My wife and I always strive to be better versions of ourselves than we were yesterday. It's not always easy, but it's necessary. Here are the things I do—some mundane, some less routine—in an ongoing attempt to be a better husband.

By Christopher Dale
October 25, 2019
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I do not have the best history as a husband.

Shortly after my wife Patty and I married, I became an alcoholic. Over the ensuing three-year escapade I was a petty thief, a not-so-petty liar, and an unemployable loser–among other undesirable spousal traits. She had every right to leave. But she didn't.

It took a drunken hit-and-run, a night in jail, and a lost license for my recovery to begin. That was October 2011, and I'm proud to say that, however imperfectly, I have been making a living amends to Patty every year since–and counting.

It would be understandable for you to think that after three years of low-bottom alcoholism, I have forfeited any marital high ground–moral or otherwise–and that our union's dynamic is irrevocably imbalanced. But fortunately, marriages can't survive such subservience. We just had to heal along separate paths to reunite as equals.

The flip side of addiction is the opportunity to become "weller than well." In order to get and remain sober, I had to uproot deep-seeded issues that had propelled me to drink to oblivion. As the spouse of a recovering drunk, Patty had to heal from wounds unfairly inflicted by me, even while (also unfairly) ceding ground to a man who once deserved all the leeway afforded an asylum patient.

But at this point in our marriage, we have reclaimed normalcy, whatever that means. We support each other's goals, watch each other's backs, and tolerate each other's families. We bicker, with the occasional knock-down drag out war. And we cherish our only child, three-year-old Nicholas, a growing testament to our lasting recovery.

And always, we strive for progress. We've decided that the tools we used to recover together should never be banished to the basement, and always make efforts to be better to one another. In my ongoing attempt to be a better husband, these are a few things I do. Some are mundane, some are not, but all I feel have strengthened my marriage, so perhaps they can do the same for you.

I give her alone time.

Both my wife and I are full-time parents and full-time executives. She carries the added weight of being our son's preferred parent. There's addition by subtraction here: I'm being a better husband by taking Nicholas on my own while she runs errands, visits friends or just relaxes.

I do the housework while Nicholas dotes on her.

My wife gets the brunt of Nicholas' boundless toddler energy and neediness. That's a tough task, and much of it is simply unavoidable… Nicholas' mama radar is often locked in too keenly for evasive action on Patty's part.

In response, I lighten her domestic load elsewhere. Laundry, dishes, lawn mowing, bathroom cleaning–all me. Being a better husband means alleviating my wife's stress–a tangible way of limiting the items she worries about.

And when I inevitably get pulled into a mommy-son dust-up–a three-year-old being a three-year-old–I back Patty up even if I'd have acted differently. Typically, I find she's too lenient with Nicholas, but "in the moment" I refrain from playing bad cop because doing so only drives Nicholas further up her rear end.

I tell her when she's wrong–especially when she doesn't want to hear it.

Somewhere between Modern Family and Family Guy, the caricature of the doofus dad came into vogue, along with the notion of "happy wife, happy life." It's all over-compensatory nonsense–cultural backlash overkill to an historically male-dominated society–and serves neither husbands nor wives well.

We are partners in progress, meaning we have free range to challenge and push each other, even when it leads to an argument. Our marriage is strong enough that five minutes of fury is worth the gradual, mutual self-improvement that emerges from constructive criticism.

Parenting is an outsized aspect of this, as we are both eminently fallible novices. With Nicholas the most important person in our lives, he exists at the core of the marital mantra that "we can do better." We want Nicholas to be self-confident but never self-satisfied, always striving to move forward rather than stay stagnant. Our marriage exemplifies that, even if it means getting in each other's faces from time to time.

I never tell her that she's not good enough, and consistently praise her fortes. 

What makes our "we can do better" partnership possible is the continued recognition of each other's strong suits and overall value as a person, parent and spouse. Our spouse is the one person for whom we've publicly professed our unceasing love; make no mistake: that person belongs on a pedestal. Patty is special, and warrants extra effort.

I can challenge my wife without (much) resentment, then, because Patty knows she's one of the few people I deem worth making waves over. I hold her in higher regard, and therefore see perpetually higher potential. When she exhibits patience I could never muster, or fixes a toy I would have long since smashed into a thousand pieces, I tell her how impressive, even masterful, she truly is at certain things. I acknowledge her strengths while trying to build up her weaknesses, and expect no less from her in return.

I communicate regularly about the "big stuff."

When a couple commits to mutual progress, it's wise to make sure you're both perpetually proceeding toward the same desired destinations.

As parents, what this means is reaching consistent consensus on big-ticket items affecting our son. For example, concerning his education, we discuss not only where Nicholas might need immediate improvement ("he's confusing 'm' and 'n' lately…") but also our determination that, should the trend of unsustainable college tuition increases continue into his teen years, we will not allow him to take the equivalent of a home mortgage for an undergraduate degree.

This level of candor–of factoring in each other's strengths and weaknesses as well as society's pitfalls – is only possible in a healthy marriage. Most recently, it is serving us well amid a looming decision of whether Nicholas, who is smaller than 99% of boys his age, should undergo growth hormone therapy.

In short, I try to be a better husband by realizing that the person I married is capable of the hard work of personal progress and the even harder work of motherhood, given the right partner.

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