Marital fulfillment was one of the many personal objectives I tried to help people achieve in my earlier days as a psychologist. Once in a while a couple would come to me on the verge of divorce, and I would try to steer them toward a happy marriage. My problem, at first, was that I did not have an effective plan to offer ? even when they did what I suggested, almost all the couples I tried to help eventually divorced! So I took courses and read existing books and articles about strategies for improving marriage. I even hired a well-respected marital therapist to guide me toward an effective counseling procedure.

When I finally came to the realization that marriages could not be saved by this popular approach to marriage counseling, I broke ranks and started to create my own plan based on my marriage counseling experience. Much of what I learned about saving marriages came right from the mouths of the couples whose marriages I was trying to save. I would tell them in advance that I had not yet figured out how to save marriages, and wouldn’t charge them for my help. But if they were willing to work with me, maybe we could figure it out together. Then we would create a plan and try it out to see if it would work. The most effective plans were fine-tuned, and what you see today on this Marriage Builders? site is the result of all that trial and error.

When a couple first came to my office, one of my goals was to help them identify and meet each other’s most important emotional needs so that they could deposit enough love units to fall in love with each other. But my goal and their goal was very different.

When I first started encouraging couples to meet each other’s emotional needs, at least one spouse was usually in the state of withdrawal, which meant that he or she did not want their emotional needs to be met, and they certainly did not want to meet their spouse’s emotional needs. Even if both spouses were in the state of conflict where they were willing to have their own needs met, they were not willing to meet the other spouse’s emotional needs (unless it was also their own need that was being met). Since almost all the spouses I saw were either in the state of withdrawal or in the state of conflict, most were not interested in following my plan.

That’s where my job as a marriage coach began ? to motivate couples to do what they didn’t want to do so they could have the kind of marriage they wanted to have. I coached them into meeting each other’s emotional needs at a time that they didn’t feel like doing it. Granted, it often required a bit of house cleaning first to remove some of the biggest obstacles to following the rule, such as angry outbursts, disrespectful judgments and selfish demands. But in the end, if my coaching was successful, they would actually meet each other’s emotional needs, and that usually started them on the road to marital recovery.

As a marriage coach, I tried to motivate couples to take each other’s feelings into account with every decision they would make. But for many of the couples I saw, it was as if I was trying to take away their “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They felt that freedom meant freedom to trample over the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of their spouses. Even couples who finally agreed with me on the wisdom of my plan, found following it to be one of the greatest challenges of their lives. Asking their spouses how they felt about something before the decision was made seemed foreign and out of place. Yet, as they practiced following the Policy of Joint Agreement, it became increasingly natural and spontaneous. Eventually they learned to protect each other from their selfish behavior, because they forced themselves to get into the habit of being considerate.

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Most of the couples I’ve seen consist of one spouse who is willing to do what’s necessary to improve the marriage, and the other who isn’t. This is especially true for a couple going through the tragedy of an affair. For these couples, an effective plan is not enough. These couples need a coach ? someone who will motivate them to do something they should do, but do not want to do.

You can be the judge whether or not you need a coach for your marriage. I have created a plan for your marriage that will work if you both follow it. But if one or both of you are not willing to follow the plan, then you may need a coach to achieve what will be one of the most important objectives of your life ? to have a fulfilling marriage.

Copyright © 2003 Dr. Willard Harely. Used with Permission.

Read more from Dr. Harley at Marriage Builders

Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D. is best known as author of the internationally best selling book, His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-proof Marriage. Dr. Harley and his wife, Joyce, appear together several times a year in various cities for Marriage Builders Weekend, which introduces couples to his one-year home study course for marital recovery. He personally supervises the progress of those who enroll in the course, and answers their questions on a special Marriage Builders Weekend section of the Forum.

He also answers questions every Monday and Thursday, on “Marriage Talk,” a live radio call-in show broadcast on AM980 KKMS in Minneapolis, that is live streamed on his Marriage Builders website.