As a clinical psychologist, (Harley, back cover) Willard Harley describes how his early years had been spent conducting marriage therapy without any success in a world filled with failed marital experts. (Harley, 10-11) Harley discovered that the breakthrough for successful marriage therapy was to restore the feeling of love among couples, and he describes how he began having direct results when he employed the method of advising a couple to do whatever made each other feel good and to avoid what made them feel bad. (Harley, 12) Overall, Harley’s breakthrough that distinguishes him from other marriage experts of his time is that he thus came to the conclusion that problem solving and communication are good (as would have been often taught by marriage experts) but unless they are employed to stimulate romantic love, both parties will want our of their marriage. (See Harley, 13)
Harley makes a very clear and simple introduction to his work when he explains that women and men have needs and those needs are so strong that if those needs are not met inside of marriage, then the temptation will exist for those needs to be met outside of marriage. (Harley, 15) Through counseling many couples, Harley discovered ten basic needs that often arise in his sessions that need addressed, and those are sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, honesty and openness, financial support, family commitment, domestic support, conversation, affection, and admiration. (Harley, 18) Overall, Harley describes how each person has a, “love bank” such that when pleasure is given, deposits are made and when pain is given withdraws are made, (Harley, 24) and the idea is that when people fulfill the needs of one another then deposits are made in the love bank as like a metaphorical measure of love for another person.
Harley gives an example of how a man could easily gain a large, “love account” for his wife but since his needs are not being met from his wife, he thus begins to accumulate a large “love account” with another woman from her meeting his needs instead, and in Harley’s example a man could thus love two women equally. (Harley, 31) Harley teaches that man usually have five needs and women usually have a different set of five needs, (Harley, 18) and the way to make a marriage resistant to an affair is for each spouse to provide for all of the needs of the other spouse. (Harley, 33) Overall, Harley makes clear that a person must not only know what their spouse needs but also spouses need to train to develop the habits necessary in order to accommodate the needs of the other spouse. (Harley, 43)
Harley describes the most important common marital problem as being a disparity between men and women in terms of their differing sexual drives, (Harley, 53) and in this regard compatibility between partners needs to be established through realizing the differences between the sexes in terms of their sexuality in order to advance intimacy. (See Harley, 54) Harley’s next great point (that women often do not get enough of) is the need for conversation, (See Harley, 68) and in this way he describes four enemies to conversation (Harley, 76-77) and three friends of conversation. (Harley, 79-80) Overall, after the topic of recreational companionship is covered, (Harley, 87) the rest of Harley’s book deals with smaller and smaller marital needs as these include honesty and openness, (Harley, 101) physical attractiveness, (Harley, 117) financial support, (Harley, 131) peace and quiet, (Harley, 143) family commitment, (Harley, 157) and admiration. (Harley, 171)
At the climax of Harley’s book he describes how to end an affair, and his advice is very simple as he advises the spouse with the affair to completely separate all contact with the lover drastically and forever, (Harley, 189-190) undergo extreme transparency with radical honesty, (Harley, 192-193) and meet each other’s basic needs. (Harley, 194) The end result of recovery is that the couple has a greater love relationship than what they ever would have had if the affair had not happened. (Harley, 195-196) Overall, Harley advises that happy married couples make their marriage a full-time priority as they invest effort into each other and they do it in the right places, (Harley, 199) and the conclusion of Harley’s book is to bring about such a commitment by both parties.
