Marriage is amazing, but it is also complicated and mysterious. Before I met Amy, I saw many of my friends’ parents get divorced or seem deeply unhappy in their marriages. This made getting married look like a fool’s errand–if these capable adults couldn’t make it work, what made me think that I could?
My marriage to Amy, following a relationship of several years, proved me wrong, and I am extremely grateful for that. Over the course of our relationship, both before and after our wedding, Amy and I have learned and experienced a lot about what makes long-term relationships between men and women, especially marriage, work. She is an awesome person, and the nasty examples of personal behavior in this article come mainly from past relationships or other people’s relationships, which I can now look back on from a position of greater experience.
These tips on how to be a better husband contain a few running themes: generosity, respect (for your wife and for yourself), and communication. Generosity means being giving with your time and attention. Respect means being honest with her and yourself and taking her needs and desires into account while remaining aware of your own needs and desires. Communication means talking patiently with each other about all of the above as well as whatever conflicts arise between you. These are the ingredients, in my experience, for long-lasting love.
Wives may want to check out Amy’s article: How to Be a Better Wife
Be Her Supporter
One of the primary reasons that people get married is the support and comfort that a lifelong partner can provide. A spouse can be your rock in hard times and celebrate with you in good times–in sickness and in health, as they say.
So supporting your wife involves more than financial stability (although that’s good, too, if you can manage it). It means being there for her when she wants your help. It means actively listening to her when she needs to vent about her problems, rather than just nodding along and waiting for her to stop talking.
This may need to respond with your own views or advice, especially if the issues she is venting about involve you. If the problem is something in your relationship, then you will need to have a full-fledged conversation rather than just a listening session. Often, however, she will not be looking for advice but just a supportive ear or shoulder to cry on, and that’s where you come in.
Early in my marriage, I fell into the trap of trying to help Amy by suggesting solutions to everything that upset her. It made sense, I thought. If I solved a problem, she wouldn’t be upset anymore, and everything would be back to normal. It took me a while to learn (sometimes through my own experiences, when I was upset and she tried to solve my problems) that I probably wasn’t going to suggest any solutions that she hadn’t already considered. What she really needed was someone to listen to her.
I still struggle with the desire to make her feel better through my brilliant counsel, and sometimes I still give it, especially if I think of an approach to a problem that I suspect she hasn’t considered. But often I just listen, which is a lot easier because I am not taking onto myself responsibility for solving her problems.
Listening takes energy, and there are limits to how much listening anyone can do. If you find that your attention is wandering and you can’t focus on what she is saying anymore, it’s okay to tell her gently that you’re feeling overwhelmed and that, though you want to talk about what’s bothering her, you can’t do it right now. Specify a time later when you can.
Give Her Space and Freedom
To be fulfilled in a relationship or marriage, most people need to feel that they are still their own person, complete with their own interests, passions, and often even social life. So you need to find room in your marriage for both of you to have things that don’t directly involve the other. Time and scheduling are big obstacles to this, of course, and each person and each couple must find their own ways to get around these.
Another obstacle, more uncomfortable to talk about, is jealousy. It’s the nagging feeling that, when your wife is putting time and energy into a personal hobby, she is stealing time that she could be spending with you and/or your kids. It’s the fear that, when she is out with friends, you can’t really be sure what she is doing and with whom.
When you let these feelings get out of control, the results can be anger, resentment, fights, and a thousand petty forms of revenge. So you’ve got to remind yourself, as many times as needed, that you married her because you loved who she was and because you trusted her. You’ve got to let her keep being her own person, and–let’s not forget–she’s got to let you do the same. You both have the right to that, and respecting each other’s rights is a part of showing your love and keeping your relationship healthy.
The business of life can make it hard to find time for solo activities, but whatever time you have, you’ve got to try to split it equally.
