How to Train Your Husband

Posted on June 11, 2015


Now that I have your interest, let me start off by saying that you can’t train him, at least not directly.  There is an old cliché that says that “a woman marries a man expecting him to change and he doesn’t; a man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change, and she does.”  Old clichés are old clichés for a reason, i.e. there is a grain of truth in them.  My grandmother used to say, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  Also those great philosophers, The Gin Blossoms, sang, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”  Or from another great group of philosophers (and one hit wonders), The Foundations, “Build me up, Buttercup; don’t break my heart.” Let’s try combining some of this “wisdom” with some research findings and see where it leads us.

First, we really don’t want to feel like your project or a work in progress.  We want you to think we are pretty great just like we are.  Our egos are pretty fragile, and if you bruise our ego, we are more likely to show you the anger than the hurt.  The research from John and Julie Gottman has found that relationship health requires five positives for every negative.  It may just be my own insecurities, but I have always thought that number was low.  I want more significantly more than five positives from my wife before I am ready to hear the negative about myself.

I once worked for a bank that decided that they wanted to create “a culture of 360 degree coaching.”  The concept was that you would daily be coaching your employees, your boss, your peers, and your teammates in other departments.  The expected result was that by continually coaching each other, we would all get better at our jobs.  The problem is that you can only coach to the extent that the relationship will support it.  If I know that you are a big fan of mine, I can hear some difficult feedback and accept it as productive input.  If you are not a fan, I am more likely to hear that you just don’t think too highly of me or that you just don’t like me[1].  It also helps if you really take the time to find out my reasons for doing things the way I do.  Applying this to training your husband, he can better hear difficult feedback from you if he feels like you are a big fan of his.

Second, avoid criticism and soften your start up.  This also comes from the research on couple relationships.  Criticism is one of those things that is so damaging to relationships that it has been called one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  You need to be able to complain in marriage.  You can’t have a satisfying relationship and real intimacy without some ability to voice complaints.  When you get into criticism is when the discussion starts becoming about your partner’s character traits rather than about the issue at hand.  Assigning words such as selfish or irresponsible to your partner’s behavior moves you into criticism.  “You always” or “you never” are also indicative of criticism.  The likely response to these is defensiveness (which is also one of the four horsemen).  When you want to bring up a sensitive subject, a soft start up can go a long way toward enabling him to hear you without becoming defensive.  Speaking from what the desired change would mean for you is easier to hear than hearing that he is somehow not measuring up as a husband.[2]

Third, by all means avoid contempt.  Contempt is the most damaging of the horsemen.  It takes a number of forms.  These may include name calling, sarcasm, or even a rolling of the eyes when your partner is talking.  Your tone of voice can convey contempt.  Anything that conveys that “what you are saying or doing is so stupid I can’t fathom it” is contempt.  It will run counter to your attempt to effectively train your husband and will have the reverse affect.  A good test for contempt would be if you could add the words “you idiot” to the end of the statement and they seem to fit, it is contempt.

Fourth, how you talk to yourself about him matters.  If you focus on his shortcomings you are more likely to criticize and less likely to show appreciation.  It is helpful to remind yourself why you chose him in the first place.

Fifth, let’s talk about sex.  What is (or isn’t) happening in the sex life is usually reflective of what else is going on in the relationship.  There are many dynamics to our sex lives, which contributes to why sex so often becomes a relationship problem in marriage.  Sex is an attachment behavior.  That is it is both an expression of attachment and a means of maintaining attachment.  Sex is a bonding agent.  During sex, dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin are released into our brains.  It facilitates relationship bonding.  It is worthwhile for couples to make the effort to keep the sex life going.  Modern life can be exhausting.  If you are both working and raising a family, it may seem there is no time or energy left for sex.  If you want your man trainable, you might want to find ways to keep making the investment of keeping your sex life alive.  Another odd dynamic you may have noticed is that he wants to have “make-up sex.”  A woman more frequently will engage in sex as an expression of the closeness and intimacy she is already feeling toward her partner.  Men often seek sex to reconnect after a fight to overcome the feeling of lost intimacy.  This is not to say that you need to accept a man into your body an hour after he was calling you “bitch” (which is contempt, and as indicated above is extremely damaging to the relationship).  It also does not require that you be on the receiving end of eroticized rage.  It is to say that it is important to a man to feel that his wife still desires him and is willing to make sex a priority.

Sixth, when my daughters were younger, I used to tell them (only slightly tongue in cheek) that when a man tells a woman a story, he is looking for one of three responses.  1) Poor baby; 2) You’re wonderful; or 3) Everything is going to be alright.  We like to be the heroes in our own stories, receive sympathy when things so wrong, and have reassurance when we are worried.

Let’s cut to the chase.  We are pretty much untrainable if you are trying to train us.  However, we will slay dragons, put the toilet seat down, and change the baby for a woman who thinks we are wonderful, builds us up, is interested in us sexually, and has our back in times of stress.  We are relatively simple creatures.  Build us up and ask us nicely, and we will pretty much do anything you want.  The best way to train us is not to try.

[1] This is also likely to make me resentful of you rather than really examine the feedback.

[2] It is also wise to be careful about doing this in front of others.  I have been in too many social situations in which the successful professional is treated as an incompetent boob by his wife.  During the drive home, I have often praised my wife for not doing that to me.  When men describe the experience in my office, the term they often use is feeling emasculated.  You can’t train a man who is feeling emasculated.  You only make him angry and resentful.