For decades, society has painted men in several harmful extremes. The depictions include men stereotyped as macho tough guys, power-hungry sexists, or incompetent, clueless fathers. These oversimplified perceptions can prevent women from seeing husbands as the complex and sometimes overwhelmed individuals that they are. I'm talking here about husbands who are doing everything they can to be reliable providers in a time of economic instability in jobs that may fall far short of their "dream job," and who are supportive partners that share in household responsibilities and parenting.
In addition to typical stressors, some husbands deal with mental illness and medical issues, either their own or a family member's. Their schedule might also include schooling or other kinds of additional training in an effort to build a brighter future for their families. In the midst of their sacrifices, they often desperately miss taking time to pursue their personal interests and can feel discouragement whenever society tells them that they just aren't enough.
Husbands are human, and humans can break down under pressure. If you are a wife who finds that your husband is overwhelmed, burned out, and falling apart, what do you do? I conducted my own informal survey to ask husbands of different ages and situations to share their thoughts on the best ways for wives to help their husbands reset. They enthusiastically recommended a variety of suggestions. Here are the ten most common tips:
Express appreciation for his sacrifices.
Many men feel drained and suffer the loss of personal hopes, dreams, and hobbies as they spend time dedicated to supporting their families. Sometimes those sacrifices are made for a job that doesn't pay enough or provide them with the personal growth or intrinsic satisfaction they might hope for. Besides that, society has placed demands for husbands to help more in the home, and many husbands are sacrificing what little time they once had for themselves to meet these expectations.
As a wife, you can thoughtfully and frequently express appreciation for all that your husband does. Make sure your expectations for him are reasonable in his current circumstances. Frequently take time to see past your own many sacrifices, whether acknowledged or not, to notice and mention your appreciation to him for the many things he does for you and others.
Support his personal interests and goals.
Two of the most common stressors husbands mentioned were that they had unmet personal goals and felt they couldn't pursue personal interests. Most wives have a perfect understanding of what that feels like in the midst of their own demands and might be tempted to say, "Join the club!"
When wives take time to understand their husband's personal goals and interests, they can brainstorm together and devise creative solutions that can result in offering "wings to fly." As wives support husbands outside of work and family, husbands may be better prepared to maintain a healthy emotional and mental state when stressors begin to add up.
Take a few moments and just give him a hug.
One of the husbands in the survey talked about the fantasy many wives have that their husbands will regularly and spontaneously give them hugs without any expectations for conversation or sex. He turned the thought around and asked insightfully, "But how many wives do that for their husbands?" In fact, more than 60% of the husbands surveyed also expressed their desire for a "no-strings-attached" hug to help them reset. Simple fact: Sometimes, a husband just wants a hug. That's all. A sincere hug that says without words: "I'm here for you, I love you, I'm happy to be with you" and sets any expectations aside. To add an extra bonus, walk away with a warm, understanding smile and without asking them if they "want to talk about it."
Give him a day off from everything.
Whether you take the kids someplace else for the day or he goes out, give your husband a solid day completely to himself. No work, no cleaning, no cooking for anyone but himself, and no contact. Set clear expectations on when this day begins and when it ends, and then leave him alone to enjoy himself.
One husband talked about his habit of putting his personal worries, frustrations, and fears into the back of his mind when he is at work or with his family. Those thoughts just keep adding up until he either breaks down or has enough alone time to process his feelings. A set day for some alone time can relieve husbands of other responsibilities, so they can take time to relax and address those concerns in their own way.
Make suggestions when approached…and then let him choose.
Do you ever wonder whether your husband wants or values your advice on his personal concerns? Interestingly, the survey revealed that most husbands respect and value their wives' opinions, especially as a way to sort through possible solutions. Your husband may not choose the solutions you present, but he likely values the way your viewpoint can help him find clarity in his stressful situation. Whenever he asks, share your thoughts and your support. Show him that you trust him and value his decision-making process without needing to control it.
Let your husband know it's okay for him to express his emotions.
Unfortunately, decades of social expectations for men to "stop crying and man up" have made it difficult for many husbands to express and process emotions in a healthy way. Not only that, but some women may not be used to seeing their husbands show emotion—and whether intentional or not, might react negatively when it happens.
When you verbally or non-verbally communicate clear acceptance of your husband's emotional expression, it opens the door for him to feel safe sharing his true feelings. If you find that you are stressed when your husband is breaking down, ask yourself whether you are holding him to the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of "always being tough." Just because he is feeling stressed doesn't mean that the problem is something to panic about.
Sincerely ask how he is feeling about his job.
When was the last time you sincerely said, "Hey, I'd love to know how you feel about your work sometime. Are you happy there? Do you feel like you are a valued employee? What do you feel could be better?" The routine question: "How was your day?" shows interest, but usually doesn't lend itself to much more than a routine answer, such as "fine."
Most husbands spend the majority of their time at their job, which often makes work-related issues one of the largest stressors! Ask questions that open the door for him to share details—being prepared for whatever the answer may show your husband that you really care about him and can be his friend and reliable confidant. Lose any sense of an underlying agenda and ask with an earnest and sincere desire to understand his life and experiences better.
Pray for him.
A majority of the husbands I surveyed said that having their wives pray for them would help them when they are feeling overwhelmed. Interestingly, research has shown that when a spouse prays for their partner's well-being on a daily basis, their relationship satisfaction increases—especially when the spouse asks their partner what to specifically pray for. Praying for your husband can also increase your compassion, patience, love, and understanding in the relationship. Husbands may often feel an increase in love, which can lead to more positive interactions between spouses. Connecting through spiritual means can add one more dimension to a supportive relationship.
Trade, share, or take on different responsibilities, either temporarily or permanently.
With the push for a more egalitarian society in the workplace and home, you may find ways to take advantage of flexibility in the workplace. Maybe both spouses might have a chance to support children's sporting events. Maybe the workplace is run on a traditional schedule, but you switch who mows the lawn and who reads to the kids. Maybe the wife works full-time while the husband stays home or works part-time to better meet the needs of the family through a particularly difficult time. To add a bit of variety, talk about the possibility of trading, sharing, or taking on different responsibilities, and whether that change would only be temporary or more permanent. Change of routines can reset individuals and may help your family reach a greater balance.
Ask him what you can do to help.
Every person—and therefore every marriage—is different, so asking your husband directly what you can do to help him reset when he is overwhelmed is undoubtedly the most important suggestion here.
Perhaps you can read this article together and ask how he feels about each option or if there are other suggestions he would add to the list. Perhaps your husband resets well after having sex, eating a favorite meal, working out, or just venting about the pressures of being a husband. There are many ways that wives can help their husbands reset, and all it might take is a sincere, six-word question to figure it out: "What can I do to help?"
For husbands wanting to know how they can help their wives, please read the companion article "How to Reset Your Wife When She's Falling Apart."