How to be a Better Wife: Focus on the Positive

How to be a better wifeAfter writing How to be a Better Husband: Show Up, I felt the need to jump onto the other side of the relationship, so to speak.

It’s easy to find fault with our own self, or our own gender, and then to make fun of it, but it’s usually not cool to point out what the other half is doing wrong, so I have tended to stay out of those conversations.

However…

I’m gonna do it anyway.

As I’ve previously said, I think 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, or in this case, a better wife.

So today I picked one of the worst offenses: criticizing, complaining, or otherwise griping to or about your husband. Because it’s not cool to only focus on the negative. But it will cool off your marriage…

How to be a Better Wife: Focus on the Positive

To be a better wife, stop focusing so much on the negative and the things he doesn’t do, or that he does wrong (more on that in a minute). Put energy into expressing your positive feelings about him, not griping about his faults (read: habits).

I don’t know any happy marriages that include a verbal bully as a partner. Using words as weapons might seem easy and painless, until you see it for what it is: a lack of respect. If we wouldn’t say something that way to our best (girl) friend, don’t say it that way to him. See also: the Golden Rule.

The world is not black and white. There are as many ways to do things as there are people, and just because you’d prefer he does it your way doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Let him do it his way, or if you must say something, show your appreciation for his skills, and then give a positive suggestion. Don’t start by pointing out what you would have done differently.

Part of a man’s identity is tied up in his perceived competence. We take great pride in being able to do things well, and take it personally when it’s implied that we’ve failed. Knowing this can help you remember that he not only wants respect from his peers, but also from his wife – the most important person in his life. When your husband has done something – even if you don’t care for it – show him your support or gratitude for his competency.

Men change, but they don’t get changed. Your husband may have pieces of himself that you don’t understand, or that you perhaps dislike, and some of those pieces may never change. He may also have habits that affect you negatively, with those bad habits being labeled ‘faults’. But he’s the only one that can change those things. Not you. Or anyone else. So accept and respect him for what he is right now, not for what he could become at some undefined point in the future.

Nagging is never in style. Yep, I said nagging. Not a pretty term, is it? But it gets the point across, I think. If you respect your husband, and want or need something from him, be clear and to the point about it, writing it down if you need to. And then let him deal with it from there on out. You’ve told him, now leave it alone. Don’t continually scold him or complain to others about it. If it’s something major and timely, have a discussion and get an update from him on it, but otherwise, trust him to be a man.

Keep your dirty laundry at home. While I understand the desire to share things with others, telling your friends about your husband’s faults all the time is not a good practice. First, because then all of your friends will respect your husband even less (and wouldn’t you want them to respect him more?), and second, because it’s only a short hop from ‘sharing’ to gossip, and once you’ve said something, you can’t recall it. By all means, discuss your feelings with your friends, but steer clear of name-calling and blaming.

We can’t read minds. At least I can’t, not yet. So if there’s something bugging you, tell your husband about it. Don’t let it sit and fester inside you and then complain that he just doesn’t get it. And don’t just talk around the subject – be clear and to the point, not hinting at what you really want to say.

I don’t support sitting back and doing nothing in a relationship, but we’ve got to be very careful of the overall vibe of the relationship – the tone of the conversations and the way communication happens between you.

Marriages grow from the roots we plant, watered by our daily interactions and fed by our words and actions.

So choose carefully.

[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.]

Image: foundphotoslj at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

28 thoughts on “How to be a Better Wife: Focus on the Positive

  • September 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm
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    I think that for the most post part, the key to being a good spouse/partner is to get past the assigned gender stereotypes (such as a nagging wife/lazy macho husband) and just be honest with each other, be caring and loving, and be each other’s best friend.

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    • September 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm
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      Carla – I definitely agree with you, only I wish it was as simple that. Too often, we don’t get past those roles, and that’s what I was trying to verbalize. Cheers!

