What Is Husbandly Leadership & Why Should You Care?

by Stephen Waldo

What is Husbandly Leadership

Every year, over 800,000 couples will get divorced in the US alone.

69% of those divorces will be initiated by the wife, and only 30% of the husbands will see it coming.

So, what’s a guy to do?

The best way to save your marriage from divorce is to give your wife a good incentive to stay married. This is why I firmly believe that husbandly leadership is one of the best ways to guarantee a lifelong, happy marriage.

If you’ve spent much time around Husband Help Haven, you’ve probably heard me mention the concept of husbandly leadership. But maybe you’ve never heard a concrete explanation of what husbandly leadership actually means. 

Stuff we will be covering today:

Consider this your primer on husbandly leadership. You’ll learn what it is, why it’s important, and how to start applying it in your marriage.

Let’s start with the problem…

What Happens Without Husbandly Leadership?

What happens when you neglect husbandly leadership OR when you apply husbandly leadership incorrectly? Usually, one of two outcomes:

  1. The husband doesn’t lead, or leads rarely. He puts only the bare minimum effort into the marriage, and the only time that changes is for a week or two at a time after an argument with his wife. In his mind, the marriage will take care of itself, he can focus on other things like work or kids or hobbies. He doesn’t even notice the relationship stagnating around him. 
  2. The husband leads, but he does it without love. He becomes controlling, judgmental and critical instead of encouraging, patient and joyful. The only time his wife feels him “leading” is when he’s telling her what she’s doing wrong or what needs to change.

These are the two most common patterns I see among new men coming into Husband Help Haven.

Eventually, the wife may try to get her husband to change, but he either doesn’t listen or he does listen, but his changes don’t stick because he lacks guidance and discipline. So, resentment builds in the wife’s heart until one day, she tells him she wants out.

What Do You Get WITH Husbandly Leadership?

Well first, the obvious one, you are less likely to get divorced. Husbandly leadership is like preventative medicine for marriage.

But it goes deeper… Let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you enjoy feeling like you are “the one” for your wife?
  • Do you like your life more when your marriage is enjoyable?
  • Does your family run better when you and your wife both like each other?

My guess is you answered ‘yes’ three times in a row. For most men, the biggest benefit of husbandly leadership is having a wife who is invested in the marriage and attracted to you as her husband.  

These are pretty obvious yes’s, and yet how many men do you know who make an effort to make these things happen?

If you’re already separated or your marriage is on the rocks, husbandly leadership is one of your best incentives you can give your wife to CHOOSE to come back to the marriage.

The benefits go beyond your marriage too… Your son will be better equipped for his future marriage, knowing what it means to be a good husband, and your daughter will know what to look for in her future husband.

Finally, YOU will enjoy marriage more with husbandly apathy than without it. It gives you something to strive for as a husband. You’ll have assurance that you’re doing the right things, making the most of the things that are under your control.

So, What Is It? Let’s Define Husbandly Leadership.

If I had to narrow it down, the three traits I define as being core to a husbandly leader are:

  • Proactive. The opposite of reactive. A husband must proactively seeks happiness for his wife and his family, always listening, filling needs, nurturing growth and providing love and encouragement.
  • Selfless. He knows that seeing his wife and family happy will make him happier than anything he could do for himself alone.
  • Forgiving. A husband must continually show his wife and family that he truly loves them unconditionally, and the way you make your love UNconditional is through forgiveness.

These three traits will carry you to all of the other things that a husband needs to do. 

Being proactive will push you to keep a pulse on your finances, on domestic duties, other practical areas like that. 

Being selfless will naturally push you to care about your wife’s well-being and making sure she is getting what she needs out of life.

Being forgiving will naturally push you to acceptance, empathy, and patience, and will bolster your commitment to the marriage.

Where’s The Love?

The big one you will see missing from this list is love. Where is the love? Isn’t love the most important part of being a husband?

Yes! Absolutely. Everything about marriage is based on love. But, most husbands don’t struggle with the feeling of love. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the vast majority of husbands would take a bullet for their wife in a heartbeat.

