Last week, I received a comment from a blog I posted on masculinity in marriage (see Justifying a Diminished Masculinity). The comment included a series of questions from a new wife about how to encourage her man’s masculine role in the marriage. Here are the questions distilled from the reader’s response, along with the essence of my answer.
In your opinion, what should we as wives [do] to support and encourage our husbands to embrace their roles as patriarchs in our homes and marriages?…What might I be missing? How can I avoid making my husband feel second-class? What kinds of things show support for his role as husband and father, without becoming burdensome, smothering or naggy?
While both spouses are responsible to God for their behavior, God will ultimately look to the husband for responsibility of the relationship. In Genesis, after Satan’s temptation, God first looked to Adam to answer the question of “what’s going on here?”
I say this because you both have to believe this and want this. Your husband was designed to live into this role and he has to see it and make it his responsibility. It is not up to you to want it for him, that is part of the passivity problem.
If this is his desire, then you have to give him space to step into it. Give him space to make mistakes. He may not have had masculinity modeled for him at home. If you expect perfection, perfect decision-making, and you hold things against him, then he will shirk away from his masculinity.
Don’t be a gatekeeper. Many wives I talk to use the words “I want to be consulted” or “I want my input valued” to mean that they want final say in the decision. As the wife, your husband’s masculinity should be humble enough to hear and value your input, but the decision may not always go your way. Or his.
Out of his love, your husband should be considering your needs along side of his own. You need to give him your trust that this is true. There will be times when you will disagree for very good reasons on a decision, this is when your trust will be tested.
If you want him to lead, then you need to follow. Can’t tell you how many women complain about their husband’s lack of leadership in one breath, then tear down his skills and disrespect his desires with the next. Instead, try building him up, encouraging him, and allow him to relish that he gets the God-given honor to lead you.
In my opinion, husbands cannot be everything they are capable of if they don’t have a wife moving in the same direction they are. Do not buy into the media hype that husbands are lazy dolts. It is quite possible that your husband sits on the couch watching ESPN because you put him there.
Accept that he is different from you. Masculinity and femininity are different and complementary. Like puzzle pieces that belong together. That is a great thing. But often spouses try to create the other spouse in their own image. See The Accepting Marriage.
Consider his needs alongside your own. I’m sure your emotional and physical needs are different. But nothing will communicate being second class like having to beg for what is needed or desired.
You desire for your husband is communicated in a variety of ways. How you look at him, how you dress, how you pursue him, how you talk about him to others are all ways to show you value his needs.
In the physical area, I’m not saying you need to be on the beck and call 24/7, but I am saying be aware that his desire may be higher (pretty typical in my pastoral experience, but not universal) than your own, and that is important. In this area, honest open communication is crucial.
One word of warning, if you ask your man to open his heart and share what he needs, value his vulnerability. Don’t cut him short with “I’ll never do that”, “it is silly to want that”, or “how does that communicate I love you.”
Make your marriage the primary relationship in the home. Your relationships with the kids should not drive the home. Nor should you put your trust in a girlfriend, parent or sibling over and above your husband. These are significant relationships, but not the person that God has said should love you like Christ loved the church – giving his life for her.
You putting primacy on the marital relationship is what your kids need to see for their own sense of security and masculinity/femininity. It is also what both of you need to not feel left out, unwanted, or second class.
Love your self. If you do not think you are worth loving, how can you expect that your husband will. The ability to love your self (and hence to selflessly love your husband) can only come from having an identity rooted in Christ (see Loving Your Self). Not seeking your own security or validation in the marriage, but knowing the truth of who you are in Christ.
Have grace for your self in the process. A husband just wants to know he is worth the effort.