A Wives Only Wednesday Post
Earlier this week my Men Only Monday post “Which Way Are you Leaning” challenged husbands to step up and lean into their marriages a little more, to get engaged at a deeper level.
Today, I’m addressing wives. For most wives, being engaged and invested in their marriage is not an issue. For many, the question is how to encourage their husbands to lean in and engage more fully.
Note: The inverse rule for Man Only Monday applies here. Husbands can eavesdrop on this post, but you may not use this as a weapon on your wife!
One Root of the Engagement Issue
God designed husbands and wives to need each other. He hardwired us with a desire for marital intimacy because it’s a model of our desire for intimacy with God and his desire for intimacy with us. As it is with God, we can stuff down or try to deny that need, but it is there whether we admit it or not.
So if your husband needs you and has a deep-seated need for an intimate connection with you, what causes some husbands to disengage and withdraw over time?
While modern feminism has done some great things for women’s rights, I’m afraid there has also been some significant collateral damage. One of the unintended consequences is husbands failing to engage in their marriages. There is a prevailing societal message to husbands that they are superfluous, or worse, an impediment to a woman’s fulfillment. Men are often painted with a broad brush as oafs or oppressors and someone wives should work around instead of someone to work with.
Sadly, these messages to men (and their wives) are so pervasive that they seem to have been completely normalized – just accepted as the way things are. And marriages are paying the price.
It should come as no surprise, then, that men often check out, lean back, and fail to take up their place in their marriages.
What’s a Wife to Do?
First, I suggest that you acknowledge your need for your husband. This may or may not be difficult for you to admit, but either way, I encourage you to press fully into the truth that in marriage you and he are “one flesh,” which means that you are spiritually, sexually, emotionally, and financially one. Being one in all things means that operating independently from him is not an option. Your husband is not another thing to put on your to-do list, because your relationship to him is unlike your relationship to anything else in your life – you have a covenant with him.
Oneness is not sameness. You and he are still unique individuals. However, if your mindset tends toward seeing your husband as an impediment instead of a partner, you need to change your thinking before going a step further.
Now it’s time to talk about what you can do to get your husband to lean in and more fully engage with you.
Show Him You Need Him
Whether from societal messaging, the tendencies of his own personality, or the strength of yours, or because he senses your desire for independence, your husband may well feel unwanted and unneeded. Most good-willed husbands, however, will respond positively if you just show him that you need and want him, assuming you approach it the right way.
If you express your need for him to engage in the form of demands or ultimatums, he will receive it as disrespect and criticism, which will only drive him to further disengage. Whining, complaining and angry tirades will result in pushing him further away. Most husbands actually want to make their wives happy. It could be that he’s stopped trying because he feels like he is fighting a losing battle. Many men would rather not try than face certain failure.
Here are three specific suggestions to help draw your husband’s heart to re-engage.
Show him affection
If your husband has been disengaged for some time and it feels like there is a gulf between you, it might be difficult to reach across the divide with affection. It might feel risky or awkward or like he doesn’t deserve it. Take the risk! Show him grace. Reach out to him with kindness and affection.
Here are but a few of the dozens of small ways to show your husband affection:
- Sit close while you are watching a movie. Hold his hand. Touch releases bonding chemicals in the brain.
- Send him an unexpected text to say you miss him.
- Send him a link to a romantic song on YouTube and say “thinking of us.”
- Give him a back rub or neck massage.
- Buy him a small treat that you know he likes.
- Greet him at the door with a 10-second kiss. 20 seconds is even better.
- Plan an outing you know he’d enjoy, even if it isn’t your thing.
- Ask his advice about something, and take it.
When you talk to him about needing him more, don’t couch it in terms of his past failed behaviors. Talk about your needs and feelings in a positive, hopeful way. Tell him you miss the closeness and connection you once had. Tell him you want more of him, of the real him. Ask him what is going on in his heart and mind but be understanding and patient if he has trouble identifying his emotions (most men do).
I know that you may be reluctant to show affection to your husband for fear it might lead to an expectation of having sex. Truthfully, if you do the things I listed above, it very well might stir in him a desire for a deeper, more intimate connection of a sexual nature. For many men, it’s how they are wired. That leads me to my next point.
Show him you want him sexually
If you show your husband affection without showing him you want him sexually, you will likely limit the effect your kindness has on him. Let me be blunt: if your husband feels sexually unwanted, regardless of how good-willed he is, he will eventually disengage from your marriage.
Most (though not all) men see sex as a path to connection and intimacy, whereas most women need connection and intimacy in order to be open to sex. This dichotomy often locks couples into a downward spiral of separation. But chances are that if you make sexual overtures toward him in this marital game of cat and mouse, he will almost certainly respond by engaging in the other areas of your relationship. My friend and fellow marriage blogger put it this way:
For men, sex communicates love and acceptance, while a lack of sex communicates the opposite. I realize this is not usually what women are communicating with sex and saying no, but it is what men feel. Even when you convince a man this is not what she means, he will still feel it. When a man feels a good sexual connection with his wife he starts to want other forms of intimacy. Not tolerate, want. The need was always there, but it is hard to hear over the much louder need for sexual intimacy.Paul Byerly
Overcoming the Obstacles
One of the primary difficulty couples need to overcome is their differences in desire. These differences show up in to ways.
First, is the level of desire. Mismatched desire is something that 90% of couples face. In about 4 out of 5 marriages, it’s the husband with the higher desire, and that’s the case I’m addressing here.
The second difference, and again not universal, is that women tend to have “receptive desire” and men tend to have “assertive desire.” Assertive desire is felt in anticipation of sexual activity. Receptive desire is felt in response to sexual activity.
These two factors together mean that you may not naturally think about making sexual advances toward your husband. It may require a bit of “stepping out in faith” to initiate sex overtly. You may need to take baby steps in the right direction.
- Be flirtatious
- Let your kisses linger longer than usual
- Let him see you naked
- Ask him to snuggle with you
- Touch him suggestively
- Wear something a bit sexier than normal to bed
If you’ve not been having much sex lately, you may shy away from these gestures. Or maybe you’ve convinced yourself you don’t need sex. Whether you know it or not, you do. Maybe you fear not being able to follow through, but it’s likely that your husband would rather have you do these things, even if it doesn’t lead to sex every time.
In your endeavors to express your desire for your husband, remember that God designed sex for both of you! This isn’t something you are doing for him. You are doing it for yourself as well. Whether you are in a place where you can acknowledge it or not, you need a thriving sexual relationship for the sake of the intimacy in your marriage.
Show admiration and appreciation
When you show your husband that you admire and appreciate him, he is likely to respond by moving closer to you. Criticism, blame, and disrespect will have the opposite effect. Your words have the power to build him up or tear him down. Find words that speak life and encouragement. Affirm who he is – his best qualities, the aspects of his personality that you like most, and even his physical features. Express your appreciation for the things he does for you and for the family, even if you don’t think it’s enough.
Become a “treasure hunter” when it comes to your husband. Dig for the “gold” in him and point it out to him. There is a natural law of human behavior: if you reinforce the positive, you will see more of it.
With these suggestions, I’m not saying it’s your job to change your husband or that you are responsible for his behavior. Attaining a deeper level of intimacy in your marriage should be your primary motivation. Do these things as expression of your love for him because we are called to love.
If you consistently demonstrate your love for your man in ways that are meaningful to him through admiration, affection, appreciation, and sexual connection it’s highly likely that your husband will respond positively by becoming more engaged emotionally, and although it may take time to break old patterns, you will likely enjoy a deeper, more intimate connection with each other over time.
Photo by Văn Thắng