Be a team player. When you were single, you could focus on your needs entirely. Now that you’re in a partnership, that just isn’t going to work. Sometimes you have to think about the family and the marriage before you think about yourself.
Remember that a marriage is a complicated thing. Being a good husband spans a lot of territory. Sure, you need to support your family financially and raise your children with love and concern. These are two of the givens of being a good husband. But these aren’t the only duties of being a good husband.
When you talk about the interpersonal dynamics of a man/wife relationship, a lot of these dynamics involve how we communicate with one another. We send both intentional and unintentional signals to our spouse through our interpersonal communications. So a large part of being a good husband in this context is showing we are a part of the team, supporting our teammate while communicating when we need support in our turn.
In sports parlance, it’s called “being a good teammate” or “being a good locker room presence”.
1. Be Her Sounding Board
When your wife tells you her problems, she isn’t necessarily looking for a problem solver. She wants someone to listen to her and empathize with what’s going on in her life.
A husband who hears about his wife’s problems instinctively wants to come to the rescue. But most of the time, this isn’t what your wife is looking for. You need to fill the role more of a psychologist than that of a troubleshooter. Listen to her problems; show concern for those problems; show that you have empathy; but don’t always reply with “here’s what you need to do.”
When your wife comes to you with her problems, she isn’t looking for you to be her lawyer. And she certainly doesn’t need you to be her football coach, giving her fiery motivational speeches about how to beat her problem. She wants a counsellor, to listen to her problems and help her deal with their emotional impact.
2. Show Respect
A good exercise for every husband is to try to show your wife respect. This dovetails with my previous point, but goes beyond that specific situation.
A major part of showing respect is to avoid the trap of being hyper-critical. Don’t criticize the way your wife dresses, cooks meals, parks the car or walks the dog. You might think you are instructing your wife, but you are actually showing disrespect for the decisions you make.
Actions are just as important as words. Don’t make decisions that normally a married couple makes together. This shows you have no respect for her opinion.
Also, try to avoid certain intonations with your wife, the kind that can be described as “talking down” to her. A woman can pick up on these as well or better than a man can. These tell her you have contempt for whatever is she’s doing, that you are treating her like a child or even your pet. Showing a lack of respect is one of the surest ways to poison a marriage.
3. Avoid Judgment
When you live with someone every day, it’s hard not to build up resentments and overanalyze your partner’s every move. But no one is going to stand up to that level of scrutiny. Try not to sweat the little stuff, because it has a way of becoming big rather quickly. If you judge every action or opinion your wife has, that’s going to come through in your words and actions.
Your wife is different from you. Of course she isn’t going to perceive things the way you do. She’s had different life experiences than you, not the least of which is the general experience of living life as a woman. She won’t always like what you like. She won’t behave like a man does. Apart from sexual needs and having children, that’s one of the reasons men get into a relationship. We feel the need for a woman’s companionship.
4. Don’t Bring Your Own Issues Into the Marriage
As I mentioned earlier, being in a marriage is being part of a team. This means you sometimes have to put your wants or needs second to those of the team.
All of us have emotional baggage. When we marry, we bring that emotional baggage into the marriage. But when your wife comes to you for support, that isn’t the time to open up that emotional baggage. There are times when you can unload this stuff on your wife, but not when she needs your support.
It’s common for a man to internalize all her problems and make them our own. But if you do this, you are losing sight of why she confided in you in the first place. Don’t be selfish when you are supposed to be supportive. I mean, all of us tend to process information through our own filter. But that doesn’t mean our opinions are always useful to the problem.
5. Know When to Make it About You
Of course, it can’t always be about her or the marriage. There are times when your needs should be met. That’s the definition of a give-and-take partnership, which is what a marriage should be about.
Tell her how you feel, but don’t put her in a defensive position. This means you describe to her how something she does affects you without making your feelings accusatory. When you talk about issues in your marriage, tell her about how it affects you instead of what it is about her that bothers you. Good communication is one of the keys of a healthy marriage; good communication requires you to tell her how you are affected.
If your wife does something that hurts you, tell her exactly that you are hurt. Don’t focus on her actions, but on the consequences of those actions. If you simply accuse her of undermining you or being insensitive, it automatically puts her on the defensive. When she’s defensive about her actions, good communication becomes all but impossible.
6. Be Affectionate
I know guys don’t like being cuddly. Being affectionate after sex takes time and it doesn’t make us feel manly, but women need affection sometimes. If you only give them that stuff to get to bed, your wife is going to notice and think it’s insincere.
Of course, this goes beyond the bedroom. If you show your wife spontaneous affection occasionally, it reassures her of the love bond.
7. Be Willing to Get Outside Help
There’s the common joke about men refusing to ask for directions. Men throughout history have needed to be self-sufficient. That’s one of the characteristics which make men successful. When we were out in the wilderness hunting for food, we couldn’t stop at the convenience store to ask where the herd was.
That being said, self-reliance can only take us so far. A smart man has to realise when he can’t do it all himself. One of those cases is the man whose marriage is in trouble. It’s very standard for a man to refuse to go to a marriage counselor.
A man would prefer to buy a map than ask for directions. In the same way, he would rather read how-to guides on how to save his marriage than ask for professional help. In a lot of cases, getting good advice is enough. Modifying our attitudes and the subsequent behaviors those attitudes cause can have profound effects on a failing marriage. But sometimes the problems run deeper. That’s when a man has to give into his wife’s request that they speak to a counselor.
Professional marriage counselors help to reinforce the points I’ve made above. They are instructors in how to listen, how to show respect, how to avoid judgment, how to be a part of the team, how to express our feelings and how to be more affectionate. In short, when a man finds that his best efforts to improve his marriage skills fail, he needs a trained instructor to work on those skills.