6 Ways to Breed Mutual Support (without Becoming His Mother)
Whoever came up with the whole “for better or for worse” idea… must have been single.
Kidding! You know I’m pro-marriage, but even I admit that it can be maddening.
When things are going smoothly, no problemo. There’s nothing better!
But throw in some kids, financial strain, family illness or special needs, a midlife crisis… well, things get messy, and before you know it you’ve lost the connection you once had.
That is a lonely place to be.
It’s especially bewildering to see your spouse suffering through challenges himself and not know what to do. When my husband was struggling both mentally and financially, I did all I could to help. I just couldn’t understand why he was pushing me away even further.
If you’ve already done all you can to be a good wife, only to feel more disconnected, you know how frustrating that is.
So how are you supposed to be supportive when your partner is stressed or depressed? How can you support your partner emotionally, whatever he may be going through, especially when he only contradicts you when you try to build him up? That’s exhausting and frustrating. Does that sound familiar?
If you recognize these signs of an unsupportive partner, you might wonder if he’ll ever be strong enough to be your support. Are you just supposed to keep giving and giving, when you’re already wrung dry yourself?
It’s tough to know exactly how to deal with an unsupportive partner.
If you could use some mutual support, here are six surprising ways to be supportive to a man and create more connection while you’re at it (without becoming his mother).
1) See if You’re Being Too Helpful
Caution: You might want to sit down while you read this part.
The whole notion that he needs your help is a big intimacy killer.
I know, I know. Husband and wife uniting as one means we’re supposed to help him any way we can. Right?
That’s what I thought too. No one had taught me that taking on responsibility for my husband meant that I was not expecting the best outcome. If I know that you are capable and competent, I don’t feel the need to “help” you.
There’s nothing sexier to a man–no, it’s not the Victoria’s Secret ad that just popped up in your brain–than knowing that his wife knows that he is capable and responsible. Expecting the best in him is super respectful. And the number one thing a man wants from the woman he loves is her respect.
Acting like you’re his mother, on the other hand, is not so sexy.
I had no idea that being “helpful” in wife language translates to “controlling” in husband language. Or that my husband is allergic to control.
Or that my control is rooted in fear. If your man is stressed or depressed or angry, it’s frightening. It’s also natural to do whatever you can to mitigate that so you and your family don’t pay the price.
Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way: you can’t control another person. And the real price I paid came from trying to control him anyway. I had no idea that trying to manage his moods is manipulative and was costing me the very intimacy I longed for, but it did.
A big tenet on our campus is that you are the expert on your own life, so only you know what’s best for you, which is why my coaches don’t give advice. They share their experience and ask powerful questions to guide you to your own answers. Students report that this dynamic alone feels empowering.
What if you treated your husband as the expert on his life? Someone who doesn’t need rescuing, fixing, improving, correcting or teaching. Someone who will find the best solutions when given the space to do so. Maybe you just let him mope for a while, as a show of your faith that he’ll figure it out for himself.
Men have a way of rising to the challenge when treated this way.
2) Receive, receive, receive
You may be asking: “But what about the golden rule?” I know that I want help! Isn’t it only fair to give him what I would want myself?
This assumes that men and women are the same, which, embarrassingly, I believed in the bad old days too.
Come to find out, women are built to receive in every way. Physically, of course, receiving brings us pleasure. But it’s also our birthright to receive gifts, help, compliments and special treatment.
Men, on the other hand, are wired with a hero gene. Making a woman happy brings him pleasure.
Grasping this difference in male culture blew my mind because I thought it was my job to do things for him. Or at least keep the score even.
Shifting to receiving graciously was a stretch for Yulka too. When her husband wanted to buy season tickets for the two of them, she was not crazy about spending that kind of money to sit around watching baseball, especially with everything that needed to be done around the house!
She chose to trust his thinking and receive his gift anyway.
Little did she know that this choice would have even more gifts coming her way.
When she went to her first game with him, he was so attentive, picking out special seats for her to avoid the stairs and be near the restroom. He bought her all the food he knew she would like.
She could see that he was really pleased, and for her, it was so relaxing–and surprisingly romantic. “It’s totally wonderful,” she gushed. “He doesn’t look at his phone. He talks to me the whole time.” One of their first dates had been at this very stadium, and so was their vow renewal.
Receiving his romantic gesture had the most surprising effect back at home. After her worries that there wasn’t enough time to waste at all these games, he found time to tile their kitchen. Just a few days after baseball season started, he got to work installing the kitchen backsplash that had been left undone the past four years. He finished within weeks.
