Want More Encouragement from Your Husband?


Today, as I ate my salad for lunch, a couple was seated in the booth in front of me. Both were carrying way too many pounds, enough to make it difficult to walk.
The restaurant was the sort where every meal comes with enough calories for a family of four. Most of the food there is fried, covered with cheese, and accompanied by fries or a free dessert.
She ordered a salad. She was apparently dieting and ramping up her exercise levels for health reasons, and she wanted his encouragement and support. He was nearly silent, except for a few one-word answers. She kept trying. She tried through his cheese-topped chili, through his butter-grilled meat and cheese sandwich, through his mound of french fries, right through his free dessert.
Her timing was awful. I hope she did not leave the restaurant believing her husband does not care about her efforts to improve her health. More importantly, I hope she wanted the kudos she was asking for, not a change in his behavior. Her timing was bad for kudos and dreadful for a change.
Today’s tip is this: if you want encouragement or a change in your husband’s behavior that will make you happier, seek it when you can tap into his strengths, not when it will diminish his pleasure.
Her request for support in her self-moderation came across as criticism of his enjoyment of the meal. He could not share his enjoyment with her. She could not get the kudos she wanted, and she certainly could not convince him to join her in her health quest right in the middle of the meal he had chosen.
Does he do yardwork, swim, or play volleyball? She could look for feedback on her eating and exercising changes when he’s fresh from doing something physical or when he’s chosen grilled fish from a better menu.
Did she want to ask him to lose weight, too? She should just ask, directly. And do it while he’s more inclined to find it a good idea he can commit to, like while he’s changing out of a tight suit into something more comfortable or while they are planning a future event together, not while they are eating in calorie city.
Real encouragement makes a marriage stronger. Criticism makes it weaker. You will get better results if you seek encouragement when it will make both of you feel like better people.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Excellent points – not just for married couples but for everyone. Never thought about environment and strengths etc. being so critical in communicating our desires. LOTS of stuff to think about here – particularly since I’m losing weight and eat with friends who are not. I don’t care what their food choices are, but find it interesting they encourage me to abandon my healthy ones in favor of their unhealthy ones. I point THAT out, but now it makes sense in light of this…that we often pick the worst time, place or moment to share the things that are important to us because that time triggers something for us. Better to pay attention to the whole picture, not just the emotional part of it…

  • Dear Patty,
    Thank you for sharing your experience in loving people. I am 29 and still looking for a meaningful relationship. I am now living in Asia where I had to learn a lot about cultural differences.
    To cut it short: the word “no” is not used much here, written messages don’t count unless they are confirmed orally, and finally love and marriage are something “arranged” by your parents rather than happening in your life independently of the plans of your family (which does not preclude having many sexual encounters which do not and should not lead to emotional engagement or feelings). It’s been an adventure to dismantle and understand this different culture of communication and it took months.
    Having said that, for the past two months I’ve been dating a local person which I believe is special and who “likes” me a lot. I know it’s still early, but I do believe your message about having expectations that overshadow what the other person feels about us can kill the relationship does apply here.
    I have a great and stable job, some good friends and I’m feeling like it’s finally the right time to settle in! As I realize more and more now, I’ve had lot of expectations which he can’t fulfill. In spite of being relatively busy, I do have plenty of time to share with my partner and would love to see him more than once per week, call each other often, even if it’s only for 5 min etc. I am a passionate and romantic person and also I can manage time very effectively.
    He’s never been in a relationship and it seems that having a “tiring day at work” or a visitor at home are too preoccupying to be able to send me a message or call. As a result we haven’t met for over two weeks now. I do feel like my expectations are not being met and I fear that I am fooling myself that I’ve found the right person which he might not be or simply not at that time as he’s still uncertain about his future job/academic career.
    But, when he talks to me I feel like it is the smoothest he can possibly talk and when he looks into my eyes it’s the smoothest he can look at a person. All I say about my feelings is new and impressive to him as no one has ever told him similar things.
    I told him that I expect more time together and more we meet, sooner we get to know each other better. I also said that if we continue this and it turns out that for him it was only a sexual encounter, I’d be blessed and it’s better to finish it now. He was surprised and said that he cannot see me more often and that although he does like me he is a “snail” and prefers to do things slowly but thoroughly.
    I thought many times that I should finish this because what I expect from him, he will never be able to give me. Then, I begin to think that even though he cannot be there with me as much as I need, he does have genuine feelings for me. So, whenever I feel abandoned by him and lonely (even in the middle of a party with other friends or being busy at work) I assume that he does have feelings for me. He is a different person and has his own life and I have mine.
    There is no marriage, mortgage and no children to glue us together, and also relatively few memories of things done together. There is only that belief I have about his genuine yet young feelings for me. And there is also frustration that I cannot share with him as much as I’d like to share.
    So, while finishing this and starting to date other people seems a relieving option, I believe it is a stupid temptation as well. I just feel like it’s very hard to forgo my expectations and fantasies about a romantic and intense relationship…
    Best wishes,

  • Thoma, while I recommend to people in committed life partnerships and marriages to expect only love, it is because they have chosen someone who once made them feel quite loved, someone who loved them enough to vow to love them for the rest of their lives. If you are not feeling loved while dating, my advice would be to keep looking.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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