I am crawling out on a limb as I share this perspective in the hope of helping just one struggling couple who wants to save their marriage in the aftermath of infidelity. On the other hand, perhaps a husband or wife who is teetering on the edge of infidelity will decide to change course. As a marriage coach, I have couples sit on my couch who are wrestling with a gap in sexual appetite. In most cases, the husband desires more sex than his wife, and over time, this unresolved need has culminated in an extra-marital affair. I fully acknowledge that women also have affairs, but in most cases, the catalyst for theirs starts with unmet non-sexual needs.
For the record, I believe every adult is fully responsible for his/her decisions and behaviors. However, one of my first coaching questions is usually directed to the faithful spouse: “What did you contribute to the extra-marital affair?” My question is not to suggest that this wronged spouse caused the affair, should feel any guilt, or accept any blame. My intention is to shine a spotlight on the couple dynamics that the husband and wife co-created before the affair occurred. Husbands and wives share a responsibility in what goes on within their marriage. I would only ask this question if both spouses were committed to work on their marriage and not focus their energies on assigning blame or playing the victim card.
This pointed question expands the conversation around marital needs as discussed in Thriving Marriages? It’s All About Meeting Needs. A healthy and satisfying marriage results when each spouse tries to meet the needs of his/her spouse. As mentioned in His Needs, Her Needs, Harley (2011) discusses 10 emotional needs that husbands and wives seek to have fulfilled within their marriage. These are (1) affection, (2) sexual fulfillment, (3) intimate conversation, (4) recreational companionship, (5) honesty and openness, (6) physical attractiveness, (7) financial support, (8) domestic support, (9) family commitment, and (10) admiration. Men typically rate sexual fulfillment and recreational companionship as their highest needs; whereas, women favor affection and intimate conversation. Harley (2011) states that when primary needs are not met by a spouse, over time, husbands and wives will usually find ways to get those needs met outside of their relationship.
As an example, it is common for a woman to crave intimate conversation with her husband. When a wife does not receive it, she may innocently share her frustration with a male coworker or friend. With no calculated intent, this intimate conversation blooms into a romantic affair. Most likely, the man is also married and not getting his sexual needs met by his wife. The same model holds true for husbands. They may have no plans for an affair but are unable to hold the line at only flirtatious conversation. Unless suffering from sex addiction, neither spouse is likely to stray if their needs are met at home.
Readers may counter that spouses should not feel pressured into having sex with their spouse. I could not agree more; however, I do suggest that a husband and wife adopt a self-sacrificing attitude to meet their spouse’s top three needs. Love undoubtedly requires self-sacrifice. For example, when I want to relax on the couch with a glass of wine and good book after work, my husband is in the kitchen cooking dinner and cleaning up afterwards. Would he rather trade places with me? Absolutely! Yet, he knows that I will gladly gift him sex when we crawl into bed when I prefer to pull the covers over my head and drift off to sleep.
“What did you contribute to the extra-marital affair?” may be the first question on the table; however, the second is asked of the unfaithful spouse: “What did you not do for your wife/husband that led her/him to not care about satisfying your sexual needs?” Husbands and wives both have a responsibility to nurture their marriages. When the love chemicals subside, the happy and enduring marriages require hard work and self-sacrificing decisions. I encourage couples to prioritize their individual needs and communicate their top three, so their spouse can make a concerted effort to satisfy them. If successful, couples may be asked a third question after decades of marriage: “What’s the secret?”
Harley, W.F. (2011). His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional leadership coach with an extensive background in premarital and marriage coaching, education, and mentoring. She coaches individuals, and couples, as well as facilitates relationship workshops. She has a passion to help people experience outstanding marriages and relationships. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website www.shinecrossings.com