After all, you got married, it’s implied that you love your wife, or that you did at one point. Love isn’t the one most men struggle with, just about every guy who comes to Husband Help Haven feels immense love for his wife and family, even if he didn’t realize the depth of that love until he was threatened with divorce.

No, love is not the area that most husbands lack…

It’s applying that love and acting on that love in a way that nurtures and empowers their wife, marriage and family.

So, it’s not that love is not important – it is. But hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that you need to love your wife. And, proactive, selfless and forgiving are three less obvious traits that all build upon that love to turn it into something that actually has a noticeable effect on your and your wife’s daily lives.

Proactive, selfless, forgiving, love.  That’s what you want. Everything else is secondary, or will be a learned trait as you carry out these big ones. In order to be proactive, you need some measure of confidence and decisiveness. And it is your love that will fuel your patience and your forgiveness.

Also, note that in this article, we are not talking about essential traits of a good, lasting marriage. Love, commitment, forgiveness, these are the things both spouses need in spades. Here we are talking about traits that husbands particularly must pay special attention to.

A Captain And His First Mate

Imagine that your marriage is a ship, and you are the captain. Your wife is the first mate, second in command. Both captain and first mate are vital to the navigation of the ship. Both husband and wife are vital to the marriage.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it’s a good starting point.

The captain’s responsibility is to constantly monitor the ocean in front of the ship, spotting storms and other obstacles on the horizon. He knows the direction the ship is going, the status of his crew, the ship’s reserves of fuel and food. Ultimately, it is his responsibility to get the ship to its destination. His job is to see problems coming, and when problems do come, to proactively make moves to fix them.

Though he is the leader, the captain depends on his first mate just as much as the first mate depends on the captain. He NEEDS his first mate to be the best captain he can be.

Many times, the first mate will have an idea that is better than the captain’s idea… The captain must hear that idea with humility!

Good Leadership vs. Bad Leadership, & What Makes Husbandly Leadership Special

To further define husbandly leadership, it may help to draw a comparison between good leadership and bad leadership.

A Good Husbandly Leader…

  • Loves the family he serves, and prioritizes their needs above his own.
  • Makes the right decisions, even when they’re unpopular. But he doesn’t say, “My way or the highway,” he makes it clear that his decisions are made out of love… Ideally he is empathetic enough to be able to prove why the right decision is better for everyone, and he is willing to admit when his first idea was not the best one.
  • Looks for opportunities to make a positive impact on his wife and kids.
  • Rises to any challenge, faces any foe, and does everything in his power to protect his family.
  • Takes responsibility for his mistakes.
  • Key Takeaway: Good husbandly leadership looks surprisingly like servanthood.

A Bad Husbandly Leader…

  • Forgets about his family, abusing his privileges to make his own life easier at his family’s expense.
  • Neglects those that rely on him, failing to carry out his responsibilities or being quick to let his wife take on more than her fair share.
  • Never makes sacrifices for the people who depend on him.
  • Runs from conflict, preferring to let problems “work themselves out”. After all, conflict is hard!
  • Shifts the blame to those around him, never taking responsibility.
  • A bad leader automatically assumes the future is fine, so he doesn’t mind coasting in complacency
  • Key Takeaway: Bad leadership isn’t really leadership at all.

The Difference Between Husbandly Leadership & Other Forms Of Leadership

This is what makes husbandly leadership different than leadership in any other arena. In Manly Marriage Revival I compare a good husbandly leader to a good CEO or an alpha male:

  • A good business leader (whether a manager or a CEO) is defined by their own performance. His or her job is to get results from the people below them.
  • An alpha male is also ruled by his own performance, but in a different arena – sex and dominance. This is where you’ll find the standard “How to get laid” advice. Now I know there are other folks out there teaching men how to be an alpha male who do NOT subscribe to this mindset, but these people are using the wrong term for what they teach.

A husbandly leader is defined solely by his unconditional love and the proactive effect that love has on his day-to-day life.