Book Critique and Evaluation
Harley is certainly a wise man, and his book certainly has a place among those people that do not share the Christian faith, are new to the Christian faith, or are non devout popular Christians. In contrast to Harley’s work, the Bible gives powerful and shocking truth concerning marriage, and in this regard Genesis 24:2-4 shows clearly that obtaining a spouse is by God’s election and through the commission of the patriarch of a family. In fact in the story that Genesis 24:14 gives, divine providence and prayer are what secure the future spouse chosen by God, and that election is proven by long suffering as Rebekah was a virgin that went way out of her way to completely serve a guest that would (unknowing to her) arrange her for marriage. (See Genesis 24:15-21) Overall, not only that but also long suffering is also understood by the Bible to be the bedrock of solid marriage because after Isaac sent Jacob away to gain a wife in a foreign land, (Genesis 28:6) Jacob worked fourteen years to gain his chosen wife. (Genesis 29:19-29)
Harley in contrast to the biblical paradigm in Genesis, points out that among the men and women surveyed they had their first heterosexual experiences at ages between thirteen and sixteen. (Harley, 52) The reason for the sharp contrast to the Genesis account is that people are assumed to get married in much latter years even though they have had prior sexual encounters, but the Genesis account would appear to indicate that celibacy was indeed practiced before marriage even in extreme cases. Especially when considering the law of Moses in regard to fornication and adultery as being capital crimes with the same punishment as murder, (See Deuteronomy 22:13-22) one needs to be reminded that Harley’s book differs so greatly in underlying principle from biblical teaching that it is like a guide for getting a murder to be satisfied and productive with running a daycare in a holy way.
Although Harley’s book shows vast potential for benefiting married couples that have gone astray by utilizing methods of building on learned associations to get couples to love each other more, (Harley, 12) Harley appears to completely misunderstands the purpose of marriage to begin with because marriage should not be about increasing pleasure and satisfaction in living but instead marriage should be about gaining a spouse in order to increase service to God. Overall, Harley’s book is like public education in that it serves a misguided purpose to begin with but it is indeed very valuable because it is very good at serving people on their misguided journey through life; moreover, Harley does not change spouses by forcing them to go down the narrow path of service to Christ but instead he helps couples gain pleasure and intimacy as they continue down the road to destruction.
Harley’s book has a tremendous application for ministry because those that are not receptive to the message of scripture may in fact be useful for other purposes besides serving God as Romans 9:21-25 suggests, and in this case a clergyman could fully utilize the book to give sound advice to those that perhaps will never rely upon the lord for all of their needs. The scripture makes very clear the distinction between people that are concerned about this world as opposed to those that are concerned about the Lord’s affairs, (See 1 Corinthians 7:32-34) and in this way scripture makes clear that a person cannot serve two masters very well. (note Matthew 6:24) Overall, regardless of how detrimental marital relationships can be to those that serve God, scripture is also clear that they are needed for women’s salvation because scripture also attests that women are saved through producing children. (See 1 Timothy 2:15)
If this author (I) ever get married the text will provide much insight into the multitude of needs that a woman would have that this author (I) am not capable of fulfilling. Thus as a personal application, the text would suggest that some people just do not have everything needed for marriage. Overall, the great downfall of books like Harley’s is that they promote ideology of the American culture in that they promote pleasure and personal gain as like the central focus of marriage, and so good use of the book would be to use it for blessing those that are outside of strict biblical marriage and want to remain aligned to the surrounding vision of the world they inhabit.
A priest that this author once worked with argued the case for arranged marriage by families as being the correct biblical view of marriage as he agreed to the plan of a foreign woman marrying him, and Harley’s book starts from a different perspective than this. The perspective assumes that people are together because they have met emotional needs among each other as they both went along the path of life, but people are instead together in marriage because God has chosen them to be together and has joined them in an arranged way. (See Mark 10:9) Overall, application of the text is best for people that subscribe to the societal vision of people, “falling in love”, and as a result personal application is indeed limited.
One could argue that Harley’s text gives a human designed way of solving problems that originate from a humanly designed institution (namely marriage according to human will). In a world of foods that are anything but natural, a world missing reverence of God’s sovereignty, and a world caught up in individuals seeking pleasures and fulfillments of their needs under their own power, Harley’s book really excels in providing exactly what the common person wants when they have marital problems or want to prevent marital problems. The problem however is that what people want for their lives and the structure of their lives is not what God would desire as fitting, and the best recourse for many may be to avoid the practice of straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel. (Matthew 23:24) Thus by just avoiding the big problems like adultery without concerning one’s self about how to structure a marriage according to the biblical pattern that serves God and is ordained according to his purposes, people can feel like they have really accomplished a lot by utilizing Harley’s book.
Harley, Willard. 2011. “His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.” Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell.