Commenter Trust asked if I would give my thoughts on a post by Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D. titled When to call it quits (Part 1). Dr. Harley explains that up to 80% of divorces are caused by what he calls “neglect”. He states this in a gender neutral way, but he makes it clear that he is talking about wives losing attraction for their husbands:
On the subject of neglect, I’ve chosen to feature a marriage that isn’t all that bad from most people’s perspective, but isn’t good either. L.R.’s husband hasn’t abandoned her physically, leaving her to fend for herself. Instead, he’s only abandoned her emotionally. They probably even have a friendship of sorts. It’s cases like these that leave a wife struggling to know what to do.
As it turns out, most of these women divorce their husbands. In fact, research I’ve personally conducted in the archives of government statistics on the causes of divorce lead me to believe that as many as 80% of all divorces are caused by neglect. Women like L.R. suddenly call it quits with little warning, leaving her husband, family and friends scratching their heads wondering what’s wrong with her.
Harley explains here that his fundamental approach is to focus on restoring the wife’s feelings of romantic love and attraction to her husband:
The difference between my approach to saving marriages, and the approach of most other therapists, is that I focus on building romantic love (being “in love”) between spouses, rather than simply focusing on conflict resolution. As it turns out, I also address conflict resolution, but I do it in a way that builds love between spouses.
Aside from his deep hostility to marital commitment (more later), this isn’t a bad secular approach. Feelings of attraction and romantic love are a sort of all purpose lubricant. When the attraction is there it is easy to overlook other issues. When it is gone the smallest issues often seem gigantic.
Correction: This wouldn’t be a bad approach if Harley understood the mechanics of attraction. The foundation of Harley’s work on marriage is a concept he has dubbed the Love Bank. The Love Bank is a sort of ledger of warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. Build up enough warm fuzzies while minimizing cold pricklies in the ledger, and sexual attraction suddenly appears:
We like those with positive Love Bank balances and dislike those with negative balances. But if an account reaches a certain threshold, a very special emotional reaction is triggered — romantic love. We no longer simply like the person — we are in love. It’s a feeling of incredible attraction to someone of the opposite sex.
Since he makes it clear that this is a problem of wives not feeling attraction to their husbands, what this really means is the key to men becoming sexually attractive to their wives is to do more nice things for them. This is what Rollo calls negotiating desire, and not only does the approach not work when men try it, it makes the problem much worse. Harley claims this approach is revolutionary, but it is simply (deeply flawed) modern conventional wisdom. This kind of thinking is everywhere, which is the reason for the uncanny resemblance to the movie Fireproof with it’s accompanying Love Dare.
Getting back to When to call it quits (Part 1), Harley’s advice to wives who don’t feel the tingle anymore is his own special flavor of the wake-up call. He sets this up as a two part system. In part A the wife does everything she thinks the husband wants for 30 days. Before she does this however she secretly prepares for part B, where she ambushes her husband by either kicking him out of the house (if they have children) or moves to a new apartment. Long time readers will see the strong resemblance between Harley’s “Plan B” and what Joel and Kathy Davisson call lowering the boom. The strategy in both cases is to crush the husband with threats to destroy the family, in order to get the husband to buy the authors’ products and start doing what the wife demands. In both schemes once the husband grovels enough the wife will regain her attraction for him.
Harley gives the example of a Christian woman named Ellen who had lost her tingle and found herself tempted to cheat on her husband:
Her husband, Ken, was not abusive, but didn’t meet her intimate emotional needs. She is a Christian, but told me that she was very tempted to have an affair or divorce her husband.
Harley’s advice on how Ellen should handle her strong temptation to cheat and/or divorce was to bring these temptations much closer. Following his advice, she moved out of the marital home to a secret location:
Sometimes, especially when an unfaithful spouse refuses to end an affair, I recommend no contact at all for plan B. If he wants to contact her, he must talk through a designated mediator. But in this case, I didn’t feel that a mediator was necessary and that Ellen could talk with Ken by cell phone. He didn’t know her address, however.
Harley also suggested that Ellen offer a reward of sex if her husband went to a counselor and purchased one of Harley’s books:
I had explained to Ellen how her husband would probably react at first: He would throw a fit. And that’s precisely what happened. He told her that he was filing for divorce, and that she was now on her own. I also predicted what might happen next: After he had a chance to cool off, he’d want to have sex with her. That also happened right on schedule after two weeks had passed. My advice to her was that she should agree to it only after he saw a counselor with her that would take them through “His Needs, Her Needs.” Since her husband hated me after he learned that I was the architect of this plan, I suggested that she find a local counselor who was familiar with my books and methods, which she did.
This is how these systems almost always work. The threatpoint of infidelity and the brutal family courts is subtly or not so subtly used to sell the author’s books & workbooks, DVDs, home study courses, coaching services, etc.
But wait, there’s more!
Harley closes by warning wives that they really need to
lower the boom Plan B their husband to get him to buy and follow his products. If they don’t they risk being stuck in a loveless marriage or forced to not honor their marriage vows. In fact, by crushing their husband with the threats of the family courts they will be doing their husband a favor:
If you want to be among the 20% that are happily married, you may need to do something drastic-like follow my plan. Or you will become one of the 20% that live together unfulfilled (like you are now), the 20% that stay married, but eventually separate for the rest of their lives together (like you may end up), or the remaining 40% who throw in the towel and divorce.
I strongly encourage you to be among the 20% with a very fulfilling marriage. While your husband may not like my plan at first, especially if you separate from him, if it succeeds, he will be a much happier man. He will come to recognize, as you do, that a great marriage requires a mutual effort. Both spouses must take their marital responsibilities seriously by meeting each other’s intimate emotional needs.
Harley’s claim is that unhappy marriages only get better if wives take over and crush their husbands. He tells us outirght that his plan often leads to infidelity and/or divorce, but he positions it as the only viable option (emphasis mine):
There’s the possibility that your husband will not want you to return. He may be happy that you’ve left. Separation is always a dangerous step to take because it often leads to an affair or divorce. But what are the alternatives?
Some people wait and hope for a change of heart. But as I mentioned earlier, time can go by very quickly. Before you know it, 20 more years will have passed without any improvement.
It’s sad to consider how many people put up with a loveless marriage and simply live independently. In fact, about 20% of all married couples die having been separated for many years. And while another 20% continue to live together, they don’t have much of a relationship — it’s like your marriage. Only about 20% have a romantic relationship throughout marriage-they meet each other’s intimate emotional needs.
This won’t help Harley or others like him sell their wares, but the reality is that simply sticking to it and honoring your marriage vows when times are rough is a very effective plan. From Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages:
Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.