Do I Have To Call Him Husband?

When I started the Reclaiming Wife section of APW, it was because the word wife felt terrible, archaic, insulting, and something I wasn’t. It wasn’t that I had a problem with the word, it was that I had a problem with the connotations. (A simple google image search of the word should reveal why. Ick.) And while we’ve talked a lot on APW about making, and not making, that word our own, we haven’t talked a lot about the word husband. So I’m delighted to welcome Joanna of A Lil O’ This today, talking about how she’s thinking about the word. I can’t wait to read your discussion.

Do I have to call him husband

Let me start by saying that I absolutely adore the man I married. He’s hilarious, fun, supportive and, as he says, always on my side. I just don’t want to call him husband.

Matt and I have been married for almost three years, so if I were planning to come around to this whole “husband” thing I would probably have gotten there.

When a friend of mine got married, she spent much of the reception telling everyone how excited she was to call her new spouse “husband.” She used the word as much as she could that night and was joyous that she was finally allowed to be forever aligned with the man she loved and to call him, happily, her husband.

My experience was not quite the same. I don’t think I called Matt “husband” the day we got married, although friends and family did find it (understandably) fun to ask me where my husband was all night. A few months into our marriage, I realized I was avoiding the word to a degree. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel “me.” And I think I finally figured out why.

It feels archaic. It feels symbolic of a role he doesn’t play and like a counterpart to a role I don’t play. I’ve yet to find much joy in many of the stops along the traditional marriage life path.

  • I didn’t want a diamond. It felt like something I was supposed to want, but didn’t.
  • I didn’t change my name when we got married. It felt like giving up a part of myself I wasn’t willing to part with.
  • I wasn’t sure I wanted a church wedding, although we ended up doing it for our families, a decision I’m still unsure of.
  • I don’t feel a yearning in my loins to bear children. I’m not even sure I like children.

I don’t call him “husband” and he rarely calls me “wife.” Those words feel like what our grandparents used to describe the roles they led. My grandmother, for example, made dinner every night decked out in pearls. My grandfather, on the other hand, sat at the dinner table expecting meat and potatoes and maybe a deliciously neon Jello cup for dessert. Did he help with dinner? No. Did he help clean up? No.

These are the people I think about when I think of an example husband and wife. And these people are not me. Or my husband.

I think a part of me is terrified of becoming that traditional wife with a traditional husband. So I reject everything that embodies those roles, including the words I associate with them. “Wife” I am not, but I do cook (because I love it) and clean (because I hate roaches). “Husband” Matt is not, but he does take care of the lawn (because it’s relaxing) and grill a mean steak (because it’s fun). Sure, there may be some tradition to the roles we embody, but it’s because we want to, not because we have to, and that makes all the difference.

Matt’s “husband” role has best friend written all over it. He pushes me to be a better person, encourages my ever-changing ambitions and works with me as we both struggle (for the seventeenth time) to decide if having children is in our life plan. He’s my love, my partner and my companion for, as our wedding rings say, as long as the journey will let us.  But I’m not calling him husband.

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  • A-L

    I think it’s really interesting (and makes sense) that people who have issues with the term wife also have it with the term husband. But I guess I’m different in that the changing role of each spouse over the last 50 years has also changed the connotations of those terms for me, so I simply think of each term as the male or female version of “partner for life.” So yesterday when I got a b-day card addressed as “Wife” I was all excited as it was my first one ever. But thanks for sharing your point of view, as I’m sure many others share it!

  • I don’t think it matters what you call your Spouse or what you don’t. I didn’t change my name, had a diamond or had a church wedding either. I only had a civil wedding (a gorgeous one, IMO!) and wore a black suit to it, not a traditional white gown. We do have children, my husband calls me “wife”when talking about me to other people and I call him husband in the same occasions, mainly because of practicality: it helps people identify who I am talking about when they don’t know him by his first name (and viceversa). I believe that we can give old words a new meaning and that words don’t define us unless we let them define ourselves. And I also believe that if you don’t feel comfortable with those words, it is perfectly OK to chose not to use them.

    • Anonymous

      “I believe that we can give old words a new meaning and that words don’t define us unless we let them define ourselves.”

      A-freaking-men to this. Words are meaningless until we give them meaning, and I really believe that if you don’t want to be defined by a particular word, don’t let yourself be. Make a new definition of it. Hence the phrase “Reclaiming Wife.”

      • ANDREA

        I absolutely agree, but this is also an interesting discussion point. I can redefine and reclaim a word, but am I then obligated to use it? Can we redefine and reclaim what “wives” are and still say “partner” because we want to? Or must we put more examples of our reclaimed-“wife”-ness out there, necessarily using the label “wife”? I think I lean towards the former, but reading it I think maybe we (“we” like, I don’t know, “the sisterhood” or “Team Practical”) might actually be better off doing the latter.