Do Your Part Around the House
On the other hand, both you and your wife have a responsibility to share in the tasks life throws at you. This means helping out around the house and with other non-work-related matters. If one person in your marriage has a job and the other doesn’t, then it makes sense for the unemployed partner to take on the majority of household tasks. But when both partners are working, you need to divide the household work in a way that seems fair to you both.
If you lie around on the couch after work while she does the laundry, prepares dinner, and helps the kids with their homework, she is understandably going to be upset. You would feel the same if she left all the chores to you. So the two of you have got to work together to figure out who will do what.
Once that’s settled, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. Don’t put off your tasks indefinitely or in the hopes that she will get impatient and do them herself. If you disagree about the particular way a given task should be done, you should discuss it, but be prepared to compromise, even if you think a certain chore isn’t worth the effort she wants you to put into it. A little extra work is worth it to help keep your marriage happy.
Read Next: 5 Tips for Better Communication in Relationships
Appreciate and Recognize the Things She Does for Your Family
Everybody needs to feel needed, wanted, and appreciated. So being a great husband means making sure to remind your wife that she is all of these things. Whether she most appreciates loving words, gifts, physical affection, or something else (Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages can be a big help here), remind her what she means to you.
You need the same from her, and if she isn’t giving it to you, it’s worth gently telling her so. As for what kind of actions make you feel loved and appreciated, again, The Five Love Languages is a helpful resource for understanding your wife and yourself.
Challenge Her When She Needs It–and Let Her Challenge You
One of the keys to marriage is communication, and part of being a better husband and communicating with your wife is telling her, politely, when she is out of line. No matter how great a person she is, everyone has bad days and personal flaws, and you need to let her know when she acts or talks in ways that are disrespectful to you, your kids, or herself. We all need to be called on our nonsense sometimes–it keeps us grounded and acting in moral ways.
Here are a few things to remember when confronting your wife: first, she will have her own side to the story, and you should let her express it, take it into consideration, and try to understand where she is coming from. It may change your whole perspective on the topic in question.
Second, keep your criticism constructive. It will be more valuable that way. Third, save your criticism for when it counts. If you make her feel henpecked (or whatever a woman’s equivalent of that is), she will feel resentful and unwilling to listen to you. (Think about how you feel when a partner seems to criticize everything you do.)
The other side of this coin is that you must be accepting of criticism yourself. Be open to spotting and admitting your faults, tell her your side of the story (assuming you have a good reason for doing what you did), be patient, and be willing to apologize.
Think Before You Retaliate
I’ve avoided a lot of fights in life by being willing to take a (metaphorical) punch. Just because she’s in a bad mood and snaps at you doesn’t necessarily mean you need to counterattack. We all have bad moods, bad days, and even bad weeks, and sometimes we vent our anger by sniping at our partner, whether they deserve it or not. We’ve all done it.
When you’re on the receiving end of this, the temptation is to snap back. Bad idea. You are likely to make the situation worse. You might feel a moment of satisfaction, but then she will get angrier, you will get angry back, and you will both end up miserable until the inevitable apologies.
Why not skip all that? When she says something needlessly hostile, take a moment to consider where her frustration might be coming from. Is she mad about something else in life–work, friends, her mother? Is she really angry because you’ve put off doing the dishes, or has she got some deeper frustration that needs hashing out? Last but not least, is she justifiably angry–have you put off doing the dishes until they are all dirty, and is this something you’ve done regularly?
It’s fine to be annoyed when she lashes out at you. But that anger doesn’t control you. If you lash back, you will waste time fighting rather than getting to the root of the problem. Instead, try keeping your anger in check and responding calmly–something like “I’m sorry I haven’t done (insert chore x here) yet. It’s because (insert reason here). I will make (chore x) a priority from now on.” Or, you could replace the last sentence with, “(Chore x) has been too difficult for me to fit into my day. Can we talk about our arrangements for doing chores?” You may well diffuse the impending argument and turn it into a conversation that spares you both a lot of grief.
