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Marriage and Giving: Primer for Men

February 15, 2010 | by Emuna Braverman

A practical primer for men.

I told the women that marriage is all about giving. I reiterated the important idea that marriage isn't 50/50 but rather 100/100. And I promised a reciprocal piece for men. So guys, listen up! Some husbands labor under the mistaken belief that women shouldn't need so much attention, that a woman who requires (demands?) a lot of giving is "high maintenance" (not meant to be a flattering term). As the late Ann Landers used to say, "Wake up and smell the coffee." Did you think you were entering some fantasy Eden where your wife does all the giving and you do all the taking? You are in for a surprise.

But never fear; you will actually discover that when you give more, you care more; that when you give more, your relationship is deepened; that when you give more, your marriage is strengthened. You will (hopefully) realize that the only way to create a paradise on earth is through giving.

Here are some ways to give to your wife. This is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to be creative, extravagant, expansive on your own.

1. Take her out to dinner. While you may prefer a home-cooked meal (see the primer for women) or eating in, your wife would love a break. She'd like to get out of the kitchen – and preferably, out of the house. Offer to relieve her burden and take her to a restaurant. It doesn't have to be a fancy one (although those are nice also); just somewhere she doesn't have to do the cooking. If going out is just too difficult (when our children were young they seemed to require two babysitters to handle the whole crew which was a daunting proposition – for the babysitters and us!), order in. It's not quite as relaxing (okay, it's not even close) but at least she gets some respite from the constant cooking. And finally, even if your wife is cooking, you should be helping – with setting the table, clearing the table, washing the dishes. These activities should not be saved for a special occasion.

2. Listen to her. I mean really listen – whether what she speaks about is inherently interesting to you or not. It's important to her; that should make it important to you. This should be done to the exclusion of all other activities. The newspaper should be folded up and the remote out of your hand. A short span of concentrated listening goes a long way.

3. Express your affections in words. Women never get tired of being told they are loved. You will never use up your quotient of "I love you"s. Don't save it for special occasions. Say it in the morning. Say it in the evening. Call her from the office to tell her. Which leads to the next point...

4. Call your wife during the day. I would have thought this was a no-brainer but I have discovered it is not so. When this idea was suggested to a couple we know, the husband responded "I haven't called her from work in 30 years, why should I start now?" This did not augur well for the next 30 years! Men get caught up in their work, too busy and too distracted to think about home. You should always take a break to check in, just to say hi, just to communicate that the relationship is important to you.

5. Take your wife's calls while you're at the office. This is the corollary to #4. While there are certainly times when you are in a meeting or focused on a particular project and need to call your wife back, don't forget to do so! And, in general, take a deep breath, switch gears, and make yourself available to her. You and your marriage will be glad you did.

6. Express affection in actions. This doesn't mean chocolate, flowers or jewelry – although it could! This means take caring of the little requests your wife makes. Change that light bulb (I try to do most of those myself but, at 4'11", there are some that I just can't reach!), take out the garbage, hang the picture, fix the leaky faucet. These things may not be a big deal to you (you didn't even notice it was dripping) but they matter to her. When you respond (in a timely fashion) to her requests, your wife feels that she counts. And that you care.

7. Express affection in actions, part 2. Express your affection through touch. All human beings need to be touched in order to thrive. Women may be needier in this area than men (although I wouldn't be cavalier about a man's need for touch neither). And wives, in particular, need that affirmation of love. Don't be stingy with your physical affection.

8. Help with the children. This seems like stating the obvious, but observation has taught me this isn't always so. They are not her children, they are your children. It's not enough to just play with the kids; you need to help with the work too. Feed them, bathe them, change some diapers. Besides helping your wife (and thereby strengthening your marital bond), you will also deepen your relationship with your children. You may decide you want to do bath time every night! (Okay, who am I kidding?)

9. Plan your schedule in a thoughtful manner. Pursuant to #8, you can only help if you're at home. Where possible, plan your day to be available at dinnertime and, if you have kids, at bedtime. Family dinnertime is a boon to the health of the whole family – and your presence is a big help to your wife. If you can, hold your meetings over breakfast or lunch. If you can resume your work after the kids are bathed and tucked in, it will not only be literally helpful, it will demonstrate thoughtfulness and consideration. And a healthy sense of priorities.

10. Tell her she is attractive. This is also one of those things you can't say often enough. Although we rarely believe it, we still like to hear it. In fact, it is crucial for women to know their husbands think they're beautiful. Whatever they weigh! Be alert for opportunities to express your appreciation and try to notice new looks – hair, dress, shoes. It all makes a big difference. She's not insecure (okay we all are a little) or high maintenance to need this – she's just normal.

11. Compliments. And while we're on the subject, look for other opportunities to praise her as well. Notice new decorations in the home, notice how clean your house is (and close your eyes to the mess if it isn't), be grateful for all the courses in the meal she has prepared – how flavorful, how healthy, how appealing. And those homemade chocolate chip cookies – wow! These should be easy brownie points, small ways to make a big difference.

As we said, the idea is simple. It's only giving. But if you want to retreat to your cave (thank you John Gray) or your lazy-boy recliner (is that stereotype really true?), if you want dinner, a drink and to be left alone, then giving to someone else is difficult and frustrating. But the alternative is not a marriage. It may be a limited partnership but it's not a marriage. In a marriage, you need to lift up to meet the needs of your wife and family. It is definitely not the most comfortable option, but it's the most fulfilling one.


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