded. This need is generally a counterpart to family commitment. Women have an emotional need that the husband be committed to caring for and raising the family. Men, on the other hand, have an emotional need to be looked on as the leader in the family. They have a need to be treated with respect and admiration.
The key to understanding the proper handling of emotional needs as presented by Mr. Harley in his book is a degree of selflessness. Meeting needs in the marital context works best when both partners set out to meet their spouse’s needs without concern for seeking out the meeting of their own needs or judging your partner’s needs. Further, communication over these things is important. People will generally vary in their relational needs. Open communication is key to helping each other know what needs to be done in order to meet needs effectively.
Several months ago, my wife and I ran in the Montana Spartan Race, a 5-mile obstacle course race. I ran in the race last year and initially signed up again to try to beat my time. My wife signed up as well and we both set out to prepare for event. About halfway through the training process, my wife asked me if I would run the race with her. My initial response was “no.” I had set out with a goal and was quite intent on achieving it. Running with my wife would not likely make my goal reachable. As time passed, I began to reflect on this decision in relation to my job as a husband. Ultimately, I realized that the decision came down to whether it was better to try to accomplish my own goals or to help my wife reach her goals.
There is a line in Ephesians that talks about the idea that husbands are the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Many folks have read this as meaning that men have the right of dictatorship in their marriage. I would argue that to understand the passage in this way is to ignore the context. Scripturally, Jesus’ role in relation to the church is that He dies for it. Jesus demonstrates leadership by serving. He lives out the attitude He has toward the church when He washes his disciples feet at the last supper, literally doing the job reserved for the lowest servant in the household. Jesus instructs His followers to emulate His attitude. If this is the attitude of the head of the church and the Bible says that husbands are to emulate the head of the church in relation to their wives, then it follows that husbands ought to have an attitude of service and humility in relation to their spouse. This attitude of service is rooted in love. Further, it is an attitude that is aimed, not just toward serving, but toward preparing the church to be found holy and sinless before the Father. Jesus’ ultimate act of service is to offer his life as a sacrifice from the sins of the world. Certainly no husband can imitate that example, but husbands can live their lives to help their wives grow into the sort of clean spotless bride they were designed to be.
I would argue that this is not an easy task for husbands. Men are hard-wired to strive for accomplishments and to compete. Even further than this, our culture highly values accomplishment and success. These are not inherently bad things. They can be negative if the accomplishments and measures of success are misaligned. The Bible presents the idea that the greatest among Jesus’ followers are those who happily assume the position of the least and the servant of all. For husbands and fathers, this is the path assigned to them by the scriptures. We are to serve our families and sacrifice of ourselves for their benefit. We are to help our families grow personally and spiritually.
In the end, I changed my mind and ran the race with my wife. I encouraged her, cheered her on, and even helped
her a little. I did not accomplish my goal of running the race faster than last year, but I did accomplish my goal of being the kind of husband God is calling me to be, even if it took me a few months to figure out that that was what I really wanted. It’s much better to run the race with my partner than to run the race alone.
Originally Published In the Big Sandy Mountaineer 5/14
The day after my daughter’s second birthday, something crazy happened. My sweet little princess almost instantly transformed. She went to bed a cute ball of sugar and cuteness. She woke up the next day a tiny tyrant, complete with temper tantrums, stomping and screaming, throwing herself on the floor, and occasionally pulling handfuls of hair out. I haven’t figured out what caused the change, I’m pretty sure there was something in the cake. The terrible twos had begun and there was no going back.
I’ll admit that deep down I wonder if she will grow out of it, or if I will raise her into one of those adults who throws tantrums at the grocery store because the line is too long. This shift has prompted a number of discussions between my wife and I on the matter of proper discipline. We don’t always agree on the right way to discipline, but we agree that correction is important to raising a child who has learned how to live and act properly. Here are some of the basic concepts that come into play in our discipline strategy.
Discipline is an act of love. As tough as it seems, discipline is a loving response to incorrect behaviors. The author of Hebrews points this out.
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Hebrews 12:5-6
God demonstrates wise parenting by redirecting behaviors to change the direction of those he loves. Discipline turns us from decisions, behaviors, and attitudes that could potentially cause us great harm. Ignoring destructive behavior or responding in a manner that is inadequate to change the behavior may feel nicer than punishment, but it brings more pain when ingrained behaviors need to be relearned later.
Discipline is best when it instructs. One of the clearest memories I have of being disciplined as a child was that it was always followed by my parents sitting with me and explaining the purpose for the correction and basic instruction on how to behave.
