to Be a Good Husband
Version Date: January 22, 2014
Previous version February, 2012
I wrote the major draft of this
article when I was in my mid
twenties, and after thirty-five more years of experience and
observation, the content still seems useful enough to share with you. I
also now have available a book in Kindle format, Marriage in a
Nutshell: Proverbs about Marriage Selected with Commentaries from the
Biblical Book of Proverbs and Other Sources. It's designed for those
who have only a few minutes a day to read and think about polishing up
their relationship. Good for those planning to marry, newly married, or
married for a long time.
A principal source of
marriage and even male-female relationships at work is that men and
women (1) are different from each other and (2) each one expects the
other to behave and say what he or she would in the situation. So here,
for men, are a few ideas about what women want.
her. Make her feel valued.
Tell her how grateful you are for what she does for you. Thank her for
her contributions to the marriage, whether it’s maintaining the
finances, cooking your dinner, or organizing your social life. Praise
her for her talents. Praise her for who she is. Be thankful that such a
nice girl would marry someone like you.
An excellent wife, who can find? Her worth is far more than jewels.
It has sometimes been said that when two or more women get together to
talk, they have only two subjects—babies and the shortcomings of men.
While that might be slightly exaggerated, it is true that a major
complaint among married women is that they feel taken for granted by
Happiness in life is, to a great extent, about validation. We all want
to know that our lives matter, that we are doing good, helping others,
making a difference. We need to feel that others value us. We want to
feel that we are right, bright, and tight. Spouses can help each other
feel validated through the appreciation words and actions they offer.
2. Sympathize with her. Listen to
your wife’s complaints with attention. Women like to explore and share
their feelings through talk. Talking—complaining-- is a source of
frustration relief. But if she sees you are not paying attention, she
will think you don’t care about her or her problems. Remember, too,
that you face a key difference here between the sexes. When men discuss
problems, they want solutions. When women discuss problems, they often
simply want understanding, sympathy, or a hug.
Remember that Truth Number One is that any sentence beginning with
“Women are . . .” is false because women are so different that a
sweeping generalization about them just can’t be true. So, know your
wife. But if she is like many women, when she unburdens her heart about
some issue, don’t make your next sentence, “Well, here’s what you ought
to do.” If she wants your advice in addition to your ear, she will use
the secret question, “What do you think I should do?”
Consult her. Seek your partner’s ideas, philosophies, values,
tastes, and beliefs. A question from your job like, “What do you think
about taking a short position on Euro futures in light of the current
fiscal crisis?” might mean as little to her as her question to you from
her job, “Do you think that intertextuality and patchwriting represent
operable concepts in modern discourse or are they covert attempts to
legitimate plagiarism?” Each of you might look at the other and say, “I
have no idea what you just said.” But your wife will nevertheless
appreciate the fact that you asked her.
When it comes to spending money, many married people have an agreement
that they will not spend more than a certain amount (sometimes $100)
without asking their spouse first. Unless you keep your finances
separate, spending money has an impact on the community economy. To
drop a wad on something without asking the other financial partner is
just plain rude.
Learn the difference between talking with her and talking at her. When
you ask for her input, remember that conclusions are supposed to follow
discussions and not precede them.
Don’t be a tyrant. Even men who think they are feminists and who
advocate egalitarian marriages can be bossy, demanding, and
controlling. Don’t do it. You can be the head of the house, and your
wife might have promised to love, honor, and obey, but that doesn’t
mean you should tell her when to take every breath. In the workplace,
in friendship, and in marriage, happiness and thriving and engagement
come to a very large extent from autonomy. If you have ever had a
micromanaging boss or a “let’s do what I want” friend, you’ll know how
it feels to lack autonomy.
5. Realize that reason cannot always win.
In Samuel Johnson’s wonderfully wise book, Rasselas, the prince and his
sister are debating about marriage and the possibility of happiness,
when Rasselas says, “Whenever I shall seek a wife, it shall be my first
question, whether she be willing to be led by reason?” To which his
wiser sister replies, “’Thus it is,’ said Nekayah, ‘that philosophers
are deceived. There are a thousand familiar disputes which reason never
can decide; questions that elude investigation, and make logic
ridiculous; cases where something must be done, and where little can be
said. . . . Wretched would be the pair above all names of wretchedness,
who should be doomed to adjust by reason every morning all the minute
detail of a domestic day” (Chapter 29).
