The books The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman and His Needs Her Needs by Willard Harley have been very helpful to a lot of couples. I’ve read them both, they’ve both been very helpful to my wife’s and my marriage, and I recommend them both as helpful tools for you.
There is a subtle message communicated in these books, or at least a message the reader creates, and that is that if my needs aren’t met, I’m now entitled to pursue an affair.
The premise of The Five Love Languages is that there are 5 primary “languages” in which each of us give and receive love (Acts of Service, Quality Time, Gifts, Physical Touch, and Words of Affirmation). You need to learn the language of your spouse (as it typically isn’t your natural language), then show them love in that language, and in doing so, their “Love Tank” will be full. (You can do a quick online assessment to discover your love languages here) So what happens when your spouse refuses or is unable to show you love in your language?
In His Needs Her Needs, there are 5 primary needs (that’s a strong word) for men and 5 primary needs for women. The premise of the book is based on years of marital counseling research. Individuals in marriages who don’t get these needs met go look for them elsewhere in affairs. The 5 needs for men are Sexual Fulfillment, Recreational Companionship, Physical Attractiveness, Domestic Support, and Admiration. The 5 needs for women are Affection, Intimate Conversation, Honesty and Openness, Financial Support, and Family Commitment. Mirroring The Five Love Languages, His Needs Her Needs has a “Love Bank” that couples must keep full for their partner. So what happens when this bank goes dry? When your needs aren’t being met? They are needs after all. Like air, water, and food, you will die without them (being “needs” and all), so of course you’re entitled to go seek these needs elsewhere in an affair.
It’s the opposite intention of the books, and The Five Love Languages even dedicates great chapters titled “What happens to love after the wedding?”, “Falling in Love” (which gives statistics that the “in love” feeling only lasts 2 years), “Love is a Choice” (Amen!), and one that is similar to this blog post entitled, “Loving the Unlovely”, all meant to combat this entitlement feeling.
His Needs Her Needs doesn’t give any such effort. Instead, it says this on page 33: “Should I be concerned that my spouse will have an affair if I don’t meet her needs? Should my spouse fear that I might have an affair if my needs are not being met? In reference to the needs described in this book, the answer is yes.”
If you think you need love from your spouse, you are wrong. If you think lack of love from your spouse gives you a license to have an affair, which is almost what it feels like Harley is saying, you are incredibly wrong.
If you build a marriage around the His Needs Her Needs concept, you’ve built it around selfishness, which is the opposite of love. Think about it: Love is sacrificial. I’m reminded of Ephesians 5:25, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Makes me wonder how full Jesus’ “love tank” or “love bank” was when he hung bloodied and beaten from the cross out of love for me.
The answer is, it was very full. But it was full from the proper source, our Heavenly Father, not from his bride, the Church. Hear me: Your spouse will always let you down. They aren’t God. They are a broken, sinful, selfish human. Just like you. And just like me.
Are His Needs Her Needs and The Five Love Languages helpful tools to give us handles on learning how to “give ourselves up” for our spouse more effectively? Yes they are. But we often don’t read them (and Harley doesn’t even write his) as a guide for how we can love better, we typically read them as what we can expect to get from our spouse.
If you and your spouse have both read His Needs Her Needs and The Five Love Languages, you now have barrels full of ammunition to fire against each other when your “needs” aren’t being met. You can simply appeal to the authority of these books that if your spouse isn’t doing these things, they are a bad spouse. And if they are a bad spouse, you even have permission from Harley to seek out these needs elsewhere.
There’s now a scoreboard.
There’s now a kickback system. I will speak in my spouse’s love language, because it’s the only way I can get them to speak back to me in mine. My intent is not their benefit, it is my own.
This mindset teaches us that we can create the perfect spouse for ourselves. But at its core level, it’s a sick and twisted definition of perfection. If we are really honest, we are looking for the perfect servant/slave to serve us and fulfill our desires and pleasures.
I’ve never watched the award-winning FX show Nip/Tuck as it is graphically sexual (pornographic), but an ad I saw for it a few years ago really stuck in mind. It was of the two plastic surgeons literally stitching a nude woman together with thread, according to their exact specifications, as they gaze at her lustfully. This photo can teach us a lot about the objectification of women and how pornography conditions us to look at real women in subhuman ways.
But the deeper thing that stuck out to me was how we try to do this exact thing to our spouses time and time again. Be the perfect pleasure bringer for me. Fill my love tank in the way I need it. Fill my love bank in the way I need it. Make me happy. Bring me pleasure.
And if you don’t, I’ll find someone who will.
If my love tank and love bank were already filled by the only one who can truly fill it, Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t so desperately look to my spouse to fulfill this need. A need they cannot never truly meet.
So throw away the scoreboard.
Throw away the kickback system.
Throw away your expectation that your spouse is meant to cater to your every want, desire, and need.
Even in the best marriages, there are going to be dry seasons.
Pour love into your spouse because Jesus poured it in to you.
Use books like the The Five Love Languages and His Needs Her Needs to help you learn how to pour this love more accurately and effectively. But don’t use them as an entitlement license that your spouse will “pour back” on the bulls-eye of your sweet spot. And if they don’t, look out.
