How to Be a Good Husband

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a better husband. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got it; other times I don’t. I wonder how other men deal with this, so I put some thoughts to paper to try to explore the topic of how to be a good husband to your wife.

Unfortunately, there are no set of instructions, manuals, or even education growing up. A lot of the time, guys get the wrong impression about what it means to be in a married relationship. They see their mothers and fathers messing things up, so they only have this dysfunctional relationship model to what it means to be a husband. Sometimes there are a lot of beneficial features to seeing our parents’ marriage, but often times our marriages get disrupted with our inheritance of their deficiencies.

A lot of learning about how to be a good husband is, in my opinion, trial and error. The most important part of this process, as I’ve learned, is to continue to put the work in and to show up. Once you’ve stopped putting the work in, or resigned or withdrawn for good, it’s really difficult to revive your marriage especially when it’s been stagnating for so long. If it’s needing certain life blood, and you’re not giving it to it, the chances for success are low and the chances for failure high. You have to put the work in to make it work, and can’t just fall back on laziness, thinking that “love conquers all,” lack of responsibility or expectation that your wife will carry the marriage herself.

Just being able to keep coming back to the table and talk about difficult topics with your partner is a learned skill that has to happen for a marriage to be healthy and to thrive. A lot of couples don’t get past the superficial, day-to-day conversation about kids, bills, trips, plans, etc.

You have to be able to dive deeper and have difficult conversations because friction will inevitably happen, and if you don’t know how to deal with conflict (or have never been taught), I would say that it’s so helpful to learn how and develop those skills, or deal with the fear of conflict. When issues in your marriage go unattended, they build up and become much bigger problems down the line. Deal with problems as they come up, and although it might hurt a bit, it’s nothing like the pain of a relationship or marriage ending because you never dealt with the issues in the first place.

I’ve learned just to continue to be available and present, and to be willing to put the work in. You have to really source that motivation within yourself to know why you even want to put the work in.

I mean, ask yourself these things: is your marriage worth it to you? Are you truly in love with this person? Why do you even want to put the work in to your marriage? I think really getting in touch with that motivation is key, because if you’re just going through the motions, or if you think that’s what you’re supposed to do but don’t really want to do it, it’s going to eventually come out. If your heart is not in it, why are you doing it? Is that worth it to yourself, or to your spouse, if you’re just feigning interest and don’t really want to be there? Do you really want to be in another relationship or another marriage instead of this one? The truth may be hard to face, but it would be liberating for both of you so as to not live inauthentically.

I haveI have found that being attentive to my partner’s needs is a must. I talk with a lot of guys that tend to put their needs first, before their wife’s/girlfriend’s/partner’s needs, and this is a fatal flaw waiting to materialize.

A lot of guys that I talk with don’t really know how to create mutuality in a relationship, or have never been taught, so they end up defaulting on solely worrying about themselves and their own needs, to the dismissal of the other persons’ needs. If you don’t truly consider that there is another person involved, and that they have needs that are different from your own, it’s going to lead to problems. It’s tricky to know how to work on this, but therapy can help you to begin. Empathy and understanding are two keys to apply here.

Further, not tuning into your partners’ needs is important to realize, but really being present to listen to what she is – and is not – saying is how you’ll fully understand them.

Can you be attentive even if she is not asking you directly what she needs? Are you able to anticipate her needs without feeling like you need to read her mind? Are you making up assumptions of what this person needs based on what it is that you want, and consequently think that they want? I think even if attempts fail at trying to meet your partners’ needs, at least you’ve tried, and at least if you show the effort, it does count for something. I think showing the effort goes along way, but the problem that I see with a lot of guys is that they don’t even try. With no effort comes no relationship or marital success.

Keeping your defensiveness, sarcasm, and anger in check are all really valuable things to promote a healthy marriage and to be a better husband. To really understand your feelings and be able to speak from them, including from your vulnerability, can really open up a conversation and change it to where it starts to melt upset feelings and transform your marriage in a positive way, rather than continue to disrupt it.

Holding onto bitterness or resentment can lead to a slow decline in your marriage if you’re not talking about the things that you need to. Just stuffing things and holding them in isn’t going to help, but may have long lasting negative effects in the end. Learning how to identify what you are feeling when you are feeling it is so important now for men, and there is pressure and emphasis on guys to learn how to do this right. Developing emotional  intelligence and awareness can mitigate this tendency to avoid our feelings and stuff them, where we can get into trouble.

I grew up learning that men need to be “mensches”: people of integrity and honor. This is a Yiddish word that has always stuck with me, even though I didn’t take to too many other Yiddish words growing up. I often ask myself: would a mensch do this or this? Is this the version of someone who is stand up? I also think about my father or grandfather who modelled many of these characteristics for me. I think we’ve lost a lot of sense of honor and integrity in our modern life, and that to display those features and to give relationships those things are valuable. Are you a stand-up guy, in every respect of your life, or can you model yourself against it?

To follow through with one’s promises is a form of embodying being a mensch. I think if you’re going to make promises to your spouse, you should be able to back them up. Follow through builds trust, and trust is one of the strongest pillars of a successful marriage. You want to be able to know that your spouse can lean on you and that you can support her, and I think that being true to your word and following through as fast as you can relate delivers that message home in a clear way.

I also think that respecting yourself and others is also part of what it means to be a mensch. I think to respect yourself around others and to stand up for yourself, whether that means being assertive and speaking up for yourself, embodying certain values that you hold dear and that you live by, or that you know the difference between right and wrong, are all certainly versions of respecting yourself.

Women also need to feel the love that we feel inside ourselves from them, that often goes unexpressed. Men need to express this more, and verbalize it. This is something that I remind myself frequently about. It’s not enough to have the feelings about our partner – they have to actually know about our feelings, no matter how uncomfortable. It requires vulnerability and courage to be able to share our inner self with our partner, with the prospect that it can deepen our marriages or relationships. To live a life without authentic expression is to live a life setting oneself up for regret, and it takes risk to be able to put yourself out there with your authentic self.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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