A husbandly leader’s only metric for success is the contentment of others – namely his wife and family. He doesn’t look at his own performance, except insofar as it empowers and provides for his family’s needs. Everything he does is driven by love for his wife and those he serves.

The best husbandly leader often looks a lot more like a servant than a leader, but make no mistake – this man knows what he’s doing, and he is working towards his vision for his marriage.

Why Haven’t You Heard Of Husbandly Leadership?

I’d like to claim that I’m some sort of genius here, but really, husbandly leadership is not a new concept. It’s been around for a very long time, at least since Paul wrote his letter to the church of Ephesus in the first century A.D.

In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul told the men in the Ephesian church to “love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” He is saying to treat your wife as carefully and lovingly as if you two literally shared a physical body!

It might not have been labelled as ‘husbandly leadership’, but the idea remains the same… Lead your marriage by proactively serving your wife and family.

  • You as the man are responsible for initiating the outpouring of love in your marriage.
  • You as the man are responsible for leading by example in things like patience, forgiveness, discipline and sacrifice.
  • You don’t have to do these things perfectly, but you do have to be committed to doing them. You have to take responsibility for your role.

Not new concepts, but for some reason they are uncommon. Why?

1. It’s Hard

Plain and simple, husbandly leadership is hard.

It takes constant effort. As difficulty of an idea increases, its popularity decreases.

2. The Bar For Husbands Is Higher Now Than Ever

I think it’s safe to say that this is the first generation ever that truly REQUIRES men to be good husbands if they want to stay married forever. 

This is for a few reasons.

  1. First, divorce has never been so accessible, especially for women. To be clear, I think it’s good that women have equal right to divorce. 
  2. Second, divorce has never been so normalized as it is in our culture today. This I don’t think is good, because it’s based on misinformation and because it makes it easier for a distressed spouse to arrive at the conclusion that divorce is the right choice, even when it’s not. 

The bar for what women expect from their husbands is higher today than ever before… As dual income families become more common, the “I work all day, so it’s your job to maintain the house, kids and marriage,” excuse of husbands in past generations just doesn’t fly. A husband who tries to coast by with as little input into the marriage as possible has less chance of staying married than ever before.

So, we have these objectively good things that have had an unfortunate side effect. As women have gained more independence (a good thing!), more earning power (also a good thing!) and higher expectations for their men (another good thing!), the downside is that divorce rates have reached near epidemic proportions, with even the most conservative statistics stating that 1 in 3 marriages will end in divorce.

Since this transition has only happened in the past fifty years, husbands all over the world are playing catch up to these new standards that our wives set for us. Men today were raised by a generation for whom the husband’s role was either undefined or defined wrongly, a generation in which a good, present husband and father was the exception, not the rule. So whether you’re 18 or 80, you now have to learn for yourself what it means to be a good husband.

3. We Think Authority = Superiority, And Therefore Assume Husbandly Leadership Is Sexist

Husbandly leadership. To some, it sounds sexist. Cringe-worthy.

But, why?

Because people automatically assume that saying the husband should lead is the same thing as saying the wife can’t lead, or that the husband is better or more important than the wife.

These are false assumptions.

This article has mainly been an argument FOR husbandly leadership. The next one will be a defense of husbandly leadership from the most common objections. So I’m not going to spend a bunch of time on this here, except to say that authority does NOT equal superiority. 

Stay tuned for the next article if you are interested in reading more about that.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter why you haven’t heard of it or why so many marriages today are failing.

My experience and the experience of thousands of men (and quite a few women too) who have come through Husband Help Haven is that when the husband takes initiative and pursues his wife and the marriage, the marriage improves.

Take that and do what you want with it. My hope is that you will take it and think seriously about what you can do to be more proactively loving and forgiving in your marriage.

What If You’re Already Separated?

Obviously, you have more opportunities to practice husbandly leadership when you and your wife are still together, or at least still in the same house.

So, what changes when you’re living apart? Or what if she already decided to leave the marriage?

You can still work to improve yourself, and to do it in a genuine way.