Discipline must be proportional. There is a hard balance to manage with children and discipline. Micromanaging a child crushes them. Responding to minor infractions with huge punishments is out of proportion and will only result in either a crushed sense of independence or resentment. The real objective is a chance of direction. Paul presents this idea in the household code he included in his epistle to the Ephesians.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
Discipline must be timely. Discipline must be clearly associated with the behavior for it to be effective. The age of a child is important to take into account when determining timely discipline. A 3-year old doesn’t do as well associating consequences with behaviors the further apart they take place. Correcting a toddler for behaviors that took place a week ago simply won’t be effective. They don’t think that way. Teenagers, on the other hand, are a little more mentally advanced and can associate consequences with actions that are a little more removed. Another important component of timeliness is the emotional state of the child at the time of correction. It always makes me scratch my head when I watch a parent trying to reason with a child in the middle of a full tilt tantrum. Tantrums are the point where thinking isn’t going to happen. Period. Instruction at this time will not correct the behavior.
Consistency is key. Children are keenly aware of how you are going to respond. They know if they can get away with things because you aren’t going to respond. Further, sending mixed messages will only confuse them. There is a degree to which discipline is classical conditioning. Inconsistency will undermine the conditioning component. If you make a threat of punishment and don’t follow through, you will have more trouble in the future. If parents are openly divided on discipline issues, the child will recognize it and figure out how to work the division to their advantage. It’s necessary to figure out your approach and stick with it.
Remember that you love your kid. When your child picks the worst possible moment and way to act out, it’s hard to remember that you are responding out of a desire to correct their behavior so they will be successful adults. Kids have an innate skill for driving their parents nuts. The only reason they can do this is because they are so precious to us. When other people’s kids have tantrums, I don’t pull my hair out the same way I do with my own. It’s harder because we love them.
Years ago, I was replacing the clutch on my car. After removing the old clutch, I went to a high end transmission shop, where the guy at the counter explained that though they had the part, they did not have the alignment tool that normally comes with it. I had never replaced a clutch and had no idea how important the tool was, so I said “no problem” and was on my way. I discovered that it actually was a problem when I attempted to put the engine back into the car with the misaligned clutch. The engine simply would not fit the transmission. I tried several improvised fixes, but had no success. Finally, I pulled off the clutch and went back to the shop, where a different guy was now at the counter. He looked at the clutch and stated firmly that they didn’t sell the alignment tools separately and that the part was not returnable because I had attempted installation. After some arguing and effort, I realized I wasn’t going to make any progress. I then turned to the internet and discover that no one was selling my alignment tool. Finally, after days of working on the problem, I took the engine to the dealer and paid an hour’s worth of labor to a technician, who spent 3 minutes aligning my part. The little plastic alignment tool, that seemed so unimportant at the time, was vital to properly installing my clutch. Without the tool, the engine, which produces power, simply couldn’t connect to the transmission, which transfers power to the tires.
There is a similar problem in many marriages. Both members of the partnership have specific ideas as to how things ought to be, but struggle with making the ideal version in their head transfer into relationship reality. They want to communicate without arguing, agree on financial decisions, experience perfect harmony in their physical relationship, and find that spark of excitement that was present when they first started dating. The problem arises when the idea as to how marriage ought to be fails to translate into forward and harmonious movement in the relationship. This misalignment is a product of the fallen nature, which inclines us toward self-centeredness. If you take a look at Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, you will find the antithesis of the sinful inclination of man. It’s natural for people to struggle with making their behavior match their convictions. Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7,
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Our sinful flesh inclines us away from right and toward sin. It’s no coincidence that Paul talks about a perfect version of love in the context of spiritual gifts, because the love he describes is impossible for us to live out. It is a product of the Holy Spirit’s intervention.
One tool in the marital toolbox is similar to the one I was missing when the time arose for me to align my clutch. The great heart alignment tool available to believers is the intervention of the Spirit, aiding us toward Christlike action. As we submit our lives to Christ and learn to obey His teachings, the Holy Spirit produces new attitudes and behavior in our lives. If we simply try to obey a set of standards, apart from new life in Christ, we will find ourselves mired in legalism, which is ultimately impossible to maintain for the long haul. Ultimately, this will produce the same sort of results that my improvised alignment tools produced. The tool that was designed to fit my car is the only one that could successfully line up my engine and transmission.
The misalignment of heart and actions in the marital context is best illustrated by the responses of husbands to Paul’s teaching in Philippians 5:25-27
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
When reading this passage with men, I find that they often get hung up on talk of wives obeying, which is addressed in the preceding verse. They complain that their wife doesn’t obey them, and they harbor resentment because of it. This is a product of a misalignment of heart with the heart of Christ, specifically because they aren’t looking at the passages that apply to them. They are only looking at what they are owed. Husbands bear the responsibility of loving their wives as Christ loved the church. This literally means that husbands should be willing to give everything for their wives and take on the role of servant. He ought to lead his family spiritually, not only in words, but also in action. The job of a husband is to align their attitude and behavior with that of Jesus. When she offends him, he forgives. He is patient, selfless, kind, and forgiving. When things are not as they ought to be, he guides through love and sacrifice. We do not see Christ demanding that He be served. The tool that helps us to align our hearts with his, and then our actions with our heart is the Holy Spirit. Prayer, confession, accountability, devotion to the Word, and obedience is our side of the equation. The Spirit convicts and changes us as we strive toward holiness. Without the Spirit, we simply cannot manage this on our own.