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      • September 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm
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        I don’t know if they are specifically gender roles…But certainly, people fall into their roles and it is hard to break out of them and see the other spouse’s perspective.

        Constant growth. I agree that communication is so key.

        I also find myself striking a balance between accepting when I am at fault and verbalizing that to my wife, and standing up when I truly believe I am being wrongly faulted. It’s difficult to strike that balance. I worry that if I give in too much then I am revealing that I am always wrong, and showing that I am unable to stand up for myself. More often than not, though, it is pride that stands in the way of accepting that I may have overlooked something, forgotten something or screwed something up…So, I am learning to swallow that pride and gently accept criticism.

        Listening is often the more difficult process in communication.

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      • September 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm
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        Oh yes, I could see that in your post. I just think it’s helpful to point out that the more specific advice like this has a point, that is, the gender norms we’ve been taught are not conducive to a healthy relationship.

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  • September 17, 2010 at 3:51 am
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    Such a balanced and well written piece – you must be a GREAT partner!

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    • September 17, 2010 at 8:53 am
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      I suppose it’s all relative – I try, fail, and try again. Cheers!

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  • September 17, 2010 at 8:15 am
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    Great post! I’m glad you decided to be brave and jump into the “other side of the relationship.”
    I think sometimes (I’m speaking for myself here) we don’t mean to complain about our husbands to each other, we just need to vent. That can turn into a “my husband drives me crazier than yours competition” if we’re not careful.
    I totally agree that we need to watch what we say to others because, whether we think so or not, it does get passed along. I am careful never to discuss personal aspects of our marriage but I do sometimes get into discussions with friends about how slow “men are” at getting things done, (of course I’ll never admit that I’m just as much of a procrastinator as he is.) You’ve made me think that maybe I shouldn’t participate so enthusiastically in those discussions, after all I want everyone to love my husband as much as I do:)
    I am proud to say, though, that my husband is probably the least nagged husband on the planet, my Mom was a “nagger” and it drove me crazy, so I guess, thankfully, I went the other way.
    I also loved your post on fathers, it also applies in many cases to mothers as well. We tend to get so busy with things we feel need to be done to make a “good home” for our family that we forget to make the time to just “be” with our family.

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    • September 17, 2010 at 8:55 am
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      Thanks! I almost didn’t publish this one, as I thought it might be a bit offensive if it’s read the wrong way. But I hit publish anyway… Cheers!

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  • September 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm
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    Hi Derek,
    I like this blog and subscribe to it via rss. I just want to point out here that you’ve written a “how-to” post for husbands prescribing a single, defined task as the path to better husbandhood. Then you’ve written a parallel “how-to” post for wives outlining several vague, abstract suggestions for changes in behavior and attitude.
    I’m not exactly offended, but I’m just kind of wondering why you split things up in such a way!
    Thanks for your good contributions to the blogosphere, which I read and share regularly.
    P.M., California

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    • September 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm
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      Polly –

      Thanks for reading, and for your comment.

      I guess one could read the titles in such a way as to believe that everything one needs to know to be a better husband/wife is in the article. Perhaps they need subtitles, as I intended these as pieces in a series, for example, my next one might be “How to be a Better Husband: Just Listen, Don’t Fix”, or “How to be a Better Wife: Give Him Space” or something along those lines.

      And a caveat: I don’t have any claim to being an expert on anything except what doesn’t work – either through direct observation or first hand experience. And I won’t attempt to pretend that I’m the perfect husband. I’m just a guy trying to share what I’ve learned. So it is quite possible that my posts won’t appeal to everyone, or that they may appear off-base.

      Cheers!

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  • September 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm
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    That was my first thought: Brave of you to post this. But I am glad you did, and am curious to see more wives’ comments.

    Man, it’s so interesting how our spousal relationships change, and especially after the first baby is born. It can really be challenging. But I take some time to step back, get some perspective and respect those changes. Some of the changes are quite beautiful.

