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How to be a Better Husband: Show Up

How to be a Better Husband: Show Up
After 14 years of marriage, plus a couple of other long-term relationships before that, I’ve been privy to many conversations with women as to where we men fail as husbands.

Some of those were relayed from a third party about their own husband, and some of those conversations were ones where my wife and I were discussing our own marriage.

So I’m not gonna pull a fast one on ya and say that I’ve got marriage all figured out.

But after all of this time, I’ve certainly learned what doesn’t work.

And it seems to me that if we take what doesn’t work in a relationship, turn it upside down and then apply it back to the marriage, we’ll end up with some ways to be a better husband without resorting to empty clichés and pop psychology.

After all, men may be from Mars and women from Venus, but that’s no reassurance to any of us when our marriage feels like it sucks. We need actionable items. So here’s one way to move forward:

How to be a Better Husband: Suit Up and Show Up

Honestly, to be a better husband and a better father, you need to actually friggin’ show up. Not to just put in an appearance, but to suit up and show up with game.

One of the top gripes that I hear from wives is that their husbands simply aren’t present in either daily family life or at family events. Sure, they live there, and perhaps interact with their wife and kids occasionally, but for the most part, these men are either so consumed by their work or hobbies that they don’t make time for family, or they somehow believe that they are separate from the family.

I understand about being consumed by work. Sometimes it’s because it’s something we’re passionate about, and sometimes it’s because we feel stressed that we don’t have enough money to pay our bills. Either way, when our work takes over our life outside of normal working hours, we’re not able to fully show up and be present with the family.

If we count our wife and child as the most precious pieces in our life, so integral to our being that to lose them would be incredibly painful, then why can’t we put forth the effort to learn how to be a better husband and father by being present with them?

I’m not talking about 8 to 5 during the work week, I’m talking about the rest of the time – weekends, evenings, mornings maybe. There’s a whole hell of a lot of hours leftover, even after accounting for workaholic tendencies. But too often, distractions take our mind and attention elsewhere while we’re having time for family, so we need to turn off the iPhone and power down the laptop, and just pay attention to our wife and kids.

But it doesn’t end there. Husbands need to be willing to go places and do things with their wife and children, even if (perhaps especially if) they wouldn’t choose those activities on their own. After all, having a wife and family is about compromise and cooperation and inclusion, not maintaining completely separate lives.

More often than not, when attending some sort of gathering or event with my family, I ask other moms, “Where’s your husband?” and the reply is usually something along the lines of “At home, working on…”. And then later I learn that to those wives, it is an issue in their marriage: Their husbands aren’t showing up.

I’m not advocating always doing everything your family wants you to do, every time they want you to. What I am saying is that we need to show up and be present in our relationships and in our family. Not tomorrow, not next week or next year. Now.

Work will wait.

Kids grow up fast. Marriages stagnate and fail.

And we can’t ever go back and change any of it, so we need to make sure that what we’re spending our time on is what we want to leave as our legacy.

[I wrote this coming from the view of a husband, a married man, but I think it certainly applies to any other form of relationship, from a boyfriend or partner to a girlfriend or wife. And yes, that is me with the pink moustache at the top of this post. I showed up, and I got a free facial hair accessory.]

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11 Responses to How to be a Better Husband: Show Up

  1. Found this on Twitter via @TheJackbB. Very good advice even for parents who are concerned about their relationships with their children. I see it as a choice. First it’s a choice to be empathetic towards the “offender”: everyone is stressed about something that takes their mind and energy away from important relationships. So it’s vital to be clear about needs while understanding that doing your best takes time. Awareness of the problem comes first. But time and practice helps, but not right away.
    Second, it’s a choice to engage in a relationship in order to feel the connection. I don’t necessarily love tea parties with my daughter. But she does. So I give her my time and attention for them once in a while.
    It really is the little things like eye contact, a hug, a “how are you?” that solidify a relationship during stressful times and that pay into the emotional bank account of our relationships.

  2. This advice applies to both men AND women. In my marriage, I’m often the one not showing up… the one with my mind always so consumed by my “mission” that I am not really with my husband even when I’m sitting right next to him. Yesterday, we were together on the BART train riding in to the city to celebrate our 7th anniversary, and I’m embarrassed to admit that he had to ask me to put my mobile phone away and stop checking my email. Ack! So anyway, all I’m saying is that it’s a human thing… not just a man thing.

  3. I completely agree about the workaholic thing being a huge problem. I’ve never understood why people voluntarily take work home with them. Before I became a stay-at-home dad I made it very clear to everyone in the office that once I left, I was GONE.

    There were many people who didn’t feel the same way, but time with family is worth more to me than time at the office. I don’t know why that’s so hard for some to see.

  4. Thank you for this post Derek. It is so refreshing to hear this from a male voice and yes when men suit up and show up women relax and feel supported which generally translates into less controlling, nagging behavior (what most guys complain about). Either way it is a win win for everyone. Too bad many men are unwilling to accept the challenge …intimacy fears, commitment, pain? It’s a cycle that can be shifted once we choose to break the habits governing unconscious choice. Thanks for sharing this post.

  5. I got struck with your phrases ” when our work takes over our life outside of normal working hours, we’re not able to fully show up and be present with the family.”. TRUE. Even in my day-off I still work overtime and really missed family activities specially going out all together and having fun during weekends. That is the phrase I’m thinking hard this time balancing work and family. It will never to late to catch up.

  6. I love what you have said here but my problem is he is consumed with his iphone not work! He literally spends hours playing games, texting friends, watching videos , and instagraming. No matter how much i talk to him it doesn’t change anything and i end up nagging and we fight. We are at a point where we can’t stand eachother .

    • Sara – That’s definitely a common tendency these days, and one that’s hard to break free from. Perhaps you could suggest some ‘tech-free’ times during the day or the week, where the phone gets shut off and put down so you and he could focus on being present with eachother. Or have one whole day per week, such as Sunday, that is tech-free and used to reconnect with one another.

      • I’m hoping to sit down and talk tomorrow but not feeling very optimistic because despite thefact he does listen things always seem to go back to the way they were. I hate that i have become like this and nag and complain so much. Hubby used to take pride in the fact i wasn’t “one of those wives” who nags and gossips all the time! The problem is i only changed when he did but he doesn’t see that.

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