In contrast, a couple years earlier Yulka did not trust her husband to get things done, so she called a plumber to fix the sump pump. Her husband, who had said he was going to take care of it, came home and asked for a divorce.
3) Ask Not What You Can Do for Him
Now, what if he’s asking you to do things to support him, like help find his wallet or give him his vitamins?
Not doing for him what he could do for himself is respectful, which, as you know, is connecting (and sexy). But if you don’t do as he asks, won’t he get upset, and won’t that cost you intimacy?
Around here, we call that “bait.” If you are changing the old dance in your relationship, it can throw him off, and he may try to engage you in the behavior he’s used to. In my experience, resisting the bait may rock the boat short-term but creates greater intimacy in the long run.
That’s not to say that you can’t do anything kind for your man. Maybe you are in the mood to make him breakfast, with no strings attached or expectation he’ll spend time with you at the table.
As a general practice though, resigning from the roles of his nutritionist, secretary, financial advisor, wardrobe consultant, key finder, and fitness trainer not only frees you to live your own life but frees him to take more initiative himself.
Vicky was scared to resign as her husband’s alarm clock because his extensive napping put him at risk of oversleeping for work, where just a few tardies could mean being fired.
She decided to trust that he was capable of waking himself up and getting to work on time. Unfortunately, he overslept and did lose his job.
Vicky could have let him have it, but she didn’t. He got to have life lessons, not wife lessons.
And he never got fired for tardiness again.
Not only that, he started taking initiative in all sorts of areas she’d never expected, from making the time to do the dishes before he left for work to doing the kids’ bath and bedtime whenever he was home to increasing their prosperity like never before.
When Vicky let go of having to take care of her husband, she felt so taken care of. And that made them both really happy.
4) Become a Great Conversationalist
Treating your man with respect makes him want to be around you more, talk to you more often, share more deeply and make love to you more passionately.
Often the most respectful thing you can do is to be there for him by just listening without trying to fix or solve.
Marjorie’s husband kept waking up in the middle of night anxious about things from his childhood. She let him know she was available, even in the middle of the night, and would be happy to listen.
Sure enough, at 4:00 in the morning, he cuddled up, cried and shared with her. The next morning, he said he felt so much better.
Marjorie said she felt so loved. It had been a long time since she could be a safe place for her husband to turn and open up.
Who knew that learning to be a good listener would foster the deep talks she had always wanted.
5) Use Your Voice for Good
If you get out of the business of helping your husband and become a safe listening space for him, does that mean you’re supposed to become a mute?
Of course not! He didn’t marry you to have a Stepford wife.
I bet he was drawn to a woman who had things to say.
If that doesn’t feel like the case anymore, perhaps the most powerful way to use your voice is to express gratitude.
Letting him know how much you appreciate him being a great provider or how taken care of you feel because he always takes out the garbage can go a long way toward making him feel successful as a man. Not to mention that seeing you pleasable makes him want to do even more to please you!
This goes even if he throws out bait that sounds like he can’t handle something, whether finding the dog shampoo or paying the mortgage.
If you want to experiment with not helping or rescuing him, why not send the message that you trust him to take care of the situation? Saying something like “I’m so glad you’re taking care of that for us” reminds him that he’s responsible now and that you’re grateful.
He’ll hear a powerful subtext: “You’ve got this.”
(Which is a great thing to say out loud too!)
6) Let Him Support You
Just as you want to be supportive to your husband, don’t forget to give him the opportunity to save the day for you.
Do you need something picked up across town at rush hour?
Are you nervous about the presentation you’re doing at work?
Or maybe you just want to take a bath without kids interrupting?
Letting your husband be your hero can go a long way toward showing that you rely on him too, and that he serves a vital purpose in your life, which can be the best support of all. Turning toward each other strengthens connection and lowers stress hormones, and while it’s counterintuitive, that includes you being the one who needs support sometimes too.
You may feel he’s already too burdened and that needing anything is only going to make matters worse.
But you might be surprised how much confidence he feels when he’s able to solve one of your challenges. Showing your vulnerability is a great way to show that you see his strength too.
Now that you have all these tools for creating a culture of true mutual support, what will you experiment with this week? Receiving? Resigning as his mother or any other roles? Expressing your gratitude or sharing your challenges?
I can’t wait to hear how it serves you!