Learning to be a good husband was the hardest challenge I ever had. At 23, I began with no idea how to do that, but, after being married to the same woman for more than 44 years, I learned some lessons about things that worked for me (and her) over that time.
Every marriage/partnership is different so there is no single approach that works for everyone, but I think these “rules” can be applied to all healthy, loving relationships.
- Listen. This may be the hardest rule of all as most of us are lousy listeners. Instead of really listening, we are often planning our own clever response or thinking about the next point we want to make. We try to find where they are wrong instead of how they are right. We want to “win”, which inevitably dooms us to losing.
Don’t try to win or be right or smarter than your partner. Pay attention to what they are saying and how they are saying it. Pause for at least a breath after they are finished and before you respond to give yourself time to absorb what was actually said instead of what you thought they were going to say. You may find they are smarter than you thought.
Really listening is the most underrated way to show someone you love and respect them.
- Lead with YES. If your spouse wants to do something, wants you to do something, or wants to do something together, then let your first response be “yes”. Even if you don’t really want to or aren’t sure, start with yes and you can talk more from there on the “how” and the ”when”.
We respond too often with no, and when I say too often I mean even one “no” is too many. Even if we only say “no” once out of ten opportunities it is the “no” that gets remembered, not the nine times you agreed.
Like in the first rule, starting with “yes” shows your respect for them and puts the two of you in a place to work together instead of arguing or contending.
- Do Your Share. I hope this is an easy one. Doing your share of the work around the home is the most obvious part of being a good partner. Cleaning, child-care, laundry, windows, cooking, shopping, and whatever other work might be part of your shared life and keeping a happy healthy home are equally your responsibilities.
Do your share with a smile and do it “on-time”, without being reminded or expecting to be congratulated for it. No-one congratulates you for brushing your teeth, it’s just your job. Figuring out how to divide the work calls for good and open discussion, so pay attention to Rules 1 & 2.
When your done with your chores, ask if there is something else they need done, and then do that gladly. Finally, find other little things to do even if not asked for that shows your love in ways that speak loudly. (This might produce extra benefits when you get behind closed doors!)
- Let Them Lead. In a traditional Indian marriage ceremony the couple are tied together with a sacred clothe and then walk around a fire seven times. The husband leads three for three of those and the spouse the other four times. The symbolism is obvious, and it is great marriage advice.
Take a step back and let lots of life’s big decisions be made by and lead by your spouse. Perhaps it is a job change, a major move to a new place, opening a business or starting a new venture. Even if your instinct thinks that this could be a mistake, let your partner make the call and follow their judgement and instincts. After all, their judgment led them to choose you.
This can be really scary, but the potential rewards are beyond measure both practically and emotionally. Mistakes are allowed, “I told you so’s” are not. The only way we grow as individuals and as couples is to take chances, so share the lead.
- Don’t be a child. They are your spouse, not your parent. If you want your mom, then go see her or call her, but don’t expect your spouse to fill that role. They married you as an adult, expecting you to be an adult with them.
A recent study in Australia of 700 women found that nothing kills women’s sex drives more than being their partner’s… mother. Being their equal partner shows you are an adult and keeps their interest high.
Sure, we all need comfort at times. There are points in our lives when we just want to be held tenderly and reassured. But let that care be given and received as an adult who knows tomorrow will be better so long as you are together. Your partner and lover will do that.
- Never Give Up. I don’t mean never give up in an argument, you know Rule #1 by now. I mean never give up on them or on the relationship or on yourself. Never, ever.
There will be times and temptations to give up. Some things will go badly, things will get hard and even ugly at times and it will seem that giving up is the only way to get out of the shit. But don’t do it.
Even hurricanes eventually pass and, although there may be vast destruction in their wake, the clean-up and healing always happens whne we don’t give up. If you give up, you will miss the incredible joy and sense of accomplishment of together finding the strength and the solutions. I promise you there is no sweeter victory than that.
The only true failure is giving up, and the only true victory possible is together.
The exception to this is in the case of abuse or unacknowledged addictions. You can’t fix those. If they are abusing you or are addicted to drugs or alcohol and won’t acknowledge it and seek help then get out.
- Put Them First. Always, every day in every situation, put them first. Their welfare, growth and happiness must be your first and most important responsibility. Never take another person’s side over your partner in public or private, even if you disagree (back to rules 1&2).
Never put yourself first. Putting yourself first shows that you think you are more important than they are and your wants are more valuable. Virtually every major religion teaches some form of “it is better to give than to receive” and this is completely true in a marriage. When we give all of ourselves to them, by truly putting them first, we show that we are truly worthy of their love in return.
No marriage comes with an instruction manual. It’s hard and neither of you start off knowing what you are doing. But there is no better work and no greater reward than that of building a successful relationship.
I hope these “rules” of ours help you build your own manual, and that you have many, many years together.
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