Wives, how much input do you think you should have in your husband’s work endeavors?
I recently heard from a woman whose husband runs his own construction business, and even though he’s in charge she says it really does feel like “their” business in most ways. She used to be in the industry, so she knows the market. And she’s been very supportive of him dipping into their personal finances to personally pay the staff when things have been tight. He knows she’s on his team, and that she really believes in him and trusts his ability to grow a great business. But the last few years, cash flow has been really tight and every time she makes a suggestion for a new market to try or bring up a caution why one of his ideas might not work, he’s been getting more and more defensive. It’s affecting their marriage, and she really resents that. She recognizes that he feels like she’s criticizing him, but she thinks she should have the right to say and do whatever she needs to, for what is essentially their family business.
Do you get similar push-back when you try to offer what you see as valid and helpful input into your husband’s professional decisions and activities?
To wives in this situation, I say: Yes, you should be able to say whatever you want and need to say to your husband. Absolutely! Just as if you happened to be an equal partner in a purely business relationship, you should be able to raise issues, make suggestions, and shoot down ideas with 100 percent impunity. But in Dr. Phil’s immortal words, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
For most women, it doesn’t work very well. Here’s why.
Marriage is not a business relationship.
The problem is, you’re not in a purely business relationship. You’re the man’s wife. Now, contrary to popular opinion, perhaps, men don’t want to keep the “little woman” sidelined at home. If a wife is a smart, capable woman, most men want her involvement, ideas, help, and so on. The problem is, that is a secondary desire. In my research it was clear that what a man most needs from his wife, at all times, in all seasons, no matter what else is going on, is something quite different: he needs a cheerleader. A completely solid support. Someone who believes in him when he doesn’t believe in himself, and says “I know you can do it!”
In tough times—and even in good times—men struggle with self-doubt and feeling like a failure.
Can you see how his deepest need could be in conflict with his desire to have your involvement? When work is going well, this isn’t an issue. You can chip in, raise warnings, and it’s fine. But sometimes he gets defensive and feels like you’re criticizing him. Why? The difference is that in tough times he’s struggling with feeling like a professional failure. Every man already feels like an imposter, and wrestles with great self-doubt in a far deeper way than we as women realize. But as long as work is going along fine, when he asks himself “Do I measure up?” he can look at the markers of success and reassure himself.
Your husband needs to know that you believe in him.
But where does he look when his work isn’t going fine? He looks squarely to you. Most of all, he wants and needs to see that you believe in him. And he’s going to be far more sensitive to your words and actions that seem to imply that maybe you don’t believe in him, or don’t think he can do it. I know it can seem crazy to us, but when he is vulnerable like this, he hears “Maybe you shouldn’t pursue that client” as “You stupid idiot, you should know better.” He may know that you would never really think that disrespectfully about him, but it truly does feel that way. So what do you do?
Provide input carefully, with assurance that you trust him fully.
You have to make a choice. And I’ll warn you up front: it might not seem “fair” to you. But you have to choose what’s more important: ensuring that your husband knows you’re unswervingly behind him and believe in him, so he knows you care about him? Or exercising your right to speak into his professional life?
This isn’t to say that Choice #1 means you can’t have any input. But be prepared to do it in a very, very judicious way, with explicit affirmations that you believe in him at the same time. If you do that, you’re ultimately giving him what every man most needs: the absolute and accurate knowledge that when it comes right down to it, you do trust him in the way you say you do. And that’s a good plan for success as partners in life, for life.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Rest: A Women’s Devotional for Lasting Peace in Busy Life, focuses on a journey to rest even with life’s constant demands.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.