        Someone please join me in thinking about this. :)

        • Anonymous

          My point is: use whatever word you want, and define yourself any way you choose. It really IS that simple!

        • Christa

          One could think of using the term “partner” to describe our spouse as adding a new term instead of rejecting the term wife or husband. Common use of “partner” or whatever just adds options and normalcy for those whom the terms husband or wife don’t fit well.

          Course, the use of other terms can indeed be a rejection of all the historical baggage associated with husband and wife, and thats fine too.

          • I believe it is about what each persons feels comfortable in doing. We can either fight the traditional- Betty Draper- meaning of the word wife by rejecting it altogether or we can use it to mean something different. Both actions can imply a transgression, a rebellion. The rebellion itself, IMO, lies in reclaiming the right to live our life as we please and to build a marriage with rules we believe in.

  • I’m more likely Joanna’s friend in that I’m excited to call my fiance “my husband.” (Well, fiance has always felt weird, too.) I think that, much like gender roles and partner expectations, the word husband can change meaning along with the times. But I think Joanna makes an excellent point–even small things like the words husband and wife can carry a lot of weight for a particular couple. If it’s not something a couple feels good about, they don’t have to do it/use it. It doesn’t mean they’re any less committed; it means they’ve found a balance that enhances their relationship.

    This post also made me think of couples who aren’t “allowed” to call each other husband/wife for legal reasons, and yet have been committed longer than my fiance and I have been. Maybe we really do need to consider what these words mean and how they really represent modern couples.

    • FawMo

      “…it means they have found a balance that enhances their relationship.”

      THIS. Annie, I’m not sure what just clicked for me but I finally feel like I have the words to make peace with my decision to stay Liz MyLastName forever.

      • Aw, thanks! High five to your MyLastName-ing.

  • Jess K

    Thanks for this post, Joanna, it embodies a lot of sentiments I feel but haven’t been able to put words to. I also feel uncomfortable with the word ‘husband’, although I haven’t been able to articulate why. Your post has helped me along the way!

    • Me too! Actually, my husband (see! I did it!) pointed this out to me soon into our honeymoon. I’m uncomfortable calling him that but I don’t think it’s just because of the negative connotations that the author mentioned makes her uncomfortable, rather, I just don’t feel like a person who has a husband. I’m still getting used to the idea that we are married. And it’s been almost two months so I’ve got time. It just feels surprising and adult like in a way that I haven’t been able to process yet. Me, with a husband. It just feels like what my mom or her contemporaries say and I’m just a kid over here! Never mind that I’m 28.

      I do feel some of the uncomfortableness that the author has, I just think that is only a small part of my problem. I resist saying it because I don’t yet see myself in a way that includes a husband. It’s been me for so long that it’s hard to realize it’s now me and him.

  • One of the things I love about APW is the opportunity to see the same issue from so many perspectives, and see how everyone’s individual backgrounds have shaped their own outlook.

    It’s in reading posts like this one that I realize how much my own background has shaped my outlook. I’ve never struggled with the terms wife or husband, or seen them as negative, despite the cultural noise that surrounds them. I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m missing something, but reading your post, I realize that because I’ve never witnessed that ‘traditional’ model of husband and wife (the wife cooking and cleaning in pearls and heels while the husband reads the paper) in my own life, I have a totally different association with the words.

    My grandma on my dad’s side has two university degrees, and can’t cook to save her life. While she is both a wife and mother, both were entirely by choice. She was truly a partner and friend to my grandpa until he passed away, and he to her. They always supported and encouraged eachother, as he ran his own business and she followed her passion of doing art therapy at the children’s hospital. They travelled the world together, and were truly best friends. That same grandpa was raised by his aunt and uncle after his father was killed by a horse when he was young. He used to tell the story of first arriving at their house, and his uncle pulling him aside and telling him ‘in this house, there’s no such thing as women’s work, we all do our part’. His aunt (my great-aunt) was an engineer, one of the first women to graduate from engineering, so it was no surprise that help was expected around the house, she had a busy job!

