The Art of Being a Good Wife

Being a modern day woman is tough. We’re expected to have it all — a healthy marriage, well-behaved children, climb the corporate ladder and break the glass ceiling, perfectly toned arms, host fabulous dinner parties, and look fantastic while doing it all. While I truly appreciate the opportunities that women have access to in order to be entirely self-sufficient as well as for the freedom to learn and pursue anything and everything that I want, it. can. be. absolutely. exhausting.

Because having it all is essentially being a one-person company, with your hands constantly in operations, finance, business development, engineering, marketing, and HR all at once. There’s a reason why large successful companies are traditionally not operated by a single individual; there’s too much work for one person to handle, and handle it well. In order to thrive, you need specialization of labor. Marriage provides the opportunity to pool resources and divide up the work.

As one half of a young marriage, I spend a good portion of my time thinking on how to strengthen and improve my household. Part of this has required shedding old beliefs (lean in, anyone?) and embracing even older ones (time to get my housewife on!). All joking aside, I think there’s much value in revisiting traditional gender roles in the context of marriage.

Over the past six years, I’ve come to realize that there’s more value in focusing on being a better woman than there is in trying to behave like a man.

Leader/Follower Model

Also known as the Captain/First Mate model, or our personal Chairman/CEO model, adding structure to a marriage can remove conflict around missed expectations, disappointment, and arguments. There is a clear chain of command and delegated responsibilities. Why is there a need for a clear chain of command? Businesses thrive when there is a single, cohesive vision and all activities are executed to support this single vision. Marriages thrive when both parties work together in a team towards a common goal, not when they have opposing or divergent goals.

The basic premises of this dynamic are as such:

  • The husband is in the dominant role, the first and last person responsible for the well-being of his household, from financial matters to physical protection. It’s an important burden to bear. Life is difficult, and a husband who has a healthy support system at home is often able to achieve more, and in turn, better provide for the family.
  • The wife is in the supportive role, the person responsible for supporting her husband in achieving his goals for their household. It is not about being passive and letting life happen to you, but rather about placing 100% of your trust in your husband to make the best decisions for the family. After all, you did choose to marry him! What does it say about your own decision making skills if you’re constantly second guessing your husband’s?

Our relationship is very simple: he is the head of our household and bears the overall responsibility for our well-being; I am his support system, providing comfort, love, and affection so he can be the best version of himself to achieve goals for our family. When he wins, I win; when I win, he wins. We’re only able to achieve this because of the unwavering level of trust and respect that we have for each other. In this, we are equally on the same page.

Gratitude and Respect: Have to vs. Get To

Let’s envision two scenarios:

In Scenario A, Wife A is constantly chiding Husband A for doing things incorrectly: the kids aren’t in pajamas for bed time, he forgot the milk at the grocery store, he ended up in mismatched socks for a friend’s wedding, and on and on. Wife A assumes Husband A cannot function as an adult; this undermines Husband A’s self-confidence, leading to more impulse decisions, and often, bad decisions. It is a downward spiral for both parties; the more Husband A makes bad decisions, the more this reinforces Wife A’s belief that her husband is helpless, leading to more criticism and bad decisions.

In Scenario B, Wife B is grateful for Husband B’s help in putting the kids to bed, laughs when he forgot the milk and makes a note to pick it up together on the weekend, and lays out matching socks for him. Wife B assumes Husband B is focused on the big picture of providing for the family and respects him; this reinforces Husband B’s self-confidence and responsibility as his wife has given him all of her trust, in turn taking this responsibility much more seriously. Husband B will be more inclined to make careful and thoughtful decisions because Wife B adores, respects, and believes in his abilities.

At the end of the day, it’s about cultivating an environment of gratitude, respect, and trust. Positive behaviors are rewarded with positive feelings, which creates a desire to behave more positively, and the cycle continues to perpetuate in this way. The flip side works exactly the same: negative behaviors produce negative feelings, which can create more negative behaviors.

The husband feels responsible for taking care of his wife and derives self-confidence from his ability to do so; he’s put in a position where he wants to make her happy, not because he has to. In turn, the wife wants to respond positively and actively take care of her husband, not because she has to.

Nagging: The First Sin of Marriage

I actually hate the word “nag” because it reminds me of the word “shrew”, and both terms are generally used to describe women (whereas if men behave similarly, they’re being “critical”). But how I feel about the word doesn’t diminish how important it is to NOT do this in a marriage (this applies to both parties, but women can be more susceptible to behaving this way).

What does nagging look like? It can take on all types of forms:

  • “Why didn’t you take out the trash like I asked?”
  • “You’re cutting the carrots all wrong. Why can’t you get it right?”
  • “Will you stop lounging around and help put the kids to bed?”
  • “I’ve asked you to clean the garage 4 times this week and it still hasn’t been done. Forget it, I’ll do it myself.”

The above examples aren’t just requests for help; they are complaints masquerading as snide remarks that undermine a wife’s respect for her husband’s competency and abilities. This can foster a husband’s desire to withdraw since he assumes that she will assume that he can’t do anything right, so why bother?

I personally find it extremely draining to be in a position of constantly critiquing my husband’s behaviors and shortcomings. There is no benefit to making him feel worse about his mistakes; he already feels badly, nagging isn’t an effective tool to change anyone’s behavior, and I’ve just created a bundle of negative energy within myself. Instead, I’m a much bigger fan of positive reinforcement: rewarding good behaviors so he’ll keep repeating those behaviors.

Feminism != Femininity

In order to attract and keep a good partner, you must first be a good partner. To be a good wife is to first foster your femininity; femininity means enhancing the qualities and traits that separate women from men. This is not to be confused with feminism, which is advocacy for women’s rights in the pursuit of equality with men (which I find to be anti-thesis to the essence of femininity).

  • Take care of your physical health. Eat healthy and exercise consistently. Taking care of your appearance is not just makeup and clothing; it starts with overall health.
  • Educate yourself. Develop your interests and hobbies, which may or may not be the same as your husband's. Be interesting.
  • Manner of speech: cursing should be a rare, if never heard, occurrence. Mind your manners, speak softly but with purpose, laugh and smile often. Avoid complaining or whining.
  • Yielding control. This was a hard one because I was so used to being the boss, but there’s actually relief in trusting in my husband’s decisions. Provide your suggestions, but let him have the final vote.

No one and no two marriages are the same. However, I really do believe that reverting to more traditional gender roles within context of a marriage can help bring about a positive behavior-feedback loop that is beneficial for all parties involved. Harmony in the home frees up mental and emotional resources that would have otherwise been tangled up in a cycle of complaints and resentment.

This post has focused primarily on the wife’s perspective, but there are other behaviors that can help a relationship thrive, actionable items that require participation of both spouses.

Written with gratitude for my husband and his unwavering belief that I can do anything.