One of the most common phrases I’ve heard about how to make a marriage last is “happy wife, happy life”. Rarely do the people who use this phrase explain what they mean, but one common translation is summed up by advice President Obama gave a husband at a campaign stop during his 2012 reelection bid: “Just do whatever she tells you to”.
Conflating a wife’s happiness with her husband’s compliance is not uncommon. I asked a question on Facebook about how people interpret the phrase and multiple people made references to appeasement in their responses. While others did talk about making your wife a priority and meeting her needs, I think it’s important to ask whether every strategy for making your wife happy will lead to a happy life.
One of the biggest problems with thinking happiness will come from doing whatever your mate desires is that relationships can’t be built on the idea that one person will always get their way. For starters, it isn’t practical. My wife isn’t always right and the same can certainly be said about me. Doing whatever she wants would do nothing to advance our relationship. We function best when we discuss issues honestly and openly and create space for dialogue. Not every decision requires this level of communication—at times because of one person’s indifference on a particular subject—but we have benefited from creating a culture of communication in our home that helps us talk about major decisions without feeling like we’re competing on opposing teams.
Couples that can’t communicate aren’t going to be happy in the long run.
One of the other downsides of thinking that doing whatever my wife says will ultimately make us both happy is that it stifles growth. Learning to compromise is an important part of every relationship. In fact, sometimes one person in a relationship will have an idea so crazy that it would be irresponsible to just go along. Take, for example, a husband who agrees with his wife’s idea to buy a new car even though the couple is already stretched thin financially. The new car might make her happy in the short term but the decision will lead to tension and anxiety if money gets even tighter. Money is a limited resource, so sometimes a cutback in spending is necessary, even if it comes at the expense of short-term happiness.
The spirit of this four-word phrase has spread its tentacles further than we realize. Many single women base whether a man is “hubby material” on what he does for them. Given the tendency of many men, both married and single, to see purchasing things as a way to show their love, this seems to be a perfect match on the surface. Finding someone who does (or buys) whatever you want, however, doesn’t mean he has the tools needed to have and maintain a healthy relationship. Successful relationships require commitment, integrity, humility, and a number of other qualities that aren’t easily quantified. That’s why it’s important for men to cultivate these traits in every area of our lives, even during periods of singleness.
The type of happy wife, happy life philosophy that I can embrace is one that is centered on a healthy understanding of what produces happiness. My wife seems her happiest when she is personally fulfilled and when I consistently and clearly speak her “love language”—whether through acts of service, spending quality time, giving gifts, physical touch, or words of affirmation. I’ve found that striving to be a consistent source of safety and support is a better way to make her happy than simply doing everything she wants. Men do no one any favors by making themselves small and insignificant in their relationships. Families benefit from having husbands and fathers who are honest, kind, compassionate, and patient, not men who think blind obedience is what leads to happiness.
BMWK, what does “happy wife, happy life” mean to you?