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COLUMN: Building an ‘affair-proof’ marriage

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By John Lapp

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Willard Harley, a noted clinical psychologist, states in one of his books, “His Needs, Her Needs,” that when a husband or wife comes to him for help, his first goal is to help them identify their most important emotional needs — what each of them can do for each other to make them happiest and most content. He has found that most of their responses can be classified into 10 emotional needs categories.
In my more than four decades of working with hundreds of couples, they may tell me what these needs are, but more than likely have not, for whatever reasons, told each other.
Often, the couple has lacked the knowledge or the ability, or maybe the courage to express these needs, so the marriage just goes on its merry way hoping that things will somehow get better. (Maybe each partner thinks that their partner knows what is missing, sort of a form of mind reading.)
Often the couple has the same needs, but those needs are listed in reverse order from that of their partner.
When one of the sessions is designed to help them to better communicate this with one another, there is an awkwardness presented, almost apologetically, with some predisposed guilt that maybe the partner is expecting too much from the other.
However, it must be stated here that it is far better to confront the partner of the needs that are not being met, than either one or both of them telling this to another opposite sex person at work or at church or some other familiar setting. That can be a potentially dangerous “launch-pad” for the beginning of an extra-marital affair because that person becomes easier to talk to than one’s partner.
While the friend may be very sympathetic and understanding and may have no ulterior motive, when this happens too often with the same person, it has potential problems waiting to happen.
That is usually where an understanding pastor of a church can lend a helping hand, or even the wisdom received from a professional counselor may be beneficial. These are usually very safe places to present these unmet needs and attempt to gain confidence to address these with some guidance from the pastor or counselor.
Why this is so difficult to address with one’s partner has many explanations, not the least of which is that most couples have never been taught the “art” of good communication skills, which is the basis of a good, growing relationship for the lifetime of the marriage.
Coupled with that is the background of the individuals married to each other. Did either of them experience from the family of origin how a couple should talk? Did they get any pre­marital counseling about the need to learn how to confront and resolve these things? Has either of them read any books or attended any seminars or training programs that relate to how to handle these matters?
If one were to spend some time in a bookstore, be it secular or Christian, in its content of materials available, he or she would be able to find some excellent teaching about how to work these things out or at least how to get started. (Be careful when selecting the right materials, that you have some idea of the quality of the author’s background and training.)
One of the most difficult things I have had to deal with is the couple who should have come for help long before they finally have come for counseling. Although, it is not an impossible situation, the longer the problem has existed without some help, the more complicated it has become, and therefore the more difficult it is to resolve.
Most of the time, the failure of men and women to meet each others’ emotional needs is simply due to ignorance of each others needs and not selfish unwillingness to be considerate.
Harley states, “In marriages that fail to meet these needs, I have seen, strikingly and alarmingly, how married people consistently choose the same pattern to satisfy their unmet needs: the extramarital affair. People wander into affairs with astonishing regularity, in spite of whatever strong moral or religions convictions they may hold.”
To develop what has been often called “an affair-proof marriage,” why not put forth the energy now, risky at it may seem in the present, by not hiding your heads in the sand believing that neither of you would ever consider having an extramarital affair? I would not want that to happen to any of my readers of this column.
For more information, or to speak to me directly, call my office at 477-2818, my cell at 904-699-8417 or email me at johnlapp36@yahoo.com.
May God bless you as you attempt to work out any of these areas in your marriage.

John Lapp is a counselor in Taylorsville. His column normally appears on the ‘At Home’ page each week in The Spencer Magnet.