Most women do about 11 things at the same time (including talking on the phone)especially if they're married with children! We get good at responsibility-juggling because we have to: There's a job to manage, diapers to change, a house to clean, books to read, friends to reach out to, not to mention a husband to care for. We know how it feels to lose heart when we get burdened by too many responsibilities.
While your husband may not juggle the same number of details you do, the challenges he deals with are heavy ones, toostarting with a wife to love and serve, a career at which to succeed, even children to nurture. And, just like you, he can lose heart while carrying heavy responsibilities.
That's one of the reasons why God put people together in marriagefor mutual encouragement. Unfortunately, building up is harder work than demolishing, which comes all too naturally! But an encouraged husband makes a great life partnerhe's more positive, responsive, and better equipped to work and serve your whole family.
You have an incredible ability to "make or break" your husband's day or weekor decadeby what you say and do. Here are a few ways to stand by your man and make him feel as though he's the greatest.
If you find it hard to come up with ways to encourage your husband, saying thanks is a great place to start. If things are rocky just now and you don't feel particularly thankful for your husband (believe me, this happens!), start small. Thank him for holding open a door, picking up the newspaper after he's finished, or tucking your kids into bed.
Many women hold back grateful affirmations because they think, Why should I thank him for things he should do anyway?! The first reason to do it is because you've signed up for this gig (being his wife). The second is that your positive words pave the way for your husband to do more of the same.
At our house, I make a point of profusely thanking my husband, David, every time he gives the kids a bath or gets up with our early risers so I don't have to. These things still don't happen as often as I'd like them to, but that's not stopping me from expressing my gratitude when David does come through.
Know your man.
What are his strong points? His weak ones? Become an expert on your spouse.
Maybe your husband's a wonderful father. Or maybe he's a good financial provider. But unless you're married to Mr. Perfect Guy, he probably struggles somewhere, too. Does your husband have a quick temper? Does he spend too much moneyor time on the computer? While these are points for prayer, they're also areas in which encouragement can make a difference.
Develop a sharp eye for noticing small steps in positive directions, then encourage your husband in them. Every time I see my husband, David, who tends to be a spender, make an effort to save money, I notice it out loud. I tell him how much I appreciate him disciplining himself for some of our long-term goals instead of dropping cash at the local hardware store every Saturday.
I've discovered that when I notice my spouse's efforts at self-discipline, it motivates him to keep working on his areas of weakness. And while David still doesn't have the keenest fashion sense (it took me a couple years to eradicate the Hawaiian shirts from his wardrobe!), and he may be the world's biggest packrat (he still has his library card from when he was 13 years old, living 4 states away), he's a fabulous cook and gardener. And he's a tender-hearted father. Knowing him well, I get a close-up view of all that's best about David.
Search for significance.
God created us with a deep desire for meaning and significance. David has told me he finds the most meaning in being a father, so I do my best to affirm the good stuff I see going on between him and our kids. I pretend to be "jealous" of the way Julia and Robbie fly out the back door to meet David at the end of his workday, and I fake despair over the way Robbie only wants David to rock him to sleep. The kids know I'm delighted they're so attached to Daddy. I thank David for the time he takes to talk with our kids at bedtime. I encourage him that his investment in their young lives will create a long-lasting closeness between them.
Maybe your husband finds meaning in his job. So show interest in what goes on at his workplace: What challenges does he face, what new projects is he involved in, what goals must he meet? As you understand the specifics, your encouragement can become more specific. You can enter into his enthusiasm over praise from a supervisor or a breakthrough with a difficult coworker.
If you've never talked to your husband about why he thinks God put him in his job and in your family, ask him!
Dare to dream with him.
Is there something your husband always longed to do when you were first married, but he's stopped mentioning it now that you're busy with bills and kids and ministry demands? What's his dream for the future?
In all our years of apartment dwelling, David grew flowers on windowsills and small porches. At garage sales and thrift stores, I'd pick up how-to books on gardening and building greenhouses. We'd lived in our first home about two minutes when he started building a greenhouse in our backyard (even though, in my estimation, there were more pressing projects to tackle). I shut up and prayed he wouldn't spend too much. He didn'tand now I've got bouquets in the house almost year-round.
I'm just glad he only wanted a greenhouse and not a motorcycle (with my vivid imagination, I can't stop visualizing skin on pavement). But my friend, Jane, swallowed any fears she had and encouraged her husband to buy a decent motorcycle, even if it wasn't his dream Harley. She even rides with him!
Your support in listening to his dreamsand even enabling a few to come truecommunicates your respect. Dreaming together is like marriage insurance: You're blending your hopes for a shared future.
Be on his side.
Keep thinking of you two as a lifelong team. So when your husband has a problem, it's your problem, too. A husband longs for this kind of companionshipto know he's not alone.
My friend, Alicia, talks about sticking up for her husband in public. You won't hear her voicing complaints about her husband, Dan, to friends at church, or making belittling comments to him in front of others. If they've got problems, says Alicia, they deal with them privately.
If you have children, include your husband in parenting decisions (even if he defers most of the troubleshooting in this area to you). Stand by his discipline decisions. Model your respect for him in front of your kids, and he'll really feel your encouragement!
Get off your agenda and onto his.
We get accustomed to organizing our family's weekly menus, schedules, social calendars, and errands. So sometimes it may be hard to let go of the reins and let our husband "drive" some of the family time. Yet it may be as simple as starting one Saturday with a flexible attitude, prepared to rearrange our tasks and errands around his plans for the day.
This is a tough one for me. I like to plan aheadwhile David's approach is more laid-back. He'll say, "Let's take a bike ride," and the next thing I know, we're at the park, then at Tastee-Freeze. But the family fun that evolves when we're doing things spontaneously creates a nice balance for us all.
Nothing shows our love and respect more than backing off to give our husband's plans and ideas some room to develop.
Be available for physical intimacy.
I asked David, "What do I do that encourages you?" Right away he answered, "Your black nightgown encourages me!" Of course David was deliberately being naughty. But you know what? I think he's right. He does handle the demands of work and family more cheerfully when we've been having sex regularly. Maybe it's because when that strong physical need is met, there's one less thing to distract him. But it's also because our physical intimacy's a barometer for the rest of our relationship. If we're coming together physically, it's a good sign we're working well as a team. It's a signal (an encouragement!) to him that he's doing fine at home.
Don't wait for your husband to "deserve it."
This last bit of advice is perhaps the most important. Maybe your husband takes you for granted. Maybe he never says thank you. So what I'm askingfor you to encourage and respect him anywayseems like something requiring superhuman strength.
Here's the good news: There is superhuman power accessible to help you. Ask God to give you his love for your husband. Ask God to help you see one or two good aspects in your husband you can praise and respect.
My friend Michele Weiner-Davis, a popular marriage therapist, calls this "tipping the first domino." Jesus called it doing "to others what you would have them do to you" (Matt. 7:12). You both need affirmation and encouragement, but you can't make your husband speak the words you need. You can only be responsible for your actions, so go first! Be the one to set a new standard for encouraging words and behavior in your marriage. God will honor your efforts, and your husband's going to love it!
ANNETTE LAPLACA, a freelance editor and writer, lives in the Chicago area.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine. Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.