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  • September 18, 2010 at 9:26 pm
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    You Sir are a brave writer 🙂
    I would of hesitated before hitting publish as well… and my spine probably wouldn’t of allowed it.

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  • September 29, 2010 at 9:49 pm
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    I know I am guilty of nagging. I am trying to work on it and put things into perspective. Will the world implode if I bring xyz topic up RIGHT NOW or for the 11thbillion time? Most of the time no…so I am learning to let it go. I worry that if I don’t I will become more like a “mom” to my husband than a wife.

    I don’t let things go if it is going to have an impact on us as a family. So if it something financial for example.

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  • October 2, 2010 at 10:43 am
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    In all fairness women often resort to nagging because men do not usually understand the million or so hints you leave about what you do want AFTER you have expressly told them what you want or need. I find that nagging usually only happens after you have spelled it out and they aren’t doing it.. whatever IT is. For instance I have expressly told my husband that on the weekends I want us to do things as a family that involve leaving the house. All week I mention funs events or festivals coming up on the weekend that we could attend. I mention that the ice cream place down the road was named America’s Best by the Food Network and we should go get some this weekend. And of course I mention that I would LOVE for him to plan something for us to do.

    Then when the weekend roles around he sleeps in and narrows the possibilities. Then gets up and glues his behind to the couch all day watching Japanese Anime with headphones on that tune us out or playing video games on his laptop. He has ZERO clue that the reason his wife and his children are PISSED is because we wanted to go out and enjoy the day together. Nagging is the last resort when men are clueless. When being nice doesn’t work it is really darn hard NOT to go in nag or harpie mode.

    If a wife is nagging then a husband should be asking what am I missing here??

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    • October 3, 2010 at 8:28 am
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      Tiffany – You have a point – but my thinking is that because nagging doesn’t work to motivate people, it’s merely hurting the relationship. What you describe is a failure in communication – or lack of mutual respect – and I’ve heard it from other wives as well, but I have yet to hear of one situation that was helped by nagging more. But you’re right, the husband ought to ask himself just exactly what he’s missing that brings it on. In writing this post, I was focusing on the habit of nagging, not someone (as you’ve described) who is fed up with telling their partner again and again what they want. It sounds like some extremely clear and to-the-point communication is in order.

      Cheers-
      Derek

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    • October 3, 2010 at 8:41 am
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      In that situation I would probably have gone for icecream WITHOUT him. Maybe then he would realize that your life doesn’t revolve around him?

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      • October 3, 2010 at 8:43 am
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        Yep, I’d have to agree with that. Sometimes you just need to live your life and do what makes you happy, even if he wants to stay home in his PJs.

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  • June 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm
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    When I first began to read this article I was looking for help on how to be a better wife, but after reading halfway into it I realized that I’m a great wife. Call it nagging if you must, but nagging about the electric bill getting paid on time is not nagging at all. Whether the wife or husband is the stronger of the two someone’s got to do the dirty work. As long as I’m putting my 50% into the marriage, bills, kids, etc. I feel good about “nagging” or vice versa. I guess it goes back to that old saying, if you can’t take the heat, then get out the kitchen. Basically if a marriage is going to work between a man and a woman, both of them take the heat, and shut the hell up. What works, works and what doesn’t, doesn’t.

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  • July 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm
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    I’m so glad I read this. I think some readers might get hung up on nagging, but I think the idea about focusing on the positive is really helpful. After the birth of my first child I was suddenly very aware of how our house “should be” of all the things I was doing and of everything he was not… I think men approach the task of making a household work far differently from women and it tends to turn women into “naggers” and men into unwilling accomplices. I’m starting to realize classic gender roles seem to work better for us (despite what my graduate work in cultural and gender studies taught me), and this is what has motivated me to find out how other contemporary couples are working it out. I think that focusing on the positive is key. I’m trying to give my husband a week of no complaints this week to see what happens. I believe it will make my husband happy (and helpful) which will make me a much happier wife.