Is your marriage easier when your spouse is pouring love back? Heck yes. But it’s not an excuse to stop when they’re not. Whoever said love was easy? I’m pretty sure the bloodied, spat on, beaten, humiliated, broken, beard-ripped-out Jesus never said that.
Here’s what he did say though: (John 13:34) “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
And here’s what his buddy Paul said about him: (Ephesians 4:32) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Christie Johnson Harris says
You make very good points here, but I’m always fundamentally offended by books like “his needs her needs” and “men are from Mars” as I think they promote gender stereotypes. I am not looking for financial security (many of my girlfriends make more money than their husbands) and my husband is far more interested in emotional closeness with me than his is in my physical attractiveness or domestic support (Like he’d rather have a maid) books like this promote the idea that instead of recognizing that my spouse and I are unique individuals, we should really fit in this unrealistic mold – and if we din’t perhaps something is wrong with us.
Why would we pour love into some else if the idea of religious being did so? Shouldn’t we just love to love as this is a human ability?
Noah Filipiak says
rm, thanks for the questions — I’m not sure I’m totally following what you’re asking so please re-ask if I’m not understanding you correctly. The point I was trying to make is that our natural human ability to love is very limited. In our natural human state, we “love” when we get something out of it in return. And/or we love those who are easy to love. Whereas love from God demonstrates love when it’s not easy to love, i.e. when Jesus is dying on the cross for us. Then he says “go and love like this”. So my point was that we need to love our spouse’s even when it’s hard to do so and to do it not expecting a kickback in return, the way Jesus modeled it. Whereas we can tend to take the concepts of the books I mentioned and twist them so I love my spouse in order that they love me back in the way I need it, and if they don’t, I can hold it over their head that they aren’t doing a good enough job of loving me, and then I can go have an affair because they didn’t hold up to their end of the deal.
Joshua LaFeve says
I appreciate you referencing Ephesians 5:25. After all, a marriage between one man and one woman, particularly the marriage between one man and one woman in Christ, is a microcosm of the very union of Christ, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. In a very real way, my marriage with my wife is a “return to Eden,” a return to God’s plan for man and woman from creation, even prior to the Fall. Yet, in Christ, she and I “return to Eden” with restored, redeemed, and forgiven identities as we are caught up as participants in the holy marriage of our Lord with his “bought-back-bride,” the Church. We “return” in Christ and in the Spirit, empowered and enabled to actually live in our marital union in a way that is God pleasing and in accord with his plan (“So help us, God!”).
With this picture in mind, how might renewed shape and meaning be given to each and every moment of our “earthly” marriages? How might I share the fruit (namely, forgiveness) of my new identity in Christ with my spouse? How might I, as a husband, offer the same self-sacrificing love and devotion to my wife that my Lord has shown to me as a member of the Church? How might I lay down my life for her as Christ did for me, a member of his bride, the Church? Through my love and devotion for her how might she be compelled to respond with trust in me and respect for me? How might we all as Christians “live out” our marriages and love and honor our spouses in the love and forgiveness of God in Christ with such godly character that all who witness them receive a “foretaste” of heaven here on earth?
Noah Filipiak says
great questions to reflect on and examine our marriages with, thanks Joshua!
Gary Slabaugh says
Certainly sounds like from your blog that the Christian faith is the only possible way to love and be loved in a genuine, authentic sense. That’s problematic for me. I’m increasingly distressed by different “saved” groups condemning one another. I’m also distressed that super religious/spiritual couples who consider themselves “the light of the world” or “the salt of the earth” or “a city on a hill” are just as prone to marital unhappiness as the general populace. Seems like promising a better marriage as a way to promote a specific belief system about love.
Powerful and inspiring article, thanks!
Honestly, I didn’t read the entire article, because it was clear within a short while that you are young, and unfamiliar with a lot of reality. I’m not trying to offend, but I was once like you, and it didn’t turn out so well. The love Jesus showed cannot be compared to the love between a married couple the way you are comparing, because there are different types of love. One cannot have a successful marriage without attraction or mutual respect. One can love a spouse, but the relationship can still suffer. A man should love sacrificially because this, in turn, creates attraction and respect from his spouse, which then feeds back into his needs and keeps the relationship going. A selfish man can be loved, but not liked or respected. This is the point of his needs/her needs. I remember being young, and leading a Bible study with some very hurt women. I couldn’t understand their selfishness and “lack” of sacrificial love. Now I do. The relationship cannot be one-sided, just like our relationship with God cannot be one-sided. It simply will not last. Of course we do not expect a spouse to be around for our every “want and need”, but I do not believe the book, and “scoring system” is promoting that idea; it’s giving a realistic view of the way things actually work, whether we currently recognize those things or not. I don’t agree with everything in those books, but they are a good starting point. Many unbelievers have great relationships because they do not not expect man to act like God, Who gives loves unconditionally. Christians have issues when they stubbornly believe that they have a right to be loved, admired, and attractive simply because they said: “I do.”