And it’s not just the absence of reason that you should expect. Expect
episodes of irrationality—on both your parts. How often have you
thought, “I know this doesn’t make sense, but I want to do it [or buy
it] anyway”? So, when your wife is unreasonable, don’t act as if you
never suspected such a thing was possible or that you can’t believe
she’s acting this way. Be patient and sympathetic. Don’t worry if she
changes her mind. Don’t expect rigorous consistency in small things. Be
understanding and she will be as solid as a rock when it really matters.
Let her know that you love her. Too often we find this domestic
scene. Wife: “Honey, do you love me?” Husband, attention glued to the
TV: “Of course I love you, so just shut up, will you? I’m trying to
watch the game.” Or, “Uh, huh, yeah, whatever you say. – Touchdown!!
Love is often defined wrongly as “attraction toward.” Thus, if you are
attracted to someone who is good looking or rich, this definition
allows you to say you are in love with that person. But a better
definition is that love is an unselfish benevolence toward someone, a
commitment of mind as well as heart, not reliant on external
appearances or circumstances. It's also said that we should think of
love as a verb, not a noun. Love is not a way you feel but something
you do for the beloved. A hug, a rose, a card--doesn't have to be
syrupy, but can be funny--this kind of small demonstration that you are
thinking about her and care about her will send the right message.
Memorize and recite this sonnet to your wife and see what happens:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
(Paraphrase, in case there are spots you don’t quite get: I have no
objection to those who marry on the basis of true friendship
[minds=intellectual and emotional compatibility]. It’s not really love
if it changes or diminishes when the beloved changes or when the
beloved herself falls out of love. No, love is permanent and strong
enough to survive through the storms of life and relationship. It is a
reference point [star] that keeps the wandering person on track [a bark
is a ship—navigating by the stars]. [Whose worth’s unknown etc. = you
can be guided by love even though you cannot measure its full nature or
perhaps power]. Love does not diminish when the beloved gets older and
less physically attractive. Instead, love lasts until death—in fact,
until the end of time [doom=judgment day]. If I’m wrong about this, I
never wrote this poem and no man ever really loved a woman.)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not
arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not
irritable or resentful; . . . Love bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. --1 Cor
You promise to love each other in the marriage ceremony. This is not a
promise that you will always feel thrilled and joyous when you think
about your spouse—no one can promise how he or she will feel ten years
from now. Rather, it is a promise to be kind, benevolent, and helpful
to your spouse—a commitment of determined attitude, perpetually focused
on the happiness and welfare of the other person.
Think about her and her needs with your heart and not with an
anatomical alternative. Be gentle always, speak softly and warmly. Make
her comfortable in your presence. Show her that you value her for who
she is and not just for the package she lives in. Study to be
unselfish, kind, and generous. Taking is so easy and giving is so hard.
But learn to deny yourself at least a little. Bottom line on her needs:
Make her feel secure.
Don’t argue about money. No one has starved to death in this
country for a long time, and all material goods together certainly
don’t merit a moment’s anger against your life partner. Learn to be
frugal and to stop listening to the siren song of marketers and the
money will take care of itself. And, yes, she probably does need
another pair of shoes, just as much as you need another tool similar to
the ones you already have. Over time, I’ve discovered by watching
couples interact that many arguments over money and buying are really
about control rather than finances.
9. Put God at the center of your marriage.
It’s said that every marriage involves a struggle for dominance.
Chaucer’s answer to the question, “What do women want?” was,
“Sway”—that is, control or dominance. Thus, many women begin marriage
by criticizing and tearing down their husbands, to “take him down a
notch or two,” so that they can gain power. After all, if a man is
constantly told that his choices, opinions, and statements are all,
always wrong, he will be less likely to dominate the relationship. As
for men, see the comments above about not being a tyrant.
The point is, that if you put God at the center, and make him the one
in control, both you and your wife will be less likely to insist on
being in control.
10. Read the books I’ve recommended
in How to Save Your Marriage.
To find some good, Christian books
about marriage and relationships, visit
See the other articles in this
2011, 2014 by Robert Harris | How
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About the author:
Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com