Valentines Day is here, and in the spirit of the season, here is an old essay I wrote in 2017. I received an email from a young man who claimed I was always championing the cause of women, and he wanted to know, ‘What advice do you have for men? I am getting married soon and I don’t want to get into trouble. How can I be a good husband?’. In response to his question I wrote a Loud Whispers article called ‘How to be a good husband: Ten suggestions’. I do not like giving relationship advice to either my peers or the younger generation. This is simply because each person’s situation is unique, and what works in one context might not work in another due to so many variables. I however get asked for advice a lot of time by mostly women, and I found this young man’s question interesting. We are always telling women how to be good wives. Men are always looking for ‘Wife Material’. Women have the right to be on the lookout for ‘Husband Material’ as well. This is why I have renamed this essay ‘Husband Material’.Every marriage involves two human beings and not one person on a perpetual ego trip. It takes two mature, respectful and compassionate people, who love each other, to make a marriage work.
Respect your wife.
If you want your wife to respect you, it needs to be earned. If you make a habit of disrespecting your wife by for example by yelling at her in public or private, dismissing her or putting her down, she will fear you, but not respect you. There is a difference.
Your responsibility as a husband is to protect your wife. What or who you protect her from will vary. Never give any one the impression that it is alright to disrespect your wife. The usual culprits would be your family members or friends. Your wife might be too haughty, too rude, and too opinionated. Whenever anyone complains about your wife to you never say ‘This is exactly what I have been telling her’ or ‘I will deal with her’. Just say, ‘I have heard you’. When people see that you have not ‘dealt with her’ they will leave you alone. Of course you can raise these issues with her, but in ways that make her feel that you have her back. Never throw your wife under the bus.
Many of you would have read the famous John Gray book, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. One of the pillars of the book is an exploration of the different ways in which men and women communicate. Regardless of the planet you think you are from, as a husband, you need to communicate with your wife. This means saying what you want and do not want, in ways that are not hurtful or threatening. You then need to listen to what your wife has to say, and then have a mutually respectful conversation that brings both of you to a point of comfort. When you are trying to communicate, playing ‘the man card’ is not very helpful. This will only push your wife into passive aggressive mode. This does not help anyone.
Make important decisions with her
Many complaints I have heard from women about their husbands is that they take major decisions without involving them. A very important way in which you can show your wife you respect her is by making sure you make important decisions together. Arriving home and showing her documents of land you have just bought is not wise, unless it is a surprise gift for her. Men might say they have a right to do anything they like since they are the ‘head of the family’. Buying property, accepting a job that will entail your relocation to another city or country, taking out a big loan, those are important decisions that should be tabled for discussion. You cannot present your wife with a fait accompli every time and expect her to be happy.
Do not betray her trust
There are many ways in which a husband can betray the trust of his wife, but the specific issue I will address here is cheating. This seems to be second nature to many married men, thanks to their conditioning by patriarchal norms and values which grants them the license to do whatever they like. My father used to say ‘There is no place where they do not steal chickens at night’, a Yoruba saying which is about the universality of shady behavior. If you feel the need to ‘steal chickens at night’, remember that each chicken you steal has the potential to give you any number of diseases, not to mention the fact that you will find yourself in a big mess should the chickens decide to lay eggs. My advice is face your business of being a husband without the distractions and potential destruction that will come with being a ‘chicken farmer’. You also need to think about how you will feel if your wife decides to make herself available as a chicken to be eaten, why not, she is beautiful and attractive. Oh, you think others are not looking at her, knives at the ready?
Do things together
Many married men prefer the company of their friends (and their ‘chickens’) to that of their wives. Aside from going to places of worship together, and public functions such as weddings and the like, many couples act as if they have little in common. Think of something that you enjoy doing with only your wife, for example going dancing, visiting an art gallery, praying, or playing games. Whatever you love doing, create time for it. One of the things I do together with my husband is watch the news and run political commentary. We can do it for hours, sometimes all night. I know it might sound ‘nerdy’, but it is something we have loved doing together right from the days we first met in University. During the 2008 elections in Ghana, we were supporting two different political parties and we spent the entire election weekend rooting for our respective parties and making a case as to why our candidate would win. His candidate won eventually and I gracefully conceded!
Support your wife’s aspirations
If you want to be a good husband, you need to enable your wife to dream and soar. Your wife has her own aspirations and ambitions. Be the one who cheers her on and be there for her. If your wife becomes successful, even more than you, it does not make you less of a man or unqualified to be her husband. It just means that at that point in time, she is the one in the limelight. As her husband, your role is to be there for her. Do not be that husband who expects his wife to come home after a ten hour work day to start another full time job of cooking, cleaning, and supervising homework without any help from you. Talk this over with her and jointly put in place support systems to take the pressure off both of you.
A good husband is a generous one. I have heard men say, ‘ Why do I need to go out of my way to be generous to my wife, she will think I have money and increase her demands on me’. The good thing about being a generous husband, is that when you do not have, your wife will fully understand. However, if every request is met with a ‘No’ and somehow, you manage to buy a new car for yourself, do not blame your wife for being resentful. An unexpected gift (within your means) is always appreciated, and do not be found wanting on important days such as her birthday, your anniversary, Christmas and so on. Are you one of those men who say ‘Valentine’s Day is unafrican’? You are on your own!
Make love regularly
A number of men do not physically abuse their wives, but to show their displeasure, they withhold sex, sometimes for lengthy periods. This is emotional abuse and is a form of domestic violence. Unless you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, you do not have an excuse not to make love to your wife. If you do have problems it is understandable, and is nothing to be ashamed of. Talk to your wife about it and seek medical help. Some men simply ‘retire’ their wives and start looking for ‘fresh chickens’ . If you want to be a good husband, making love to your wife regularly is one of your responsibilities. You also need to give her the confidence to initiate it with you, unless you are one of those men who think it is only men who can ask for sex. A good sex life encourages intimacy and trust, very important for love to survive.
Say it out loud.
No matter how long you have been married, your wife needs to hear it. It cannot just be assumed from your ‘body language’ or taken for granted. If you think like that, you are taking her for granted. She needs to hear you say ‘I love you’, ‘You are beautiful’, ‘You look wonderful in that dress’, and ‘Your hair is amazing’. Just say it out loud. Let me whisper a tip – this will earn you many ‘trips to Jerusalem’!
So there it is. Go and be the best husband you can be. For the young ladies reading this who are going to be wooed this Valentines season, this is what ‘Husband Material’ should look like!
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com