I’ve referenced this quite often on our marriage forum, and I thought it was time to create an article specifically addressing the topic. This demand is the one someone who wishes to have a great marriage should avoid like the plague. Yet, the demand is quite common.
What is the most selfish demand? Simply this:
Have a standard that your spouse is to reserve his/her most important emotional needs for you and always remain with you, but steadfastly refuse to meet those needs.
In other words, the message sent to the spouse is, “I won’t meet your needs, and you are expected to put up with it. No other man/woman can, because that’s an affair. You can’t leave/divorce me, because that’s abandonment. You are stuck in a situation where you have no hope of having your needs met.”
This demand is most definitely not restricted to sexual needs.
A Gathering Storm
This dynamic is a recipe for disaster, whatever form that disaster takes. Progressing to the point of the actual catastrophic event may take some time. Make no mistake, though…the disaster is coming.
The Power Struggle
The most common initial symptom is ongoing and ever-escalating fighting. Dr. Willard Harley calls this dynamic “conflict.” Conflict is one of his Three States of Mind In Marriage, and these correspond quite well with Al Turtle‘s Map of Relationships. Al Turtle calls this dynamic “The Power Struggle,” which he defines as:
A temporary period in a relationship characterized by increasing frustration and distress, and brought about by fruitless attempts to “recover a beautiful relationship” by using skills that not only do not work, but which increase distress. A time when couples use traditional relating skills in an attempt to achieve a Biological Dream-type relationship. This period occurs in all intimate relationships and is meant to end. For each couple the question is when to end it and whether to end it by a) learning new skills, b) giving up the dream, c) splitting apart or divorcing.
During the Power Struggle, each spouse attempts to force the other to comply with what s/he wants. This attempt at force comes in the form of what Harley calls “Love Busters” and Turtle calls being a “bully,” which he defines as:
A person who wants their way and when they don’t get their way, they make other people unhappy.
Although this is often considered by many to be the most difficult of the relationship stages, the relationship can get worse. In this stage, the spouses still actually want something from the other. They still have hope of getting what they need from their spouse. That’s not true of the next stage.
The Invisible Divorce
While the initial symptom is ongoing fights without resolution or progress, these eventually lead to a state of what Dr. Harville Hendrix calls “Invisible Divorce” – which is living separate, withdrawn lives in the same home. One or both spouses emotionally and mentally “check out” of the marriage. Dr. Willard Harley calls this dynamic “withdrawal,” and describes it as “emotionally divorced.” Withdrawal is another of his Three States of Mind In Marriage, and these correspond quite well with Al Turtle’s Map of Relationships.
Commonly, the spouse ignoring the needs (or with the greater neglect factor) at this point is thinking that the marriage has actually improved. Au contraire! Sadly, I hear this often from both men and women. This stage actually represents a lack of hope. One or both spouses has actually given up on getting what they need from their spouse.
The Husband’s Mistake
The most common I hear from men is, “She finally learned to stop the nagging.” So I ask, “Did you solve the issue about which she was nagging?” Answer, “No.” Oh, naive husband…your marriage is not better. It is infinitely worse. The nagging stopped because she no longer cares enough to nag. She’s given up hope of getting her need met by you.
The Wife’s Mistake
The most common I hear from women is, “He finally stopped bugging me for sex.” So I ask, “So, are you having sex with him now?” Answer, “No.” Oh, naive wife…read above. Your marriage is infinitely worse. He hasn’t given up on having sex, just on having sex with you.
The Catastrophic Event
This “Invisible Divorce” can persist for some time – but not indefinitely. It will then lead to one of the other alternatives: separation, divorce, or infidelity. The disaster is here. The hurricane has made landfall.
For a spouse faced with The Most Selfish Demand, all options are painful, and many make poor decisions. That poor decision is the responsibility of the spouse faced with the problem, but that in no way means that the problem didn’t exist.
In fact, given a prolonged period of facing this situation with no hope, I’m not sure leaving is a poor decision. Of course I think that other methods should be attempted first, and most seem to try. (Whether those methods are constructive or not is another matter.)
One of the huge disaster risks at this point is infidelity. The neglected spouse (either or both) wants to believe that s/he can exist perpetually in a state of neglected needs. This person actually becomes a dry sponge. The minute anyone of the sex that attracts the spouse gets near enough to meet any of these needs in even a marginal way…the sponge soaks it up like it was a major event. To that spouse, it probably is a major event in the trend line of having emotional needs met. Don’t you know that the person who made the marginal deposit is suddenly the best thing since sliced bread?
A starving person will think a stale cracker tastes like gourmet food. In other words, the spouses are vulnerable to infidelity, often in spite of being vehemently opposed to it.
Avoiding the Storm
Avoiding the storm simply involves not taking your partner for granted. Avoid hurtful habits like those discussed by Harley and Turtle. Learn to listen to your spouse and validate what s/he tells you. Identify his/her needs, and learn how to meet them.
A Warning for Men
We get it. You hate nagging. However, nagging is a way of repeatedly stating a need and asking for it to be met. If you want the nagging to stop, investigate the complaint and work with your wife to resolve the issue in a way that works for both of you. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away, and nagging is a repetitive problem statement. Don’t wait until she “finds the golden key” to ask in just the right way before taking action. Inaction damages your marriage and leaves it vulnerable. You know there’s a problem: get to work on identifying and fixing it.
You will likely need to become much more skilled at conversation and non-sexual affection, and you’ll probably have to learn to chip in on domestic chores, if you don’t already do a fair share.
Remember: somewhere out there is a man who won’t ignore her, at least initially, and he’s not as far away as you might think. If you don’t believe me, read some of the stories on our marriage forum.
A Warning for Women
Women, I know that we hear that men’s #1 emotional need is sex. Men believe that, to a great extent, as well. Sure, numbers show it. I don’t believe it.
I have an unproven hypothesis that the #1 emotional need for most men (as a group, not predicting any individual) is Admiration and Appreciation. This explains, for instance, why men have affairs when they have frequent sex with their wives. Anyway, regardless of the actual ordinal value, Admiration and Appreciation – specifically from a female mate – is an extremely important need for men. Do not ignore the neglect factor for men when it comes to admiration. This is a very dangerous mistake.
This is not to imply that neglecting sex is not dangerous: it is. A sex-starved husband is not to be taken lightly. However, that danger is more widely recognized by women than the neglect of admiration.
Remember: somewhere out there is a woman who won’t ignore his need for admiration, at least initially, and she’s not as far away as you might think. If you don’t believe me, read some of the stories on our marriage forum.