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Marriage Counseling: What Do Husbands Really Want in a Wife?

Because many men do not discuss feelings as easily as most women do, wives are often shocked when their husband actually voices his desire to separate or divorce. They might have suspected that their spouse wasn't entirely happy, but they didn't think he'd ever be the one to end the marriage.

Sometimes the husband can't give a specific answer as to why he feels the way he does. He just finally gets to the point where he can't continue living the way he is. Sometimes, these feelings are brought to a head by the awareness that he's getting older and life is passing him by. Or the feelings of discontent can be activated when another female finds him attractive and makes a play for him.

"What does he want from me that I'm not giving him?" "How can I be interested in sex when I'm exhausted from everything I do for our three kids every day?" "We've made it through some really tough times and I thought things were getting better, so why would he leave now?" All of these questions and many others haunt the surprised wives.

To better understand what husbands want, let's look at some of the priorities men have shared with me in marriage counseling sessions:

1. Men want to be appreciated for what they contribute to the marriage and family. They don't want to be taken for granted. Some men have said, "I feel like she only values my paycheck and if I weren't here anymore, she'd be fine with that." Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and husbands are no exception.

It's easy to focus on what a spouse isn't doing, especially if a husband and wife are disagreeing about how much each should help with the kids or around the house. The wise wife will express appreciation for what her husband is currently doing and for the positive qualities he brings to the marriage, even while discussions continue about things she'd like to see done differently in the future.

2. Husbands enjoy seeing their wives smile and laugh, and they find smiles and laughter appealing. They do enjoy having their wives appreciate their jokes or stories, but they also like to see their wives just looking happy in general. This doesn't mean going around with a fake grin and pretending everything is fine when it isn't. But it does mean keeping a sense of humor in spite of problems and being able to shut the door on worries temporarily when you have some "down time" with your spouse.

3. Husbands want to feel that their wives really care about their welfare and about them on a deep level. They want their wife to spend time with them, to be concerned about their health, happiness, and well-being.

Especially as men age, the feeling that a spouse doesn't really care about them cuts deeply, even if the husband never shows that he's hurt by the lack of affection and caring. They don't want to feel that the kids always come first and that their preferences and needs are overlooked.

In numerous homes, this dynamic is what gets off balance and leads to serious relationship problems. The wife thinks she's doing what's best by putting the kids' needs first, not realizing that the husband is as hurt as he is by this.

4. Husbands want private time with their wives-not just for sex, although that's important--but also to do activities together on their own. This is where making time for a "date night out" every week or so is important. Then the husband and wife can see a movie they want to see, uninterrupted by the kids, or have a peaceful meal at a restaurant. They can go bowling or dancing or get together with friends and keep their identity as an adult couple, not just as parents.

I have seen couples in counseling through the years who have decided not to ever leave their kids with a babysitter or go out on their own. This is always a red flag to me of an unwise course of action in the marriage. A heightened sense of passion between spouses is helped by time alone, "date time," private time, time for the important part of the relationship that exists beyond the kids to be strengthened and nurtured.

5. Husbands want a satisfying sex life. You knew we'd eventually get to sex, didn't you? So here it is. A marriage without a passionate sex life is lacking a key ingredient that wives all too often underestimate. And the reality is that a husband who does not have a satisfying sexual relationship with his wife is much more vulnerable to becoming involved with someone else.

Yes, I know there are couples who over time stop having sex and yet both partners choose to stay in the marriage, but in many cases, there's a resulting sense of resignation and dullness in the marriage. The fire or passionate spark that helps a couple to stay together is missing, so there's often a lack of "life" or energy in the relationship.

Wives can argue until they're blue in the face that sex shouldn't mean so much to husbands, but the reality is that it usually does have a high priority on the husband's list. Why? Because it feels good, because it makes him feel attractive and desired, because it enhances satisfaction with the marriage, because it can help the husband to feel closer and more connected to his wife, and because it relieves stress.

Use these five areas above to open discussion with your husband about how he feels in the marriage and whether his needs are being met. After all, that's one of the keys to marriage success-opening the communication door so that each spouse can share from his or her viewpoint and feel heard by the partner.

Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of the book Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at, where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get ideas and support for improving your marriage.

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