Husbands: How To Learn The Words To Make Your Wives Feel Close To You

Some things have to be taught.

husband and wife embracing face to face / Shutterstock

Just a moment ago, my oldest (10) said unprompted, "Thanks for taking us to the party yesterday, Mommy. I really liked it." 

This was really sweet and, unrelated, almost completely trained. I have spent a lot of over the course of my three kids’ early childhoods saying when we leave activities (or restaurants, or anything "extra"), "Did you enjoy that? Say, 'Thank you for taking me, that was fun.'" 


Some of my kids (the younger two, specifically), needed less of this training because they are Highly Sensitive Kids emotionally and more innately responsive to others’ feelings.

My oldest, who herself doesn’t need as much reassurance, is not wired to verbalize appreciation the same way. However, through many repetitions, this has been taught and hopefully will hold her in good stead in interpersonal interactions throughout her lifetime.

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I am hardly the first parent to figure out that manners, verbal expressions of appreciation and complimenting others are skills that can be taught in the home.


This is a known quantity and many parents focus on training their children how to be socially adept and kind towards others in this way.

However, the same women that readily understand that kindness can be explicitly taught to their kids bristle when their husbands try to repeat words that I teach them in session, like, "I love you and I support you" or "I’m sorry I didn’t empathize with you when you were upset." 

They also do not want to directly tell their husbands on their own, outside of the session, how to say things that would make them feel closer. Why?

There is a fantasy that men have that their wives are supposed to want sex as much as they do and to initiate sex out of the blue in a fun and exciting way that is in line with the man’s own personal sexual preferences. An exact parallel for this is women’s fantasy that men are supposed to know exactly what to say and how and when to say it without prompting. Both of these fantasies can undermine a happy marriage.


Many women rail against their mothers-in-law, saying that these women failed to teach their husbands how to be emotionally present or empathic. Yet they will then turn around and expect their husbands, who they have acknowledged did not get this training in the home as kids, to understand what to say to make them feel loved and validated. How would the man understand how to do this without training?

When women say, "It’s not my job to teach an adult how to behave," they are basically saying, "This marriage is over and I am abdicating my responsibility in creating my own happiness." 

It is the same as if a man were to say to me, "I really want my wife to surprise me by wearing lingerie, and this would make me feel super loved and close, and, you know what, she is pretty receptive to trying to make me happy overall, but I refuse to tell her that I want this because she ought to know it already and it’s not my job to tell a grown woman how to be exciting in bed." 

I would answer, "Cool, you no longer have any right to complain about your sex life so let’s move on to the next issue on the list." (Of course, I would not say this, or actually knowing me I probably would say it as a joke, and then we would explore WHY he will not make this request.)


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If your husband is willing to learn exactly what words to say to make you feel good, why do you do yourself and the marriage a disservice by making it "not count" if you, or your therapist, have to explicitly train him to say these words?

It certainly would be nice if you and he were so attuned that he automatically knew how to verbally comfort you. But the majority of men are not trained to be paragons of emotional expressivity in their childhoods.

If you "don’t count" the times that he says, or for that matter, DOES, something because you’ve asked or told him how to do it, then you are sacrificing your marriage on the altar of your fantasy life.


It takes a lot of nerve and courage to speak directly from your child-self, and to share what would really make you feel close and loved.

Some such statements would be, "What I really wish you would say is, 'I love you and I will take care of you forever'" or "I wish you would tell me you love me more than any other person ever." 

These statements come from the part of you that is not mature and adult, and that is healthy and good for creating intimacy. Two people who never share their core vulnerabilities and remain 100% mature and adult all the time likely have more of a business relationship than an intimate relationship.

What if you gather yourself up to express these vulnerable wishes and instead of repeating them and/or adding onto them, your husband responds something like, "Yeah well what I wish is that you would stop being so dramatic all the time?"


Well, then you are obviously not on the same page emotionally, and I would strongly encourage going to couples counseling to address deeper issues about your attachment patterns.

But, if your husband DOES want to be close and DOES say the things you tell him that you deeply wish he would say, then it is not fair to him (or to you, because then you’re cutting yourself off from what could be very healing love) to tell him that his efforts are inferior because he was unable to initially read your mind and say them unprompted.

RELATED: 100 Ways To Connect Intimately With Your Partner

Another issue: What if you have told your husband what to do and say many times, and he still doesn’t do it?


Then I would say to ask yourself the following question: Is he able to follow directions and perform well in the workplace?

If so, then he has a mental and emotional block against listening to you and learning from you. This is likely due to resentment on his end coupled with an emotionally avoidant attachment style.

It is something to explore in therapy so that any blocks to learning how to please one another can be worked through, on BOTH ends. There are likely many key empathic ruptures in your relationship history that have never been resolved and are locking you into an unfulfilling, frustrating pursuer/distancer pattern.


Share with your partner if you have gotten into this situation (e.g., "Date night doesn’t count because I asked you to plan it," "You only say you love me after I say it," "You didn’t even notice my dress until I asked about it," etc).

Discuss how your marriage might improve and grow if you were able to set aside your fantasy that he would be a mind reader and lovingly accept the efforts he makes to do and say what you want even (especially!) when it is completely outside of his wheelhouse to do so. 

RELATED: 5 Things Husbands Need To Hear Their Wives Say At Least Once Per Month

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.