How to Be a Good Husband

Robert Harris
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 difficulty in 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.

1. Appreciate 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. –Proverbs 31:10

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 their husbands.

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?”
 

3. 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.
 

4. 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.

 

6. 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!! Awright!” 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.

          --William 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 13:4-8 (ESV)

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.
 

7. 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.
 

8. 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
Christian Books

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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com