Got a struggling husband?

I have a struggling husband and… I have no idea how to help him. 

Now and again, we get an inquiry like the above – a wife interested in helping her husband who’s having a rotten time at work.

Men who are NOT struggling need fairly simple and consistent things from their wives. Men who are in struggling still need the basics, but are desperate for essentially three things from their wife. The list below doesn’t negate other things they need (same stuff we do, like physical support, co-parenting, etc.) but when the misery is multiplying for your struggling guy, this is what we’ve seen them need most:

  1. Friendship
  2. Respect
  3. Sex

Before you roll your eyes at me, hear me out first… and know we’ll deal with how to help the guy who has been struggling for a while and you’ve already done all these things consistently for a long time… but not today.

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And know I’m not trying to freak you out – this is all based on legit research from the ninja analyst, Shaunti Feldhahn as shared on Focus on the Family.


Friendship looks similar to our female friendships in that husbands who are struggling just want someone to listen, empathize, and encourage them. Showing interest in his struggle, NOT offering advice or criticism, saying something like, “Oh, that sounds just so hard! You are so strong for sticking with it – so many would have given up by now!” and then something like, “Baby, I admire you for toughing this out. I remember when you stuck with (whatever last struggle he had was) and you persevered – you can do this. I believe in you.”

They need us to be on their side and they need to know they are winning at something. So the time he’s struggling in his work in a huge way is usually the LAST time to start working on the relationship issues. Wait for a reprieve for him – and in the meantime, like you’d do with your best friend, focus on what is good, what is right, what’s excellent in him, no matter how hard you have to look for it. If he’s just going to work, and leaving nothing for the family, at least he hasn’t quit his job – too many men do that. Pointing out what he’s winning at will help him feel like he can win elsewhere – like at work – and his situation will usually start to change as he becomes more confident. THEN you can work on the relationship issues – if they still exist, because often, focusing on being his friend and what is good about him changes our focus.

Friendship looks different than our girlfriend relationships in that there’s a thing where we spend time without the need to talk. 🙂 Shoulder-to-shoulder time also communicates friendship to a guy. Just being with him, doing whatever he’s doing, even if he’s not saying anything, makes him feel closer to you.


Research shows that men would rather feel respected than loved. The ability to treat all people with dignity and respect whether they deserve it or not says more about us than it does about them. Choosing to be respectful in the way we treat our husband will help him feel like he is worthy of that respect, and in tough times, can help motivate him to live up to higher expectations of himself. Most men, when they recognize their wife’s efforts toward respecting  will then be inspired to try harder, and they will behave better towards their wife – because of being treated with respect by the person who matters most.

If he is working, it is likely that if he has any authority, there are other women who are treating him with respect – you want him to find his greatest source of respect and admiration at home, not at the office.

Respect is a two-way street – and people treat us the way we teach them to – so by respecting yourself and having healthy boundaries in your relationship, you gain respect from him.


As crazy as it  sounds, men who are pursued physically by their wives have greater confidence and work harder at their jobs and relationships. Sex also deepens his bond to his wife by releasing the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin, which ironically is released in women through eye contact and touch. When he feels like he is winning in the bedroom (usually by his wife pursuing him and by freely enjoying herself, too! 🙂 ) he then starts to feel like he can win elsewhere. Crazy as it sounds, men who are pursued sexually also contribute more to their families by doing more housework, yard work, and home maintenance. Research suggests that men who are bonded to their wives are more likely to distance themselves from other attractive women.

Helping the Struggling Husband w/0 Taking it Personally:

Dealing with a struggling man is hard for a wife, but possible. In coaching literally thousands of women around the world, we’ve found the trick to not taking personally his grumpy mood and low self-esteem (which can show up in a lack of engagement, long hours, and negative attitude) is often the following:

  • Spend more time with your girlfriends who cheer you on.
  • Avoid your “negative Nelly” friends.
  • Get OUT and away for a weekend at least once a quarter, and definitely one or two nights a week to keep your sanity and recharge your batteries.
  • Schedule extra time to do the things that fill you up – ride horses, golf, read, pray, nap, etc., whatever makes you feel relaxed or energized, whichever helps you most.
  • Pick your battles carefully – but don’t avoid all of them. Sure, ignore it if he leaves his underwear on the floor, but if he’s harsh with you or the kids, that needs to be addressed, respectfully and kindly, or you’ll be letting his struggle spill over onto the whole family in an unhealthy way.
  • Give him a “pass” sometimes, maybe even pointing it out when you do. A simple, “Darlin’, I’m happy to clean up after dinner tonight and let you chill with the paper, but tomorrow, let’s do this together, okay?”

