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:
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.
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,
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