A few weeks ago, Verily contributor Kathryn Wales discussed the ways that women disempower their husbands without realizing it. She correctly noted that berating, shaming, and pouting are not good strategies for cultivating a relationship where both partners feel edified and empowered. Her insights were helpful in articulating what not to do, but it made me wonder about the best strategies for making sure that both partners get what they need out of relationships. Eventually, I had to ask: How, exactly, can women empower their husbands? Here are five ideas.
It is not a woman’s job to empower her husband. His power doesn’t come from you. I hope it goes without saying that your power doesn’t come from him either. The first point of order in building a healthy relationship is having a strong sense of self. Decide who you want to be in relationship. I have a client who wants to be courteous, intentional, creative, and have integrity. These are the values that she has for herself and she regularly strives to bring those values into her relationship with her husband, ultimately empowering him even if he doesn’t know it. It is critical that you embrace this notion of personal empowerment, because if you don’t, these additional strategies won’t be terribly effective.
02. Know him.
I think what men really want—what people really want—is to be known. It’s a complaint I hear a lot in my office. “I feel like she doesn’t really know me anymore.” Sometimes that happens because we stop trying. More often it happens because people assume they know everything there is to know. But people are complicated and we’re constantly changing. Make it a point to be curious about your partner’s world. The best way to do this is to ask questions. Dr. John Gottman suggests asking both detail questions (“What’s your favorite band these days?”) as well as open-ended questions (“If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be?”). Asking and answering such questions forms the foundation for the kind of intimacy that protects the relationship. When your husband feels known, he will feel empowered.
03. Like him.
In addition to being known, people want to be enjoyed. This is different than trusting someone, or being committed to them. Those things may not be in question. In fact, your husband may be absolutely certain that you love him. But I bet he wonders if you like him, especially if berating, shaming, and/or pouting are part of your engagement strategy. Try liking him out loud. Make a habit of saying “thank you,” “I’m proud of you,” or “You look sharp.” Make a point of noticing the things that he does well or that add value to your home and your relationship. (He will want to do more of that.) This isn’t about training him. It’s about appreciating him. If your husband feels appreciated, he will feel empowered.
04. Ask for what you need.
Sometimes knowing and liking your husband isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to get stuff done. You need things to change. In this case, the best thing you can do for your husband is to ask for what you need. Be specific, but keep in mind there’s a difference between demand and desire. There’s a big difference between, “I need you to clean off the roof as soon as possible” and “Can you please clean off the roof before my mom comes this weekend?” Asking directly for what you need avoids the trap of passive aggression and it gives your husband a chance to meet your need or not. If he can’t or won’t, you get to say, “I really don’t want to nag you, so I need to know if I can count on you to do what you say you’re going to do. If not, I need to find another solution.” Giving your husband a chance to be accountable to you is a great way to empower him.
05. Allow him to influence you.
What about when he doesn’t step up? When he doesn’t do exactly what you want or need? What about when he has ideas that are different than yours? Will you take a minute to hear him out and make room for his point of view? Allow your husband to influence you. That’s a great way to empower him. More importantly, it’s an essential element in making any marriage work. Dr. Gottman’s research revealed that “refusal to accept influence” is one of the main predictors of divorce. This goes for most partners, and indeed men are often the primary offenders, but women who berate, shame, and pout are susceptible as well.
At the end of the day, my theory of empowerment is pretty simple. It begins with personal integrity and assurance of your own values. It includes a commitment to building a strong friendship based on knowing and liking your partners. And it’s based on a respect that allows you to ask for what you need and influence one another.