Does Your Husband Deserve Gold Stars?


Gretchen Rubin thinks your husband deserves some gold stars. The author of The Happiness Project is not thinking of the kind of gold stars you might wear on your shoulder or chest or sleeve. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t mean the Gold Star we think of when we think of military widows and orphans and parents.

In her new book, Happier At Home, Gretchen suggests that men (more than women) need a lot more praise from their wives -- like little gold stars sprinkled all over the page.

I read that and made sort of a snorting noise. I am glad I was alone at the time.

If more gold stars need to be doled out around here, I think they should go to me. I LOVE gold stars. “Words of encouragement” are, in fact, my Love Language. I positively purr when praised.

Like most other women I know -- in and out of uniform -- I do so much great stuff for my husband and kids that they should toss showers of gold stars at me every time I walk in the door. Then they should hurry and clean those up before they stick to the floor forever.

Yet Gretchen is not thinking of me. Instead, she points to the research that says that women get much more positive support outside their marriages than men do. Women collect affirmation from kids and friends and workmates and their own moms.

“Men depend on their wives for reassurance and understanding,” notes Gretchen. Dang. That sounds really true to me. Sometimes I think my sailor’s whole life is soaked in criticism. Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing is ever done to the perfect standard. What they call “Lessons Learned” should actually be titled “Stuff You Should Have Done Better.” Criticism is the military way.

I wonder if Gretchen has stumbled across a simple truth that might make our military marriages better—especially when it comes to reintegration.

Maybe instead of handing out black marks for all the things our servicemembers could be doing better at home, maybe we need to hand out some gold stars for the things they do right. Maybe we should be lavish about it to the point of praising these guys for doing the things they should be doing—thanks for unloading the dishwasher. Thanks for calling your mom. Thanks for locking all the doors it makes me feel so safe.

In one way, that sounds a little condescending to me. Like I’m the teacher and my husband is the student—which isn’t our relationship at all. Nor am I his boss.  Or his mom.

I’m just the girl who loves him best in all the world. I know my guy. I know he tries to please us. He doesn’t quite purr when praised, but he does repeat anything I praise about him.  Could that be the secret?

“If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project,” writes Gretchen. “ Its that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself. If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.”

So maybe it doesn’t matter if the gold stars don’t work out exactly evenly. Maybe this is one of those miniskills we just adopt because they make for a happier life. And a shower of gold stars.

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