Apparently, the question of how to be a good husband is regularly searched on Google. Millions of men seek this wisdom to guide them to be their best self. This, of course, defies the image that the media portrays. The vast majority of men like you are not “selfish,” “controlling,” “violent,” etc. Rather, they truly care for their wives and children. The Good Husband project was set up to help men fulfil their purpose by supporting their families in the best way possible.
Let’s begin by defining what it means to be ‘good’ in a relationship. To answer that, we should follow the blueprint for all our relationships: the parent-child relationship. To be a good parent, you need to do well in two essential skills. The first is Sensitivity, referring to how well you assess the feelings and needs of your children. Do you read the cues correctly? Do you understand what they mean? The second is Responsiveness, or how well you respond to children. Do you manage to address their needs? How effective are your interventions?
Now let’s use the same principles in marriage. To be a good husband, you need to first understand what your wife really needs and then respond effectively to her. (The same rule obviously applies to how she responds to you.)
If you’re a father, you should know only too well that getting things right when it comes to your kids is not an easy task at all. Well, to say this is not easy with your wife would be a gross understatement. It can be disheartening and frustrating when you really mean well but time and again you do not get it quite right, and you can’t tell what she needs.
So why is it so difficult to tell?
There are various barriers to uncovering the truth about your wife’s needs. Here I would like to mention just three:
First is the gap between want and need. With children, we can generally tell what they need based on their developmental stage. Further, when they do say what they want we follow our judgment about what they need rather than what they say they want. With adults the story is different. We honor adults by listening to what they say they want from us. And here is the catch: What your wife says she wants may often differ from what she feels or needs. “Leave me alone” can at times mean exactly the opposite. And even if she is aware of her feelings, she may struggle to articulate what she needs. You can surely relate to that given how hard it is to articulate your own needs and feelings.
The second barrier is the habit of responding reactively to what’s wrong. When she’s upset, she is likely to express that by protesting, blaming, complaining, or criticizing. Not only does that hurt your chances of understanding what she wants and helping, but it also makes you want to withdraw.
The third barrier is the cultural bug. Just as mental bugs damage our mental health by distorting our perception of reality (e.g. “I am fat” in the case of anorexia, “I am hopeless” in the case of depression), cultural bugs can damage a whole culture or society. When a large group of people holds distorted views of reality, our way of life as a society is in danger. In modern times we see this in cases such as Islamism, Trumpism, or political correctness with its ever-evolving attacks from morality police—cancel culture (“I have to censor you so that your words don’t risk hurting my feelings”). This modern form of controlling the masses is aimed at regulating how we speak and think. One of the consequences of this morality police and brainwashing is that people are less keen to discuss gender differences. If your wife is affected by this cultural bug, she may refuse to acknowledge her unique needs and vulnerabilities as a mother. Instead, she may express herself by blaming your masculinity.
With such barriers you can’t help but wonder: How on earth can I tell what she really needs?
You need some kind of ‘secret intelligence agency’ with insights into her mind. I volunteer my skills as your ‘spy.’ Knowledge and experience from many years working as a family therapist have equipped me with a deep understanding of what men and women need from each other when they raise children. Becoming a parent is a transformative experience in one’s life, and it probably has the greatest impact on one’s identity. For a woman, the impact is far more dramatic for obvious reasons. Being a ‘woman’ is one thing, but a ‘mother’ something else . If there was any debate about your gender differences, the birth of a baby makes these differences loud and clear. Now evolutionary forces run the show, and you tend to follow the roles men and women played over thousands of years. Of course, while culture certainly plays a role, and a good one when it comes to liberal democracies, we should be humbled by the power of biology and evolution.
Evolutionary psychology is the science that informs us about what men and women need and expect from each other in the mating game. You wouldn’t expect any difference if your pilot, doctor, plumber, or architect is a male vs. a female. But when they come back home to their partner and children, their emotions and behaviors are affected by their ancient instincts. And these instincts are designed so that they complement each other in their primal desires and needs from each other.
Understanding her needs
Security is the most fundamental need of your wife. When you live in a female body, you are prone to feel some existential anxiety. (In my book I give more details on this matter.) But now that she is a mother, her anxiety around the well-being of her baby makes those needs for security even more urgent. From now on, she addresses this by judging everything you do according to this parameter: how well you cater to the need for security. In the beginning, it was all about adventure and excitement, but now the mission has changed. You need to pivot. The sooner you adapt, the better.
