How well do you support your spouse?

A working Mum…

My wife and I will be married for 10 years next year! These years have been the most eye opening and trying years of our lives. A lot has been revealed about our individual characters and how we relate with each other. One of the major lessons I learnt was that i am nothing without my wife Cecilia. I can never be anything career or business wise without the support, directly or indirectly that my wife has given me.

You see, I believe, a lot of men, myself included, take their wives for granted. I also believe that some men are not doing enough to support and be there for their wives. Just last year, while we were having one of our many fights, my wife said something to me that stuck. She told me that when she married me, she put her entire life and career on hold, so that she could take care of me and our 3 children. As we speak, our youngest son just turned 4 years old and it just dawned on me that even though my wife has a side business that she focuses on from time to time, her time has been dedicated for 9 years in taking care of our familys every need. Off the cuff, i think Cece has changed over 8000 daipers for our 3 children and prepared more than 9000 meals for our family non stop, no breaks and no vacations. Thats deep!

I ask myself, what have I ever done for her? How have I supported HER dreams and career goals? When have I ever taken a backseat to ensure that she achieves what SHE has always wanted? There, I find myself guilty of being a bad husband. I have found that this in itself has sometimes made my wife a bit resentful and feeling like I dont support her.

So what’s the disconnect?  A recent series of University of Iowa studies suggests that “supportive” has almost as many interpretations as ”commitment” or “love.”  For instance, a five year study of 103 newly married husbands and wives identified four kinds of support: physical comfort and emotional support (listening and empathizing, taking your spouse’s hand, giving your spouse a hug), esteem support (expressing confidence in your partner, providing encouragement), informational support (giving advice, gathering information), and tangible support (taking on responsibilities so your spouse can deal with a problem, helping to brainstorm solutions to a problem).

Apparently, it’s too much of the wrong kind of support that wreaks the most havoc in relationships. Particularly for me I can attest that sometimes, I am so focused on finding a solution to what my wife is complaining about that I fail to just listen and encourage, or even to just reassure.

However, husbands shouldn’t just throw up their hands up in the air if they’re not sure what to do.  Ask how you can help – don’t assume you know what to do.  Afterward, talk about what worked and what didn’t and adjust accordingly. (Of course, few husbands go wrong by listening to their wives express their thoughts and feelings without being subjected to his opinion on the matter or trying to fix it (or her) – unless she specifically asks for it.) 

A heated discussion about a sensitive or contentious issue is one of the hardest times to give your partner the support s/he needs.  Not only do arguments create tension in the relationship, they also elevate levels of chemicals known as cytokines. These proteins are produced by cells in the immune system and help the body mount an immune response during infection. My wife and I have found it particularly difficult to support each other during arguments. In fact we would rather tear each other apart.

Fortunately, research shows that the words we bring to the battle can have a powerful impact on our immune system as well as our relationships success.  Couples who use thoughtful words with emotionally charged partners – words like “I think,” “Here’s my reason for” and “’Because” –  signal to the other person that the speaker is either making sense of the conflict or at least thinking about it in a deep way.  Researchers found that this cognitive support not only helped prevent the argument from escalating, it lowered certain stress enzymes, especially in the husband. 

Marriage is already tough, and adding kids to the mix takes the challenge to another level. Even though you might assume your spouse already knows that you appreciate them as a parent, we could all use a little bit of encouragement when it comes to knowing we’re a good parent.  Help out with whatever you can and try to let your wife know that you appreciate all she does for the family. It goes a long way.

Your wife has her own career or business goals that she could have put on hold for married and family life. Start by talking about them, and then help her to start putting these dreams into action by coming up with an action plan on how to achieve them. Walk with her all the way as she has a lot to balance in the process that sometimes can frustrate or hinder her from achieving her goals. As a team, the journey will be easier and quicker. Dont leave her to do it on her own. Its reassuring to know that you are there.

You don’t need a reason to be a supportive spouse. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion for you to let them know you care about them and have their back. Just because love and support is so meaningful and is really the fuel that keeps marriages going.

Wilbert Frank Chaniwa

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