If she responds positively, you can ask if anything else is wrong, and if there is anything you can do to help. If you’ve done something that required an apology, you know to do better in the future. If she responds with more anger or sarcasm, it’s still not time to go nuclear. Try to get at the cause of her feelings like this: “You seem angry. It seems to be about more than (insert problem x here). What’s wrong? Is there some way I can help?”
Ultimately, it’s up to her whether she’s going to communicate with you or not. But you can make it easier. Plus, since you know it sucks to be snapped at, you can avoid doing the same to her.
Read Next: 9 Therapist-Recommended Couples Communication Exercises
Make Her (and Your Marriage) a Priority, but Keep Something for Yourself
A central part of marriage is that, to gain a great lifelong partnership, you have to sacrifice. You and your wife will grow together and support each other’s wants, needs, and dreams, but doing so means that each of you will sometimes have to put your desires on the back burner so your spouse can realize theirs. (See Things a Wife Needs | Things a Husband Needs)
These sacrifices can be small, such as turning off the Xbox for a while if your wife comes home from work upset and needs to talk about her day, or accepting her guidance in bed if there is something she wants you to do differently. They can also be huge, such as moving to another city if her career demands it and if it makes sense for your family as a whole.
Obviously, she needs to be giving too, and if you are the one doing all the sacrificing, then something is wrong. This is where communication comes in yet again, as you will need to talk and negotiate to reach solutions that are fair for everyone. Both partners need to stand up for themselves while also being generous emotionally, physically, and in terms of making time for the family you’ve formed together.
This is a big one. It is not only important to being a better husband but also covers a lot of territory. Honesty means not lying about matters big or small. For your marriage to be happy, she’s got to be able to trust you, and vice versa. If you tell her you will wash the dishes and then don’t, she will doubt your word a little more next time. It might seem insignificant, and all of us probably fall short of complete honesty, but do your best. Little irritations can add up to a mountain of resentment over time.
Then there’s the big stuff. Don’t lie about money. Don’t turn the vows you made at your wedding into lies by breaking them (by cheating, for example). If you do lie, come clean as soon as you can–the less time that passes before you confess, the fewer lies you will have to pile on top of the first one to hide it from her.
Finally, honesty includes the kind of everyday communication that keeps a good husband and wife in tune with each other. If you think you need more time to yourself, which is particularly likely if you’re an introvert, you won’t do her or yourself any favors by keeping it a secret. If you have sexual desires that you’d like her to satisfy, keeping them to yourself won’t make you a better husband. The only way to deal with it is to talk to her (gently).
Now that I’ve pounded this point about honesty into the ground, I’m going to qualify it. Being a good husband doesn’t mean being brutally honest. She doesn’t need to hear that you hate her new dress. You can find a nicer way to say it, such as “You know, baby, that’s not my favorite.” She might not like hearing this, but you’ve spared her emotions as best you can while preserving your integrity. Similarly, you don’t need to announce your attraction to every hot girl that walks by–not in words or by obvious glances. This may seem obvious, but it’s not to everyone.
Don’t Count on Feeling “In Love”
The haze of infatuation, passion, and lust that most of us feel when we enter a relationship does not usually last forever. What it leaves behind, if we continually work at it, is something better: a connection deeper than almost any other relationship between two people. Long-lasting love is, mostly, not an emotion. It is a choice, or rather, a series of choices that you make each day to value and prioritize your wife’s wellbeing.
A successful marriage takes two people, of course. You can’t make it work all by yourself, and neither can she. If one or both of you are falling short of meeting the other’s needs–or if one of you has expectations that the other cannot reasonably meet–then communicating that to each other is essential. If you are both willing to show each other respect and love of the kind described above, you are on your way.
You might also like:
- How to Strengthen Your Marriage: 6 Simple Things to Do Every Day
- 99 Simple Ways to Show Love and Affection to Your Partner
- This Relationship Check-In Can Help You Rock Your Marriage
- 6 Marriage Mistakes You Might Be Making