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  • July 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm
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    —Thank U.! This will help my marriage out alot

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  • October 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm
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    i love this site, there are millions of websites on how to end your marriage or how to cheat on your partner but when you need help and want to fix your relationship, weve been married for 2 years now and we have been having problems and dont really know how or even the first steps to work on it, i just really love your site.. thank you

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  • October 21, 2011 at 12:28 pm
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    why does it take more than love to make a marriage work? i think it is because couples forget why they got married in the first place, remembering why you said yes. I think if you set aside atleast a half an hour everynight just talking and spending real quality time with eachother helps alot and remembering the golden rule(never go to bed angry) cause it leaves you bitter in th end cause you hold it in and hold it in and eventully you become this bitter and angry person and i couldve prevented all of it by just talking our problems out instead of bottling them up because eventully you will explode.
    I believe as well no one takes their vows seriously anymore…till death do you part and in good times and bad, people dont want to work on marriges anymore, cause it is much easier to give up then it is to work on it. no one ever said marriage is easy it is work but than again would it really be worth it if it was easy?

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  • October 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm
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    Thank you for deciding to post this article. It does help. As women I think we forget that our husbands deserve respect just as much as we do, even when we do not agree with everything they do. We can communicate with them in an adult manner without nagging or mean words. I loved your last sentences in bold.

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  • February 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm
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    I may nag (or at least thats what my husband says I do) so i say it once and let it alone for a while and ask about it, he then flips saying all I ever do is nag but all i did is ask about something. what do I do there?
    Also, i am open with him bout my feelings and concerns in our marriage or something more personal, and he says all I do is complain. For example, I was upset about something that happened in class the other day and then i came home something had gone wrong and in a short, it was a really bad day, so I wanted to talk about it and about his day and in hopes hed talk with me and maybe get a hug, all he did was sit there and said quit complaining about everything and quit always thinking about yourself. I am at a lost. Yes we women may nag and complain AT TIMES but not all the time. Is there any advice for my situation?

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  • March 26, 2012 at 7:30 am
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    I found this post looking for ways to be a better wife. I appreciate your post, being that from a man. It helps to get a resource from the “other side”. I ask myself so many times “how can I be better? How can I stop getting so frustrated?” I think I’ve found some answers here.

    Thanks.

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  • July 3, 2012 at 6:43 am
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    Man that was awesome.. that did it for me

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  • February 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm
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    Not to be gender stereotyping, but I think we need to accept that certain “traits” are more prevalent in one gender vs. the other. Bringing up nagging as a trait seems to hit a nerve with some of the female commenters here. I see that they often acknowledge doing this and in most cases attempt to keep it in check for the health of their relationships. I guess there are nagging guys out there, but I don’t really hear anything about them.

    Then on the male side of traits, we have the tendency to not do what we are asked/told, or at least not in the timeframe we are expected to act. This can relate to fixing a leaky faucet or spending quality time talking about future plans together, etc.

    Here we can see that the problem is guys see all these things quite differently from gals. Guys don’t really feel that an intimate conversation on the sofa is anything they need personally, so they take their own paradigm/view and think “no big deal” about not acting on that silly request. Gals feel they “need” this kind of intimacy in their relationship and begin to question their Guy’s level of interest, even to the extent of feeling hurt or abandoned. And the whole thing has to do primarily with completely unintentional genetic and cultural influences on viewpoint that are diametrically opposed between men and women.

    There’s a lot of good information in this article, and in the comments people have posted. But the thing that really stands out for me is suggesting that we all just follow The Golden Rule. There are no male or female sections in The Golden Rule.

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  • July 19, 2014 at 7:06 am
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    Exactly what I needed. I’m a negative person and at times I don’t realize my comments that I say to my husband. I feel bad. It’s something I’m trying to work on but it still comes out once in a while. Great article.

    Reply

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