5 Ways We Disempower Our Husbands Without Even Realizing It

Break the vicious cycle.
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Break the vicious cycle.

Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to caring for our husbands. You know the drill: complaining (again) that they haven't gotten to that chore, picking new outfits for the kids (because why in the world did he think that matched!?), telling him "I'll do it" because you know he won't get it right—the list goes on and on. While we think that we're just reminding our hubbies of how they're supposed to hold up their end (or maybe we're even genuinely frustrated!), we often allow our desires to be known in ways that are belittling, emasculating, or downright rude. By disrespecting or undervaluing the unique gifts men bring to the table, even in very small ways, we inadvertently deflate them and discourage them from living up to the challenges of manhood, married life, and fatherhood. Then we complain as we reap exactly what we’ve sown.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that respect does not mean subservience or blind obedience. This is a two-way street, and we should expect the same respect in return. What this is about is appealing to an innate need—like the female need to be desirable and feel understood—which helps men to flourish and feel valued. Partly because of my choleric, domineering temperament, I am not very good at this. So here I am—writing to you and to myself—to explore five ways we tend to disempower our men, along with tips on how to break out of that vicious cycle.

01. BERATING

I was going to start with nagging, but nagging to us is actually berating to them. Nagging is the act of repeatedly harassing someone to do something and it often seems like you have to make all of those little corrections in your husband’s behavior in order to maintain a functioning life. But all that nagging translates to chastisement and criticism and usually only serves to undermined any real motivation. In fact, one study shows that, among 400 men surveyed, 74 percent would rather feel alone and unloved than inadequate and disrespected. That’s very sobering to me. And I’ve observed that, often unconsciously, men tend to act the way they are treated, partly because their understanding of their own manhood comes from outside cues. It’s very difficult or even impossible for a guy to “man up” if you’re pushing in anger rather than pulling in love.

02. SHAMING

If you nag and berate your husband in front of others, you are entering a new world of pain. The shame that accompanies public scorn can be enough to break a man. Psychologists suggest that if he loses his dignity, he may begin to retreat emotionally and physically. That can lead to serious depression, substance abuse, and more. According to Psychology Today, “Shame, when it is taken on by a partner or loved one, can physically and emotionally make a person ill.”

Perhaps the worst version of this is humiliating your husband in front of your own children. It’s critical that your children admire their father, so if you cut him down to size in their presence, that can be very confusing and damaging. It you have a serious grievance against your husband, talk to him in private as patiently and lovingly as you can. If you’ve already belittled him in public, repair the damage by sincerely apologizing both to him and to the unfortunate audience. Forgiveness might be the only real corrective for shame.

03. POUTING

By pouting I mean generally venting your displeasure about him through body language and deeds. Sulking and sighing and head-shaking all add up to one big pity party, and no one wants that. In fact, John Gottman says this kind of body language can often signal the demise of a relationship. This kind of demeanor signifies a lack of gratitude for your husband. And if you show that you’re difficult to please, he may not even bother trying. Cheerfulness can really work wonders on him and on yourself. A simple exercise like counting your blessings can give you a great boost. Or flip through your wedding album some rainy afternoon. Remind yourself that you chose this man and you said those vows. Text him a smiley face out of the blue. He’ll smile back, and look forward to seeing you soon.

04. NEVER CUTTING HIM SLACK

We may live in the twenty-first century, but in many marriages home work still falls along fairly traditional gender lines. Maybe your dad was Mr. Handy. Maybe you’ve never laid eyes on a contractor standing at your front door and you’re not about to start. Change your mind about that right now. Don't expect him to do all the "manly" things. Even if your husband loves rolling up his sleeves and pulling out a caulking gun, he can get overwhelmed if household projects pile up. If you notice that a job has gone untouched for weeks, don’t start nagging (see point one). Take a thing or two off his plate by doing it yourself or hiring a pro. One day I replaced a door knob because I knew my husband was just too busy to get to it. I took a photo of it and sent it to him. He replied, “I LOVE YOU SOOOOOOOOO MUCH.” That’s a win-win.

05. EXCLUDING HIM FROM HAVING A SAY WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR "THING"

Likewise, don’t completely cut him out of whatever you consider to be your domain. Consult him about parenting strategies even though you might be home with the kids all day and would prefer to handle everything your way. You need to have a united front when it comes to raising children or they will exploit any apparent discrepancy. He’s much more likely to be a good dad if he senses his own value to the family. Another thing you should do is include him in household decorating. I wouldn’t go as far as allowing a St. Pauli Girl beer sign in the dining room a la Michael Scott, but find out if floral patterns bother him or if he secretly loathes your prominently displayed doll collection (a la George Costanza). If he’s comfortable in his own home, he’s more comfortable in his own skin.

Guys need to be respected before they can be competent, confident, and virtuous. Show that respect with kindness, gratitude, and joy—you’ve got yourself a real man; and suddenly a lot less to complain about.