While she is raising children, her mind is so absorbed by their well-being that she is as vulnerable as her most vulnerable child. Their pain is her pain. She is on a mission with a driving force similar to what happens to your body when it is turned on by sex. The urge to act is compelling, and this urge is triggered frequently by what happens with the kids.
Now that you can hopefully imagine her emotional burden and vulnerability, you can understand the parallel process: As she gives her energy and love to her children, she needs to receive accordingly from you and her community. Then if she comes across as demanding, you will be able to tell that there are good reasons for that. Each time you respond to her needs and demands, regard this as your indirect way of supporting your kids.
While being so vulnerable and needy, she heavily relies on you. Disappointing her goes straight to the heart of trust in your relationship. Although she doesn’t mention it, she in fact often experiences such treatment as micro-betrayal. You won’t hear this from her because partners rarely discuss vulnerabilities openly. It’s more likely that you see her angry, withdrawn, or sad.
She may forgive you for many of your flaws, but she won’t forgive you if you behave in ways that exacerbate her anxieties. This concept should be your most essential lesson to take from this reading. If you realize what she really feels and needs, the model of how to be a Good Husband makes perfect sense to you.
Now you may ask: But what if my wife is different? Aren’t we supposed to avoid generalizations?!
We all love to believe that we are special and unique in our personalities. “I am not part of the herd.” Your uniqueness is a myth. Time and again, psychological research shows us that we all share similar needs, fears, desires, and flaws and are blind to our subconscious instincts. In fact, we are embarrassingly predictable and therefore vulnerable to manipulation by others (e.g. political leaders, marketing). The rule for uniqueness is this: The more a situation is related to survival tasks that human beings have performed over thousands of years, the more predictable and less unique we are. This is the case in mating and parenting.
Responding to her needs
Remember that her identity is largely shaped by her parenting experience. Her identification with your children means that she is highly affected by everything that happens to them, including their needs, pains, and behaviors. In light of that, the model of the Good Husband is tailored to address four of your wife’s primal needs that relate to how she raises young kids.
- The need for a stable, secure, and consistent environment. Chaos is the nature of being a child. The younger they are, the more impulsive and unpredictable they are. They need order to help them feel safe and secure. To provide such an environment, you should use the energy of the King to create Order.
- The need for connection. Your partner is in a constant state of relating to the children in her role as a mother. She is emotionally drained, and this makes her more needy than usual. What she needs is for you to fill up her cup. She would like the reassurance that you are always there, available, and responsive. Lack of emotional connection is one of the most common complaints I hear from women in my clinic. If she’s not reassured that you are there, anxiety will grow and trust will diminish. To build a physical and emotional connection with her, you will activate the energy of the Lover.
- The need for clarity. Any frustration on the part of your kids easily rubs off on her. Mothers, more than fathers, identify with their children in a way that makes them very reactive. This reactivity often makes them worried and stressed to the extent that it’s hard to think clearly and keep calm. She needs your help with keeping things in perspective. Perspective-taking is the unique power of the Magician. Being able to remain a bit more detached from the children’s drama allows you to intervene in a way that transforms reactivity and is more reflective and curious. Activate your Magician to transform reactivity in you both.
- The need for safety. This goes so deeply to the heart of any marital drama that you should never underestimate it. I would even argue that this is the most burning issue in modern marriage. Your wife wants you to be strong and dependable so that you can provide for and protect her and your kids. This is one of the most compelling research findings across cultures (more details in my book). If you cannot meet this need, you risk losing her respect. Her contempt towards you is the strongest predictor of divorce. She cannot tolerate seeing you weak and confused.
This is the paradox men find themselves struggling with. “Don’t act on us the ‘strong’ traditional masculinity” you may hear women say. But for the most important woman in your life, this is exactly what she wants from you. Let’s summarize it this way: “I want other men to be soft and nice, perhaps even pushovers, but I want MY man to be strong because I want the best for my kids.” Very sensible—don’t you agree?! The energy of the Warrior helps you keep the boundaries around and between members of your family. As you assert boundaries to any source of threat—including from her—you command her respect. The story of Respect is tragic: Commanding respect from your wife is terribly underrated, yet, losing it has the worst impact on your marriage.
Your next step
The principles of being a good partner are understanding and responding to the other’s needs. Here I have only discussed her needs. Even if you do your best, that doesn’t guarantee that your wife will reciprocate in kind and meet your needs. You have to know how to influence her. I elaborate on this matter in my book. Please consider reading it. You will find over thirty (!) tools and practices to help you address various relationship challenges. A good enough value for around just $20.