As Halloween gets closer and we’re thinking about scary stuff, I want to let you in on your husband’s secret fears.
I’m not talking about zombies, vampires or other horror movie creatures. Or even everyday creepy-crawlies like spiders.
Here’s the twist: Some of the things that frighten your husband the most might be things you are actually doing.
Of course, you’re not trying to be scary. And you probably don’t see your husband expressing these fears. Guys get conditioned to appear strong and hide any sign of fear or vulnerability. But that doesn’t mean they’re not playing out in other ways in your marriage — for example, if your husband starts to seem withdrawn or distant.
Let’s talk a little more about some of men’s most common fears in relationships and how you can help dispel them.
1. He’s afraid he can’t make you happy.
Men feel great when they can make their wives happy; it’s often how they measure their success as a husband. If your guy is making an effort to please you, but you tend to complain, criticize, or act lukewarm, don’t be surprised if his motivation eventually fizzles. If he sees you constantly down in the dumps and doesn’t know how he can change that, he may end up thinking he’s simply the wrong man for you, and then back off.
How to calm this fear: Assume that your husband cares about your happiness. When he does something to lift you up, let him know it! If he’s making an effort and simply missing the mark, be kind and clue him in on what would work better. There are some romantic but misguided, notions floating around in our culture that if he’s “the one,” he’ll “just know” how to make you happy. He may be fabulous, but I doubt he can read your mind! So, go ahead and tell him what you’d like to do for Valentine’s Day, what helps when you’re upset, even what feels good in bed. He’ll be grateful. And amid the daily stresses of life, don’t forget to flash him a smile now and then.
2. He’s scared that he’s useless. We women have so many more options available to us in our lives. Some of us are the primary breadwinners of the family. Others are choosing to be single parents. Marriage and involvement with men are becoming real choices. It’s not unusual to hear even married women openly say that they “don’t need” a man. As you can imagine, that attitude can do a number on a guy’s self-esteem. Men are still being judged by their ability to take care of the women in their lives. So, it sounds corny, but your husband really wants to be your hero sometime, to have you look you look at him with love and admiration because he brings some significant value to your life.
How to calm this fear: There is no need to suppress your competence or independence as a woman. However, please do remember to create room for your husband to feel effective too. Ask for his help, not because you’re a damsel in distress, but because no one should have to take care of everything by themselves! Let him know that he is of value in the relationship by noticing and appreciating what he provides, whether it’s financial support, practical help, or a shoulder to lean on: “Thanks for cooking dinner today. It really took some pressure off me.” Remember that a healthy relationship has room for both of you to need and depend on each other.
3. He’s terrified of being humiliated. Vulnerability is not something most men allow themselves to experience frequently. A central code of manhood is that a real man must appear strong at all times. You may want your husband to lower his defenses with you, but this may be really scary for him. After all, there is a real risk that if he opens up, you could hurt him.
How to calm this fear: Be extremely disciplined when your husband is exposing his softer side, recognizing that you have tremendous power to hurt him. Men are a lot more sensitive to criticism, disappointment, and rejection than you might imagine. Never insinuate that he is weak, especially when he is emotionally exposed. Otherwise, he may close the door to emotional intimacy permanently. Be respectful, kind, and affirming when your husband takes the risk to let you see parts of himself he seldom shares with anyone else. And then, watch the love and trust grow!
4. He’s worried that he’s not important to you. After being married for a while, you may start to take your husband for granted. Because you assume he’s not going anywhere, he may fall lower down on your priority list and he may truly get less attention. Men worry that they’ll fall off the radar for you after you have kids. And the thing is, they’re often right. I see this happen frequently in relationships. When you understand that for a man, their spouse is often one of very few people with whom he is emotionally close, it’s easier to understand why he may be upset with having less of your time and attention.
How to calm this fear: Make time for each other. In the early days of your relationship, it was easy to feel close. That love and passion don’t have to die now that you’re an established couple with a more demanding schedule. You just have to deliberately commit to making your relationship a clear priority. Remember that strengthening your bond is the best thing you can do for your family. So rather than just saying, “Of course you’re important to me,” go ahead and show it by scheduling some time just for the two of you regularly.
5. He fears being smothered. The opposite extreme — when you don’t have a life outside of your relationship — is pretty scary to men too. No one wants to be the center of another person’s world. It’s exhausting and way too intense!
How to calm this fear: Give your guy a little more space by focusing on yourself and the other important things in your life more often. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you both take time to cultivate yourselves, it will draw you closer together.
Remember, it’s never sustainable for either of you to be driven by fear in your relationship. Want to learn more about your husband’s perspective and what’s behind his actions? Check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love. When you subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll get incredibly useful insights into the male mind with the free report: “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”
A marriage does not remain healthy and survive hardship by chance. Instead, such longevity is the result of thousands of decisions to move toward your partner, rather than away, especially when things are tough.
Are you doing some spring cleaning at home? While you’re in that mindset, why not also clear out some bad relationship habits? When you toss what’s not working, your relationship will feel more pleasant and full of possibility.
