Male confidence is tricky territory! Deeply ingrained societal norms place an enormous burden on men to be invulnerable — a warrior impenetrable to the worries of the world. They’re expected to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, let harsh comments roll off their back, and solve any problems that arise by throwing hands. While some of this mess is finally changing, this was the reality of my husband’s raising. Healthy self-esteem doesn’t come naturally for my fella, and it didn’t take me long as a new wife to realize that much of his confidence was tied up in how he thought I perceived him.

A Tale of Two Opposites…

I am my father’s child —confident to the core, capable of anything I put my hand to— or at least that’s what my deluded brain tells me. During my first years of marriage, I would often come home to a job not finished, something I asked my husband to do that seemed to never get done. He’d make an excuse or apologize, and we’d move on, but his lack of drive drove me crazy!

One day, I asked him to help me with a building project, and I realized that he wasn’t lazy at all. He just didn’t know how to do it, and instead of admitting that, he’d procrastinated. Not only did he not have the confidence to try the task, but he didn’t have the confidence to tell me he couldn’t do it. It was my first realization that I was dealing with a totally different beast that I would have to learn to understand.

A Product of His Raising…

A few months later, my husband and dad were working on something in the shop… I don’t remember what. As we got ready for bed that night, he looked at me, almost in tears, and said…

“Your dad has been more of a father to me in six months than mine was my whole life.”

I hugged him, and my heart broke. He rarely talked about his dad up to this point. Ryan is from a family of athletes. I come from a sporty family too, but athletics in his family is almost a religion. As the youngest and smallest of three brothers, with his mother’s more timid personality, he was in some ways a disappointment to his dad.

He gradually told me stories like how his dad shamed him for getting a concussion during a football game or told him that he was an embarrassment about this or that. I began to realize that my husband wasn’t shy or cautious just by nature. He had been conditioned not to speak/act for fear of being chastised. He was broken.

I Made Him Worse…

Sarcasm is admittedly my go-to. In the beginning, I teased my husband just like I would my dad, sister, or ornery cousins. That’s how our family operates. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why this man, whom I admired with my whole heart, could not tell when I was joking. Even though his masculinity wouldn’t let him admit it, I felt like I was constantly hurting his feelings.

The Turning of the Tides…

Fast-forward a few years (shamefully)… We were lying in bed after a huge blowout over a self-confidence-related issue…silent. Out of nowhere, I blurted out:

“I don’t know why you care what he thinks about you. You’re more of a man in your pinky than he has ever been.”

…Weeping…my tough guy was now weeping. At that moment, I realized that my opinion was the only one that could counteract the damage.

Changing My Ways…

I decided that night to change my language when talking to my husband. This goes double if it’s a heated conversation. I now avoid statements like “you never,” “you always,” or “why did you do that?” Accusatory statements will get me nowhere with him. He’ll shut down (or now that we’ve been together 20 years, he’ll lash out).

If something is not done the way I want, I cannot jump to criticizing. Words of affirmation and heartfelt compliments go a long way with him. Those don’t come naturally to me, but I’ve learned. I also try much harder to control my tone. He isn’t my child, and he isn’t my inferior. He’s my partner and my equal, and I make a concerted effort to speak to him respectfully, even when I’m angry.

Yep…that’s hard.

The Change is Real…

While my mouth has always gotten me in trouble, being with Ryan has taught me the power of words and the tone of those words. These tweaks (and the natural passage of time) have resulted in an infinitely more confident husband. He now knows that I respect him above all others. He’s aware that I find him immensely sexy, competent, and that I have faith in his abilities. As a result, he’s transformed into someone who takes a joke in stride, stands up for himself, tries new things with confidence, and even occasionally tosses out some sarcasm of his own. He’s even got a bit of a swagger about him these days!

While his journey was intense with many facets of emotional and spiritual healing, I have no doubt that one of the biggest contributors to his overall self-esteem was the change in me. If you notice that your partner is lacking in the self-esteem department, don’t assume he’s weak or that it’s a lost cause. If you love him, adjust the way you interact with him. It just might be a game-changer!

About Author

Abby is a professional relationship and travel writer currently working out of Southeast Asia. Before leaving for travel Abby was educated in biology and nursing and worked as a PICC nurse. While all things travel are her primary workload, she's passionate about seeing marriages and families thrive! Living, working, traveling, and spending every second of every day with her spouse has taught her a few valuable lessons about making a marriage work, and she's all about passing those nuggets of wisdom along. Abby is regularly published in multiple online spaces including Arkansas Frontier, Adventures From Scratch, Let's Roam, and Homebody Hall. You can also find her on YouTube at LostAmongLocals.

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