Marriage is a partnership – as life partners, we pick up the slack when one of us is struggling.  The golden rule applies – think how you’d like to be treated and love him well – as you’d like to be loved – and both he, you, and your marriage will benefit.

What about you? How have you coped when your husband’s been struggling? What would you add?

Need to catch up? Here’s the self assessment/evaluation (UGH!) from yesterday – tomorrow we’ll do the next thing with it! 🙂

Love to you,


If you are just joining us, these might be of interest, too:

Dare 6: Got friends?

Dare 5: Are you destroying yourself?

Dare 4: Where to Start When You are Wounded

Dare 3: Who do you think you are?

Dare 2: Identity

Dare 1: Expectations

If you got this as an email forward from a friend who cares about you and your family, know we’d love YOU to join us on this journey. You can join the journey, get marriage TIPS! articles, a free copy of my latest eBook to help with your marriage, and other marriage info here.  :) We promise not to share your email with anyone, ever. You’ll get just one or two TIPS! articles a week, plus a blog post as they come, usually 1-2 a week.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Got a struggling husband?

  1. . . . . —I’m still digging out from all the questions back on the Personal Assessment of Dare 7: Disciple; Discipler; Communicator; Confident and Assured Person; Temple Keeper, etc. . . . Turns out I am a vast people-pleaser operation (RE: Am I more concerned with making other people like me than with being holy, etc.) . . . . But with all those questions, it got even worse. I also realized I am a Debbie Downer, Negative Nancy and Pessimistic Patty all rolled into one. . . . .Lots to work on: 1) Going deeper with Christ; 2) Stopping the people pleasing; 3) Being more positive. . . . . Paul never developed a negative attitude. He picked his bloody body up out of the dirt and went back into the city where he had almost been stoned to death, and he said, “Hey, about that sermon I didn’t finish preaching —here it is!” No one will gain all without having lost all. Self-seeking is the gate by which our souls depart from peace; and total abandonment to the will of God, that by which they return.

  2. I would agree wtth all of them except the sex.. He feels pressured when I try to initiate or even bring up the subject… He doesn’t realize that 3 weeks or more has gone by and gets defensive. Pray that I can get some friends as well. I would love to go out with some but everyone is too busy with all of their children’s activities. Also, may I clarify when you say get out for the weekend and at least one night a week, did you mean by ourselves or with our husbands??? My husband would not like for me to be gone that much without him. He likes to have me at the house, even if we are not truly interacting. My presence is comforting to him. Plus, once again, I’m an extrovert and the idea of going out by myself has no appeal. I would rather go out with friends and though I have probably 50 women that would call me a friend, none that I go out with. They all have WAY too many activities…and to be honest, I do to a certain extent though as my children leave the nest, I am having more time.

  3. Love this! Such practical suggestions.

    Can I ask a question though? Seriously on the dishes? It’s ok to say something like that? I think my husband has helped me with dishes maybe a dozen times in 18 years of marriage, he typically leaves as soon as he is done eating and heads to the recliner or computer while the children and I do the clean up, I had asked for help quite a few times early on in marriage and got the vibe that it was woman’s work, do your husbands really help willingly with dishes? I think it would be nice to spend time together after supper cleaning up and have time to relax myself too…..hmm would love to hear some real life stories on this one!

  4. This is great. I had the opportunity to put this into practice just a couple weeks ago. My husband had a class he had to take. It was 10 days of INTENSE leanrning. He was stressed to the MAX and didn’t believe in himself to get through it. We spoke every night after his class and in the mornings before he entered. I would let him know I was praying for him, that I believed in him and that I just KNEW he woujld pass this and it would be great! He called me one afternoon unexpectedly to let me know that he had passed the section he was most worried about! It was awesome to have him share his happiness with me. I know that if we were not bonded he would not have done that.

    This month is his busiest month of the entire year. He is always exhausted and sore. Sometimes I get a little upset from feeling neglected, but then I remind myself that I am feeling lonely, I can persue him too! I know it won’t be one of the great times when he really puts in the effort to please me, but it will make me feel better and he will too at being persued even when he is tired stinky and grumpy!

  5. All your suggestions are excellent. What helped me a lot was spending more time in His Word and remembering that marriage is my first ministry. Also understanding boundaries has been crucial. Learning the difference between helping carry a load versus allowing another to carry their own load has been life changing.

    • Remembering marriage is your first ministry, love that! God has been teaching me the same thing! Thanks for sharing that, really confirmed it for me : )

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