Consider ridding your relationship of the following damaging habits, and try out some new ways of relating:
1. Micromanaging. When your husband loads the dishwasher, do you redo it because he loaded it “the wrong way? ” If he said he would plan the activities for your upcoming trip, do you constantly check to see whether he’s actually done so, or offer suggestions on how he could do it better? Although you may not realize it, micromanaging sends the message that you don’t trust your husband or believe he is competent. He feels insulted, which is why he seems touchy or flies off the handle when you make “helpful” comments.
Try this new habit: If your husband is handling a job, stay out of it. The dishes will probably turn out just fine, even if he doesn’t load the washer your way. And, your husband will definitely feel better about taking on other jobs in the future if he is not constantly being “supervised” on-the-job.
2. Uncontrolled expression of feelings. No doubt about it: Authenticity is vital to intimacy in your relationship. But constant, intense expression of feelings, without any filtering, can overwhelm your husband. For some of us, it feels good to get it all out with a tirade or a good cry over our daily frustrations. But if your husband is always on the other end of your venting, he may feel as if he is getting pummeled. You know you’re just blowing off steam, but he may assume the situation that has you upset is worse than it actually is.
Try this new habit: Have empathy for your husband, and consider how your venting affects him. If he’s not someone who is comfortable with intense emotion, let him know you’re just venting or tap friends and family for emotional support instead.
3. Communicating indirectly. Do you simmer in resentment when you’re upset with your husband? Perhaps, you show your displeasure by being sarcastic, giving him the silent treatment or slamming doors, hoping he’ll get the hint and ask you what’s wrong. In all likelihood, you’re seething, and he’s genuinely confused about what’s going on.
Try this new habit: Be direct. You may think it’s impossible for him NOT to know you’re upset and why, but that’s a dangerous assumption. Your husband really might not be deciphering your message clearly, so practice being transparent about what you need. Of course, always communicate in a way that shows compassion and respect, without resorting to blame.
4. Focusing on the task, not the person. It’s easy to get awfully single-minded when there’s something that needs to get done. Because you are so close to him, with your husband, it’s easy to forget common courtesy, and just start issuing directives: “Don’t forget to go by the drugstore! Check on the kids while I finish this!” To your husband, this behavior can feel dismissive, or like he’s your subordinate, not your partner. Even if men don’t react outwardly to this kind of behavior, they often feel resentful and may emotionally detach from you.
Try this new habit: Remember the basics of being kind: “Please,” “Thank you,” “Do you have time to …?” Manners and thoughtfulness shouldn’t disappear just because you’re married!
5. Having an endless “honey-do” list. Does this sound familiar? You tell your husband it would make you happy if he cleaned the garage. Then, after he gets done with the garage, you throw in, “Oh, and could you also do one more thing?” After that, you make your next request. If there’s no pause for gratitude and acknowledgement, your husband may start to feel that he will never be successful at making you happy because you are always focused on what is not right. Of course, your intention is to simply get everything on your list done, so it may surprise you when his enthusiasm starts to wane.
Try this new habit: Be intentional about pointing out the positive, and let your husband know how his accomplishments make you happy. Pause to notice what’s he’s done before putting your head down and moving onto the next thing.
If you know someone really well, it’s easy to take them for granted and to assume you know them like the back of your hand. Commit yourself to bringing the two of you closer by trying out some simple new habits, and watch your love bloom!
We’ve talked before about the toll that stress can take on your relationship. Now, let’s look at a few ways to relieve stress to improve your marriage.
Mind your basic needs Are you so busy that you neglect the fundamentals of self-care? If you regularly skip meals, skimp on sleep and fail to drink enough water, that can leave you feeling pretty lousy, and may bring out your worst self in your marriage (and your career, your parenting, and on and on). Move these healthy habits higher on your priority list. Even 30 extra minutes of sleep can do wonders to ease stress. And when you’re less stressed, you’re truly able to be more present in your life.
Ease up on yourself We can only do so much. Limits are nothing to be ashamed of; they are simply a reality of our existence. Constantly pushing past our limits makes us more vulnerable to relationship problems, illness, overeating, and addiction. What can you take off your plate? Do you have any perfectionist standards that you can relax, even a little bit? Lowering the demands on you will open breathing room for your marriage as well.
Balance marriage and parenting A strong marriage buffers stress and protects your emotional well-being. But for most couples, there is simply less time to spend together after becoming parents, and we lose some of the stress-relieving benefits of this intimate bond. If you never prioritize your marriage, you put it at risk –and that is not good for you or your children. Even if it is brief at first, schedule time alone with your husband to keep the connection between you strong.
Nurture your support system Did you know that the average U.S adult has only two people they can talk to about the most important things in their life, and one of them is probably their spouse? That’s too much pressure to put on your marriage. It’s easy to neglect our relationships with friends and family amid the busyness of daily life, but we need them. Do something to reach out this week. Is there a friend you haven’t talked with in a while? Give her a call.
Remember that even when you feel boxed in by daily demands, you can still make choices that start to ease the pressure and simplify your life. Lowering overall stress is a process that can take some time, but will ultimately yield rich payoffs in your marriage and beyond. What small step can you take today to start lowering your stress level?