  • Ask yourself, what can you do NOW to improve yourself? 
  • What’s missing from the man in the mirror?
  • What kind of husband do you WANT to be, know you CAN be? What steps do you need to take to become more like that full-potential-self?
  • How can you show your wife that you love her? Often in separation this means respecting her wishes for space, at least until you are able to interact with her without constantly talking or thinking about yourself, or your marriage, or what YOU want to happen.

Get yourself stable. That’s where you start if you’re separated. Start doing some work on yourself. Start trying to make the most of where you’re at, instead of trying to control what you can’t.

If you want a good next step, ?Separation-Proof Mindset, Today is a great place to start.

Think about it. Make a plan. Do it.?

Stephen Waldo

Hi! My name is Stephen. I’m the guy behind Husband Help Haven. My mission here is to help as many men as possible become the best husbands they can be, and save as many marriages as possible along the way. Even though I’m not a marriage counselor, I want to encourage men everywhere to become better husbands, fathers and leaders. Full author bio


  • Your words have spoken to me in a way that I never though possible. My wife is currently in another state. She had a job interview last night. I found out she cheated on me 2 weeks ago. She is could be there right now doing it again. We started counseling, did 3 sessions. Then covid. Then she moved into the spare room. I had already read Gottman books, trying harder, inviting here to join me. She always called me the best husband and father. I have tried to make myself emotionally available. But now I see I could have done more. I was tire a lot from work. We have a 4 year old that demands a lot of our attention. We both got complacent in our relationship and she got bored. Your podcasts and advise are helping to inspire me to be better for me. I am still having a hard time with dealing with the idea that she is ok becoming a part time mom, as I will maintain custody of our LO. I am still shocked that she can do this to him. Im trying one day at a time. 1 hr. 1 minute. Thanks again. You have given me hope that no matter what I will be ok.

  • The wife and I neglected each other for a few years after our daughter was born. I knew things weren’t great, but didn’t have the skills to work on them and thought they’d just magically get better. A few months back I caught her cheating. I then learned it was emotionally for at least 1.5 years and then twice physically, not sex…she had no reason to lie at that point since she said she wanted a divorce. But I’m happy to say I read a lot online and your site & book that I bought were the keys to helping me save my marriage. I made a lot of changes & we talked a lot… More than she probably would have liked, but I spaced it out the best I could, without feeling I was wasting precious time. I did annoy her a few times. Well, 4 months in we officially said we’d stay together & it’s been 5 months now and things are better than ever with her (emotionally & physically) and us 3 as a family unit. We still have a long ways to go to earn the trust back, but I think we’ll make it as long as we both don’t neglect each other & he happy and grateful with what we have instead of what we don’t.

    • A

      That is AWESOME David, thank you so much for sharing!

  • Steve Cammann


    Thank you for your insight, it has touch me deeply to where I have been lacking as a husband and how I have taken my wife and kids for granted. I have been married 25 years, and three years ago my wife began a three year affair on me that I am still dealing with. We are together, but she has no interest in the marriage but to tell me what to do and give her space because I am smothering her. I love my wife very deeply and always have, but I got so consumed with my business that I forgot about her needs. I though I was being a good husband by providing a great life for her and the kids, when I say kids I have four beautiful daughters. More importantly I lost my way with “God”. I have always strived to be a pleasing man in the eyes of God in how I live my life, but I guess not so much. I will conclude with this, I am doing everything I can to change myself for me and make myself a great man, husband and father for God first then my family.

    I truly appreciate the three key elements that you have provide to be a great leader within my family, I can honestly say that I have not integrated these into my life to be a husbandly leader.

    Thank you,

    Steve Cammann

  • Avery Williams

    Thank you

  • I read what you have written and I think it is all good stuff, I and my wife separated in August 2016 I have done a lot of praying joined an online marriage course ( marriage helper) I followed all the steps working on my self physically emotionally and spiritually. Despite failing to save my marriage I would still say too do it do everything you can as it helps you become a better man and a better father although my aim/goal was to be a great husband leading the relationship and my family of three children.
    Keep up with the good work ?


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