Men: You Have More Agency In Your Relationship Than You Think

How you treat your wife says so much about your relationship.

man taking photo with woman on beach Davide Zanin Photography / Shutterstock

Many men think their wives’ moods are like the weather, and they have no agency over how their wife reacts in any situation. This, especially when coupled with their wife being the gatekeeper of physical intimacy in the marriage, leaves them feeling stuck, depressed, and powerless.

They often react to their wives with irritation, frustration, and passive aggression, which stems from their overall powerless feeling. But, men have far more agency than they think in their marriages.


Here, I discuss how men need to stop thinking and caring so much about what their wives think.

That post got a lot of positive feedback from men who wrote in telling me that it resonated deeply with them and explained why their efforts to please their wives in the short term appear to backfire in the long term.

When men become paralyzed by whether their wives approve of them, this makes their wives trust and respect them less, even if the wives themselves are unaware of this cycle.

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Men actually have a great deal of agency over how their wives feel day to day and create the general feel of the home.


When husbands sulk or yell, nobody doubts the influence of this on the atmosphere within the family. But there is an equally positive impact on the other end of the spectrum when a husband operates with confidence and takes positive, proactive steps to keep his family moving in a healthy direction.

There is a positive parenting term of “confident momentum” that I will discuss more in its own post soon.

But for now, suffice it to say that if a man operates with proactivity, positivity, and confident leadership, then his wife and family will feel happy and secure.

Men who struggle with feeling like they have agency over their wives’ moods or behaviors usually fall into one or more of these three categories:

1. Workhorses who feel like they must achieve endlessly to get any appreciation, and that appreciation can be revoked at any time as it is based on current performance only.

2. Men with an avoidant attachment style who minimize the value of all emotional relationships and prefer independence to healthy interdependence.

3. Men who struggle with alexithymia or are on the autism spectrum (generally what we used to call Asperger’s), who genuinely have low emotional intelligence and find their wives’ feelings, like most people’s feelings for that matter, to be opaque and confusing.

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In any category, this feeling of powerlessness is amplified if the man is currently depressed. All of these types of men underestimate the impact that their moods and behaviors have on their wives.

For example, they underestimate how much an apology could help short-circuit an impending fight, how much a romantic gesture could increase their wives’ openness to physical intimacy, or how many of the interests their wives would “allow” them to pursue if they only expressed appreciation for their wives watching the kids while they pursued these interests.

When a man struggles with seeing the amount of agency he has over his wife’s mood, he also tends to underestimate the agency he has over his kids. He doesn’t share much with them about his own life, history, thoughts, and opinions, although he may listen happily to theirs.

He doesn’t see how his work travel or late hours may impact kids, and may not understand the extent to which his kids see him as a role model. This man also considers himself replaceable at work and doesn’t understand how much more he could achieve at work if he remembered and cared more about his coworkers’ interests and personal lives.


If you are a man who thinks that he has no agency over his wife’s mood or the general feel of his home, therapy can help you change your frame on this.

There are issues stemming from your upbringing that are most likely responsible for your feelings of hopelessness, paralysis, and insignificance. Often, childhood emotional neglect (from a depressed or addicted parent’s unintentional abdication of the emotional work of parenting) and/or being raised by narcissistic parents (or bullied by a sibling) can lead to this type of low self-esteem. (Read Running on Empty and Children of the Self-Absorbed for more on each of these issues respectively; they often intersect.)

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Also, trying concrete changes in your relationship and tracking your wife’s responses can help you lay to rest the myth of your irrelevance.


For instance, taking the time to text your wife something loving, learning more empathic ways of interacting, buying her a thoughtful gift and seeing how she reacts, or taking better care of yourself and seeing if she responds more to your romantic advances are some ways for you to see in real-time that you can actually impact your wife’s daily mood and responses to you.

Humans respond fairly predictably to positivity, love, confidence, and kindness. Your wife is no different than other humans, and even if you have had marital struggles, you may be able to positively affect her and change her responses to you for the better.

You can almost certainly impact her mood more than you THINK you can, and even one small positive reaction from her in response to an intentionally changed behavior on your part is often enough to get you thinking that maybe you have more agency over your marriage and your life in general than you have ever thought.


If this post spoke to you, then I seriously advise you to consider seeking counseling for probably the first time in your life. You deserve to feel in charge of your life and your relationships and to be the best man, husband, and father that you can be. 

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