One Partnership, Different Needs
By Treneé Tunick, LCSW
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”― Timothy Keller, “The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God”
Fully known and fully loved. While that sounds wonderful, is it attainable? The answer is yes, but it’s a yes with diligent, hard work behind it. To pursue being fully known and fully loved within a marriage, couples must first understand that God has wired men and women with vastly different emotional and physical needs. And those needs drive how we connect with our spouses.
A resource I use frequently with couples is “His Needs, Her Needs” by Dr. Willard Harley. Harley’s book discusses the concept of a love bank. Each relationship in our lives has an account, and when that person does something loving toward us, a deposit is made. When something unloving has been done, a withdrawal is made. Just like our own bank accounts, trouble within a relationship arises when too many withdrawals and not enough deposits have been made.
Couples arrive at therapy together for numerous reasons, but a common starting point with couples is helping the other to see where their “love banks” are close to being overdrawn. They have to understand that they have different emotional needs from their spouse and require certain type of deposits.
While we know that every couple is unique, these are the needs that Harley has identified as being the common individual needs for husbands and wives, respectively.
The Husband’s Needs
While no man is the same, in general, husbands rank the following at the top of relational needs with their spouse:
- Sexual fulfillment
- Recreational fellowship
- Physically attractive spouse
- Domestic support
The Wife’s Needs
Again, while no wife is the same, in general, wives rank the following at the top of their relational needs with their spouse:
- Honesty and openness
- Family commitment
Helping couples to understand these needs and be able to voice them to their spouse is the foundation for many counseling sessions.
What to Expect in Couples’ Counseling
I often use questionnaires with my clients to help get the conversation started between the husband and the wife. When identifying different needs, I encourage my clients to move from accusatory statements that put the other person on the defensive by restating strong emotions into “I” statements that name an emotion.
Instead of saying “You are so thoughtless! You never ask if I need help with the kids,” the wife might restate and say “I feel lonely and somewhat abandoned with the needs of the kids. An offer of help would go a long way.”
By naming how the action specifically affected her, the husband is not put on the defensive and is now aware of a need his wife has (that he may not have). He has an opportunity to meet that need, thus strengthening their relationship. Those small actions over time keep each other’s love banks full and a relationship healthy.
I also encourage couples to ask each other lots of questions and get into the habit of restating what their partner just said in order to ensure good communication has occurred.
Communicating About Needs
Once couples are aware of these different needs, I remind them that they can’t force the other person to guess what is most meaningful to them. I encourage both the husband and wife to clearly articulate when they feel like a need isn’t being met and on the other hand when an action is particularly meaningful. Some couples may find it helpful to write down what they are thinking and have their spouse read it as it helps to mitigate some of the pressure they might feel in sharing a vulnerable part of them.
While it may feel foreign or awkward at first, opening these lines of communication is an important step to affair-proofing your marriage.
As Harley states in “His Needs, Her Needs,”
“How are you feeling? What problems are you facing? How can I help you solve those problems? That’s the kind of conversation that helps married couples stay in love with each other. Or it leads people into affairs when it’s done outside of marriage and with someone of the opposite sex. It’s intimate conversation.”
I also sometimes ask couples what brought them together in the first place. Sometimes reflecting on what you did early on in a dating relationship can help you find your way back to making regular deposits in your spouse’s love bank.
At the center of a healthy marriage lies a desire (on both parts) to learn what the other person needs and how they can best meet those needs. That’s what you do when you are deeply attached to something. We watch hours and hours of director’s commentaries or YouTube videos to find out all the behind-the-scenes trivia of our favorite movies, plays, or shows. Why shouldn’t we put the same effort into finding out what makes our husband or wife valuable, admired, and loved?
It’s never too late to start marriage counseling. Reach out to Trenee' today to schedule your first appointment.