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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Earlier this week my Man-up 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 about their role in getting their husbands to lean in and engage. (Sorry if you were looking for a post on a different kind of lean!)

Note: The inverse rule for Man-up 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

You’ve probably heard the feminist adage:
A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
It’s sadly ironic that this phrase, often quoted by feminist Gloria Steinem, but originally coined by Irina Dunn, is actually derived from another even more appalling philosophical quote:
Man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle.*
I very intentionally aim what I write in this blog toward Christian marriages, so I doubt that many reading here would subscribe to the second quote.  However, I wonder how many Christian wives have subtly bought into the first quote without even being aware of it. 

The truth is, God designed husbands and wives to need each other. He hardwired us with a desire for martial intimacy, because its’ 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.

While modern feminism has done great things for women’s rights, I’m afraid there has been some significant collateral damage. One of the unintended consequences is the issue I’m addressing today: 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, something to work around instead of someone to work with. This message is so pervasive that it seems to have been completely normalized – just accepted as the way things are, without a conscious thought.

Is it any surprise, then, that men often fail to lean in and 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.

That’s not to say that you have to both be involved in everything together – that’s a total overreach. But if your mindset tends toward seeing your husband as an impediment instead of a partner, you need to change your thinking.

Maybe having the right mindset is not your issue.  Perhaps you are just frustrated that you cannot get your husband to engage, to lean in and fully partner with you.  So what can you do to encourage your husband to step up and take a more active role in your marriage and family?

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 will respond positively if you just show him that you need him.

But how you do that matters – a lot.


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 have the same negative result of pushing him further away.

Here are a few suggestions for an alternate approach.

Show affection. Instead of asking “why don’t you ever do the dishes?” Instead, try resting your head on his shoulder and saying, “I’m so tired.  I know you are tired too, but can we quickly take care of these dishes together and then go snuggle up on the couch and relax?” Focus on your need, not his behavior. I know what you are thinking, if I snuggle with him then I might have to…” That leads me to the next topic.

Show him you want him sexually. You might not see an obvious connection here, but 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. But chances are that if you make the first move in this marital game of cat and mouse, assuming you actually show genuine desire for him, he will almost certainly respond by engaging in other areas. Let me be blunt: if your husband feels rebuffed sexually he will eventually disengage from your marriage.

Show admiration and appreciation. Thank him for every bit of engagement he delivers. “Thank you so much for listening to me go on and on tonight about my work situation. It’s so good for me when you help me see things more clearly. I love how you always see the big picture.” Even if his attention seemed to drift once in a while during the conversation, acknowledge the positive and don’t harp on the negative. If you reinforce the positive, you will see more of it.

There is no quick fix, but if you consistently demonstrate your love through admiration, affection, appreciation and sexual connection it’s highly likely that your husband will respond positively.

I’m sure I’ve missed some tips for getting your husband to be more fully engaged.  What approaches have you taken to help your man lean into your marriage?



2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have tried all those things consistently through the years & he consistently disengages. I've tried to figure out what I'm doing wrong but I can't see a pattern. The "head on the shoulder, I'm tired" move wouldn't phase him...we don't snuggle. He is always so "busy" or "tired"...what am I doing wrong? Or is it him choosing to be unable? Clueless

Scott said...

Clueless - sorry to hear about your struggle. There are few sure things whenever people are involved.

For you and others reading here who feel like they are doing all they can yet feel alone in their marriage journey, my friends at One Flesh Marriage have a series going that speaks directly to this situation. I highly recommend it. It starts here:
Journey Alone

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