    On my mom’s side, both my grandparents are farmers. Although my grandpa admittedly can’t cook, he does clean, and would never dream of sitting around doing nothing while my grandma cooks. Their typical system would start with him going out to the garden to pick vegetables for dinner (and always returning with a bouquet of flowers for my grandma picked from their wildflower garden, even after 60 years of marriage), which he would bring in and wash, then she’d prepare dinner while he went to feed the animals and clean up the barn, and then after dinner, they’d clean up the kitchen together, then pour a scotch and play scrabble. They too love to travel, and at 80, haven’t lost their adventurous spirit. They’re in New Zealand right now, and I got an email from them recently which casually mentioned ‘last night we went sea kayaking at midnight, and there were fireflies dancing along the surface of the water, it was beautiful!’ Again, they’re 80!

    So I guess reflecting on all that, it’s not a surprise that I don’t have the same negative associations with ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ that so many people seem to have. To me, wife and husband has always meant partner and best friend, and it’s only in reading your post today that I was able to realize why.

    Thanks for a great post, and sorry for such a long comment!

    • Your grandparents rock!!!!!!

    • ANDREA

      I don’t think I can handle how amazing your grandparents sound. The vegetable gardens! The wildflowers! New Zealand! I have some new life goals, I think.

    • Meredith

      I’d love to read a post written by you and your grandparents!

    • Not only do I also adore your grandparents, I want to be like your grandparents.

    • It sounds like you have wonderful grandparents!

      I think you’re definitely correct about a person’s background affecting their current viewpoints. Recently I’ve been thinking about it in terms of women’s work, and how we see it. My mother and both my grandmothers held full-time work for most of their lives, so I can’t imagine not working full-time. I think it may be similar for people who have the opposite situation (ie, women whose mothers stayed home or worked part time may feel more comfortable staying home), but I don’t really have any data to prove this. Just something I’ve been considering lately.

    • E

      I want to be your grandma when I grow up.

  • Jo

    I love that we all experience these things differently, and that there’s no wrong way to feel it. I’m also very glad we get to talk about the different ways we experience it.

    I personally like to say “partner” or “spouse”, partly stemming from an ally place, partly because I can’t stand the gender roles described above that husband/wife mean to me. It doesn’t always play, though, and I do occasionally slip. We always look at each other weird when the other says one of those words! :)

    • I used “partner” instead of “boyfriend” when we were dating, and now use “spouse” as well. I think I like to keep people on their toes…

      We’ve been married for 9 months and I don’t feel like a “wife.” Craig doesn’t feel like a “husband.” We ocasionally ask one another “hey, do you feel “married?” “nope.” “me neither. I feel the same. I feel great.” Just this past week I called myself Craig’s girlfriend, twice. I just forgot.

      No need to fret that you don’t like the terms – some people use language markers to help themselves identify, some don’t. I think as a society we will be moving away from the singularity of these labels, anyway.

  • Amanda

    Personally, I like the word husband and, previously, I liked using the word boyfriend. I found the word “partner” – which many people used to refer to him, as he was a very long-term boyfriend – to be too sterile. Our roles in the marriage aren’t really gender-specific, and I don’t feel any pressure to embody outdated definitions of what a “wife” is. Of course, no one needs to use words that carry uncomfortable connotations for them, but I’m more bothered by words that characterise women in overtly unpleasant ways: nag, bitch, etc.

    Just curious: what do you call him? And why do you like that word?

    • I agree that partner has always felt sterile. Even more so than “significant other,” which is what I use for my sister’s boyfriend. He’s more than a boyfriend, but she’s against marriage & he’s Swedish. Significant other just sounds more, well, significant. If you know what i mean.

      • Sarahkay

        I’ve never found significant other to be a meaningful term myself, it’s just sort of flat to me. I guess I’ve never heard it used with great feeling.

    • FawMo

      I, too, have always felt wrinkled my “partner” but after 5.5 years of dating “boyfriend” also feels like I’m undervaluing the relationship. I call him that mostly out of convenience and the fact that I can’t find a term I feel totally fits. Alas, Stud Man will have to do….

      • Liz

        I love how varied all the experiences and uses of terms are here. I’m on the partner end of things- After about two years of dating, “boyfriend” didn’t carry enough meaning for me anymore, and made me feel like I was in high school or something. My partner and I now use the term “partner” to refer to each other. We are literally partners in everything, so it makes complete sense and carries a whole lot of meaning for me. It somehow carries the meaning of the pre-engaged state, too- we’ve progressed from boyfriend and girlfriend, but haven’t reached fiance status. Also, I like that it makes people think twice and not jump to conclusions, because that term has been more common in the LBGT community, historically. Interestingly, when I lived in New Zealand I found out that Kiwis use the term “partner” interchangeably with boyfriend, spouse, etc, and it’s a very common usage and not at all unusual.

        • Plus I think partner justifies the super hero capes we’re got our eyes on (dorks. yep. just gonna deal with it rather than try and hide it).

  • Well, 1 year into our marriage I also find the term funny . I do not feel strongly about it. Sometimes I use it and sometimes I don’t, but it does feel weird, and I can not really pinpoint the reason. I think it has to do more with people thinking I am old. I don’t know why that worries me and why I associate it with being old and why that would be something relevant. But that’s how it feels.

  • I’m a big fan of the word ‘partner’ myself – it’s how I refer to Beloved in real life. I don’t think that will change post-marriage. Not that I have something against ‘husband’ per se.

    I like ‘partner’ better because it suits me (as a bisexual butch) to refer to him in a gender neutral way, and I like to believe that it helps people rethink their preconceived notions about sexuality. It’s also something that I would like to keep doing because I think bisexuals need to be visible, even (or: especially) when we commit to an opposite-sex-partner and could (therefore) pass as straight.

    Also, it sounds very equal and very balanced, a little entrepreneurial and very team-like. All good things in my opinion!

    • Amanda

      Funny, I think it’s this business connotation that turns me off partner, mostly. But a partner-in-crime – that I could get behind!

      And, yup, you can’t go wrong with the equality stuff.

  • Louise

    Joanna, thanks for your interesting post. To me, as a European, the whole wife/husband/1950’s connotations discussions is a bit alien, as in my language the word for husband is man and the word for wife is woman (as in many other European languages, as far as I know). That makes things a bit more straightforward and less culturally/historically laden – I never had issues with using the word “man”, since he already felt like “my man” before we got married. If only there were such a widely accepted option for native English speakers…

    • This was a really interesting point! I had actually never thought about how the history behind these roles would differ from country to country. Weird.

      But you are right, sometimes I wish the English language had a broader range of word options. Like “love”: so many other languages have multiple words representing the various degrees of love and care. We are very limited and it can scare a lot of people off. What if when I say, “I love you”, I really meant “I care super ultra mega deeply for you, but I don’t want to run off and get married and make babies”? We don’t really have that as an option besides a very long winded response.. & let’s face it, those don’t make great greeting cards.

      • agree! my now-husband, then-fairly-new-boyfriend, once said to me, “can I say I love you in a non-serious way?” it was hilarious and adorable and completely not scary and got across just what he meant. but it’s true a simpler expression or word (or many different words for different kinds of love) would be a lot easier. OR would it just add a new level of anxiety, over whether you were expressing the exact right kind of love for that stage..? ha. maybe we would make it complicated no matter what.

    • Noa

      “In my language the word for husband is man and the word for wife is woman”

      In Spanish, the word for wife is woman, but the word for husband is not man – it’s something else entirely. I’ve always hated it and thought that it’s not egalitarian at all. Basically, if a man presents a woman as his wife he’s saying (in Spanish) “this is my woman”, but women have to present them as “my husband”. So it seems like women can belong to somebody (a man) but men can’t be anyone else’s.

      I don’t know if any of this makes any sense :)

    • Another Thea

      If I remember correctly, “wife” DOES mean “woman,” in older versions of English that is. But “husband” does not have the same origin–I think it has to do with management, like the verb “to husband” (e.g. husband one’s strength, one’s savings, whatever) or “animal husbandry.”

  • rachel

    I like the word “husband”…until I’m looking for a birthday/valentine’s day/father’s day/etc card for him. For some reason, my scholarly, nerdy, musical husband doesn’t fit the golfing, Budweiser-drinking, bosom-ogling, all-around-bumbling stereotype on most male-intended greeting cards. I usually end up finding a card on etsy or making something whimsical myself, which is much more fun anyways. Like several of the comments before, I have never really associated husband and wife with gender stereotypes, mostly because the previous generations in my family bucked those long ago. However, I can definitely see where one would be uncomfortable with such words :(

  • Thank you so much for this post, Joanna! It is so interesting to hear all of the different ways we can experience something. My hunch is that if I were marrying a man I might feel similarly. But I am marrying a woman, and for me that has meant continuing battles with politics and language. For us, the word “wife” carries a lot of weight. Using it is a political act, which is important to us–but more than that, we desperately want the right to use it (legally) and have it on a bit of a pedestal. Saying “wife” (well, “future wife” at this point) feels like a hug every time, because it makes us feel like part of the institution we’re fighting to join.

    I strongly believe in the power language has to both affect and reflect our experiences, and I think it is so important for each of us to make the choices that are right for us with the words we use. Good for you for listening to yourself and honoring what’s right for you and Matt!

  • The way I see it, part of redefining the roles of people in marriage is reclaiming the terms we use to refer to each other. I am okay with “husband” and “wife” in a way I wasn’t with fiancé/fiancee, because I feel like the generally cultural expectations about marriage have shifted in a positive way, while those about engagement have gone more sour.

    That said, I’m only a month and a half into marriage, and I am still not used to the terms. Pretty frequently, I have to stop “my dude” from falling out of my mouth when I’m referring to my husband.

  • lindsay

    I’m with you 100% on this – husband feels weird and not representative of our relationship. I feel weird when I’m called his wife, too (or even blushing bride still, now 18 months after getting married).

    When we did our wedding registry, I put it under “partner” at the store because I liked that better. Turns out it was difficult for people to find us because they would search by bride or groom name – the lists weren’t cross-referenced during a search. That seems like such a silly thing to not do, especially with so many states allowing marriage equality. Why can’t they just do “person 1” and “person 2” (or person 3, person 4, etc)?

  • I like the word husband. I still find it weird, after a year of marriage, to introduce myself as, “M.’s Wife”, but I don’t have a problem with it. In fact, I probably over-use husband in a nauseating, newlywed way.

    I’ve known a lot of non-traditional relationships in my life. My mom worked a 9-5 as a doctor, my dad rearranged his university teaching schedule to be at home in the afternoons for my sister and I, my dad cooked and my mom came home to a hot meal every night. My grandfather retired and let my grandmother retire as well – every night he cooked dinner, and did a lot of the cleanup. My cousins have redefined marriage in a ton of different ways for me, so I’ve never felt boxed into my role as “wife”. I get to be who I was before we married, without feeling like the word means anything but “person who is married”, but I can see why somebody else might feel uncomfortable with the words.

  • I think English is impoverished when it comes to relationship nouns. It seems silly when unmarried folks in commited relationships in their 50s have to introduce their “boyfriend”. But “lover” is a little candid and “partner” is sterile, to me.

    I always thought it’d be awesome to have a husband, but a few months ago over drinks my girlfriend said “Holy sh*t, you’re gonna be Nick’s WIFE.” And it blew me away. It sounded weird and gross.

    I always hoped someday I’d get married but I never hoped someday to be a wife. Does that make sense?

    • My grandmother rolls with “gentleman friend” for her beau. More options are definitely needed.

  • Izzy

    I agree with Ellie – the words husband and wife don’t mean anything to me but “person who is married”. They don’t have any neagtive associations for me. I wonder why Joanna got married if she feels so restricted/defined by these terms? I agree it will feel weird to call my fiance “husband” when we’re married, but that’s just because it will be new. I think I will find it funny more than anything and am quite looking forward to it.

    • Steph

      I’m concerned about your comment. I don’t think having a problem with the terms associated with being married should stop someone from getting married. I think it’s brave to choose the terms by which you marry, and to choose the terms you and your partner use to talk about one another, instead of just using them because they exist. Simply not wanting to use the words “husband” or “wife” shouldn’t mean that you shouldn’t get married.

      • Izzy

        I’m surprised that my comment provoked such strong reactions. I didn’t say or mean that Joanna shouldn’t get married, I was literally curious (hence the word “wonder”).

    • Harriet

      I got married even though I have some discomfort with the terms “husband” and “wife,” and I don’t think there’s a conflict between wanting to get married and not liking those terms: I didn’t get married to be called a wife, I got married to make a new family with my husband/partner.

    • Choosing to participate in marriage (or any other cultural practice) does not mean you have to accept every facet of it as it is. Titling of spouses is one such thing, and couples should be able to determine what works best for them.

  • I don’t know yet if I have a problem with “husband” or “wife.” But I do know that I hate people correcting me when I forget to use “fiance.” We were together for almost eight years before getting engaged and during that time I called him my boyfriend. Yes we’ve been engaged for eight months, but I think, to me, he will always be my boyfriend. “Boyfriend” makes sense to me, feels really natural, and seems almost more romantic to me (it makes me think of a new fun love, of still going on dates, of romance and exciting sex). When people correct me, “you mean fiance,” I tell them, “Well yes, he’s my fiance too, but he’s still my boyfriend. Later he will be my husband and my boyfriend.”

    Plus I like the idea of holding onto the word, because I think it will be really sweet when I’m a little old lady and he’s a crotchety old man and I get to tell people that “My boyfriend is going to take me out on a date tonight.”

    • MinnaBrynn

      I like your idea of holding on to the word boyfriend. We were engaged almost a year and have been married just over a year and boyfriend is still the term most likely to come out of my mouth. I can/will use husband if I’m introducing him to someone who doesn’t know who he is, but that’s always a conscious choice that feels like a formal title or an explanation rather than anything that has to do with our every day life. I think a lot of it stems from what you said about ‘boyfriend’ bringing up certain ideas (dating in particular for me; one of our goals when we agreed to get married was to never stop dating). And yes, I love the idea of still using it when we’re old.

    • Haha, of course. This makes perfect sense because if he’s no longer your boyfriend, what is he … your exboyfriend?!

      (This is what I want to do for shock value. E.g. I’m going on a date with my exboyfriend.)

    • Edelweiss

      I think this is a beautiful way to illustrate how powerful words and titles can be, with both positive and negative connotations. There are some sweet moments with my partner when I’ll refer to him as my best friend, because the title that role connotes to us highlight an aspect of our relationship that I treasure. Conversely, he often refers to me as his biggest supporter.

      While I don’t personally feel the negative implications of the word husband, when we’re married I hope to find other words to use as his title as well to highlight the positive pieces he brings our relationship.

      Any term or nickname can carry different histories and implications for people, I respect this author so much for recognizing what the word husband brings into her relationship and realizing those vibes need to be addressed and eliminanted.

    • I’v e been married for a year and a half (or maybe a lifetime, who can tell?) and I still call him my boyfriend semi-regularly. I also call him husband and babe and assorted silly nicknames. Boyfriend, for me, is just another term of endearment.

    • I always feel weird using “fiance” when I talk about…my fiance. I don’t know why, but it feels pretentious and unnecessary. I like to call him my boyfriend. Why do people feel the need to correct me on that? It drives me crazy.

    • Haley

      Your feelings for “boyfriend” are interesting to hear, since for me it holds a different meaning. Since my (now) husband and I started dating at 13, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” will always imply immaturity and lack of commitment. We were so happy to graduate to fiance and then husband / wife, which seem to be taken much more seriously. It’s nice to be able to show the world that we plan on being together forever with just one word.

    • Haha! I like this. We used the terms boyfriend/girlfriend throughout our engagement, because we didn’t like fiance/fiancee. Now there are still plenty of times (especially when I am feeling particularly playful) that boyfriend/girlfriend comes out of my mouth, and I am totally okay with that.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      To me, “fiance” is a word just for the etiquette books, useful in the same situations as “escort” and “date.” I use it to refer to my future husband at work, where we’re not seriously discussing our personal lives: “What are you doing this weekend?” “Oh, my fiance and I are seeing a play.”

      But when real friends ask, “How is your fiance [or, your boo, or your beau, or your man]?” I always respond with, “My future husband is…” I’m trying to remind myself as well as them of the importance of the commitment I’m preparing to make. Sometimes I feel as though “future husband” comes across as a bit desperate [“She’s gonna marry that boy someday”] or ambiguous, as “future husband” might also apply in the pre-engaged state.

      Oh, well. My future husband likes “fiance” and “fiancee,” though, and I don’t mind that at all. Of course, he’s not as deep into the WIC, where I think all the talk of “fiances” hides the more important talk of “future husbands.”

    • Noa

      I like the way you use the term boyfriend, as well. One of my aunts always called her husband – my uncle – boyfriend, for the same reasons you mention. I always thought it was awesome and you could see how much they loved each other.

  • Melissa

    I think part of the way I knew I was ready for marriage is that I felt we had outgrown the words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” We still call each husband and wife (a year in) with a bit of a giggle, but we’re settling in. I respect everyone’s different takes on this concept.

  • Kristina

    I can’t imagine calling my husband anything but, well, husband! And I am his wife. Maybe it’s because I actually like the traditional roles (I’d much rather do the laundry than fix the toilet). Every time I hear the word “partner” I cringe, mostly because it’s so…broad. Do you work together? Are you secret lovers? Is one of you transgendered? Are you together but without sex/romance? I guess what boggles me is entering into a traditional union (marriage) but then rejecting what it stands for.

    • Frances

      But then this is exactly the problem: why should you ‘cringe’ at the idea that one of them is transgendered?

      This is why a lot of people do choose partner – because unlike Husband and Wife its a term that everyone can use, and therefore inclusive. So I use partner even though my partner and I are heterosexual precisely because it does not suggest that I think my union is better than some other’s non-traditional unions.

      Bear in mind, that many people want the legal safeguards and rights that marriage allows, while not wanting the tradition – or indeed bucking against it.

  • A really interesting post which brings up an idea I’d never really considered before. I can completely get where Joanna is coming from, but for me, the word husband (and wife, for that matter) doesn’t carry any negative connotations along with it.

    Although I too am terrified, like Joanna, to fall into those traditional and archaic roles of “husband” who takes out the garbage and “wife” who cleans and cooks all day, I think the words “husband” and “wife” mean what you want them to mean.

    They can mean whatever the true dynamic of your relationship and partnership is. For us, “husband” is the guy who adores video games and eagerly volunteers to do the dishes while the “wife” is a feminist who refused to take her partner’s last name and does most of the handiwork around the house.

    Even if you’re scared to fall into traditional roles, I don’t think you have to reject the words to reject the roles they once embodied. For me, it makes more sense to embrace those words as a sign of our commitment to one another, to use them proudly, but to make them our own.

    The way I see it, today’s “husband” and “wife” are very different from the husband and wife of the past when people were forced into certain roles by a society that couldn’t understand any alternative. Today, wives and husbands have the choice to step outside of those roles, to be their own selves, but may continue to use the words that signal their commitment to one another.

    • Yes. To me, the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are just words to describe the basic tenants of your legal/familial relation to someone else . . . just like mother, daughter, father son. What we are within those relationships may vary wildly from person to person, relationship to relationship, and vary wildly from 50 years ago.

      I’m not sure why I find it so easy to separate the two . . . yes, I’m a woman who is married which means that I’m called a wife, but being a wife doesn’t dictate what I do or how I act. I mean, I’m sure it does to a certain degree (we don’t live in a bubble, after all), but being a wife doesn’t mean that I suddenly have to do X,Y, and Z or behave in a certain way.

      • Izzy

        This was kind of what I meant in my earlier comment that several people took objection to.

  • Sometimes when I hear others using the terms for their spouse, I feel the negative connotation associated with it, because in some cases I know they play into the stereotypes. Also I definitely had grandparents who fit those old husband/wife roles to a tee, and it bothered me. So I can understand where your discomfort comes from, but for whatever reason I don’t strongly attach those roles to the words. I still feel butterflies every time I call him my husband or he calls me his wife, because it feels special, it just means we’re married, and 1.5 years later, I’m not over the fact that I actually married this guy. I’m sure for those who don’t like husband/wife, you probably have other words that make you feel married (I am curious what you call each other instead). It just has nothing to do with which one of us makes dinner or vacuums or cleans the bathroom.

    I just can’t wait for our LGBTQ friends and family to be able to use these words, or whatever words they choose, to describe their legally married partners.

  • I think if we take the words “husband” and “wife” and apply our own understanding to them it will bring new understanding for people around us who may be stuck in the 1950’s understanding of the labels.

    I’m thinking there is power in claiming the labels and bringing a different understanding to their meaning. If I still call my husband “husband” to other people but he acts in a way that reflects an updated egalitarian relationship we might be able to get through to someone that would not repsond well to the term “partner”.

    Let’s own these labels and build them into whatever fits our relationships!

    • I fully agree with this. My husband and I (yes, we use husband and wife and enjoy the terms) while traditional in some ways, are fairly modern. We both cook and clean and share roles, and don’t really think of ourselves as fitting into that 1950’s mold just because we use the terms “husband” and “wife.” I think it’s all about changing those old viewpoints and stereotypes, really. Ultimately to each his own. This was definitely an eye-opening post to me as I didn’t realize so many people didn’t care for those labels just because of how some (not all) marriages used to be or still are. To me, they’re no different than being one’s sister or aunt, or neice and I like wearing each of those labels.

    • Yes, this goes with what I have been thinking too. In Quebec, where I live, people usually don’t get married, so being married is pretty unusual, and so is using the term, “mari” (husband). But I have found myself enjoying doing it recently because I think we don’t fall into the general stereotype of a “married couple” since mostly older adults are the ones who got married, cause people haven’t been for a while. I think it helps create new connotations with those words and with the institution of marriage overall. My husband, however, does not call me “wife” because that word “femme,” means “woman” and he would literally be saying “my woman,” so he tends to go with “épouse” (spouse).

      • Yes! Why does “my woman” sound so disgusting and horrible and posessive. But “my wife” doesn’t ilecit an automatic gagging response from me.

        Maybe because “my woman” lacks specific identity. Or perhaps it is because when you say “my wife” people know to whom you are referring because you only have the one.

        I would be so angry if my husband ever called me “my woman”.

  • SpaceElephant

    I love saying husband and wife. Not because we fit into the stereotypical gender roles associated with those words, quite the opposite. Because in using and owning those words I feel like I get the chance to redefine them. So I can be chatting with work friends and talk about how my husband does the dishes and vaccuming and laundry, and he can talk about how his wife is great at drywall and using power tools. To me the words mean whatever we want them to mean. If others don’t get it, they’re not paying attention.

    Which is sort of what I thought the whole point of using the word “reclaiming” in this series was all about?

    That being said, if I had super strong connotations associated with those words I would probably avoid from using them too. I just feel like we’re getting to the point where we need to stop talking about how exceptional it is to keep your name, to not get a diamond, to have a secular wedding… Because these things are becoming normalized, at least in my (admittedly narrow) experience and worldview. The more we talk about something as NOT exceptional, as perfectly normal and acceptable, the more we redefine it as ours, the more ownership we have over it. I feel similarly about issues like LGBT marriage.

    • Here’s to wives that are good at drywalling!

      • YES! (Or fiance in my case…) But hurray for women who do the drywalling!

        • Yay for drywalling! I am the official house-painter at home (sanding included ;)

  • I don’t have a diamond, I kept my name, and I eloped, so I think that should make it clear how I feel about church weddings, so may I just say to this post: Yes!

    (Although I totally giggle when my husband calls me “wifey.”)

  • YngMadeline

    Wow, I never realized it before, but I do have a lot of negative connotations with the word “wife” and “husband.” I’m pre-engaged so I don’t have to deal with it yet, but I feel like those words obscure one’s own personal identity for a lot of the reasons outlined. I also hesitate more times than not over the word boyfriend. I automatically default to partner, even though that word seems a little silly and a little sterile. I’m only comfortable using the word boyfriend around friends who know us well and understand our relationship. I wonder if I would be more comfortable with a word that more closely resembles the phrase “the one I married” like in French. (The nouns for husband and wife are gendered nouns that stem from the verb to marry.)

    I think the reason I don’t really like these words is because I rarely use them to myself when thinking about my boyfriend/partner/person. He is the person I want to live with and beside as we grow and mature. I want to have a shared life with him. There are no words for that, including best friend. I want other things from my best friends, things that include gossip and nostalgia but don’t really include living with them, sharing petty squabbles, and sex. Maybe I don’t want there to be a word for how I feel towards boyfriend/partner/person. Maybe if I define it, it will become static and therefore lose its use. I don’t want to narrow our relationship down to a pair of words, which is why I don’t want to use them to refer to me and b/p/p.

    I am also of two minds about having other people refer to me and my b/p/p in dichotomous terms. On one hand, I do reject the Cartesian duality of male and female, but on the other, in terms of understanding social and familial genealogies, we do fit into a socially defined, and normative (in the broadest terms meaning one male and one female), relationship. So I’m ok with other people using the terms girlfriend/boyfriend and husband/wife to refer to us for simplicity’s sake. At the same time, I wish that our language had a way to socially refer to the myriad other pairings in our society as easily as the pairing of one male and one female.

    This discussion has illuminated something else for me. I get so aggravated when I read in friend’s facebook statuses anything about one’s husband, hubby, man, etc. Perhaps now that I’ve identified that this issue is really mine about applying those terms to my own ever-changing relationship, I will feel much less impotent aggravation and simply vow not to do that myself.

  • Anony Mouse

    I don’t have a diamond, we didn’t have a church wedding, and I love calling her my wife. Actually, I love saying ‘the wife’ as in ‘not sure, gotta ask the wife’ (no, I have no idea why).

    But then, I call her my partner and people think we’re roommates. I say ‘spouse’ and I feel like I’m chickening out or being disingenuous.

    But then x2, she called me her wife at work and her boss asked if that made her the husband (bless her heart, she’s just older and doesn’t quite understand).

    (Going anonymous just b/c of work stuff)

  • My discomfort with the words “husband” and “wife” stems in part from the sense of status that the words seems to bestow – as if being married affords one more value in society. Which, I guess, it kind of does, if you look at it from the perspective of tax breaks and all the family values crap out there. It makes me uncomfortable to use terms which render me somehow superior when I really didn’t do anything for society to justify that appraisal, apart from throw myself a superawesome party and continue on with the committed relationship I already had.

    Somehow “spouse” does sound better, and I like that it’s gender-neutral, so I might play around with that a bit. I still think “partner” is best and most descriptive, but that term can lead to misunderstanding (which isn’t really problematic, but which can cause honest confusion).

    • liz

      but doesn’t “spouse” signify the marriage that would give you the societal status?

      • Yeah, I guess it does, Liz. Not sure why it’s more appealing to me, except possibly that it’s novel. Somehow spouse seems to carry fewer emotional connotations but that’s probably just me. I could also probably stand to take some more cues from the LGBTQ community, which has been coming up with alternative terms for eons now. As I remember my favorite gender- and privilege-neutral term from that source is “my sweetie,” which is very nice but not appropriate to all contexts.

  • Anonymous

    Not married yet, but I struggled with these same thoughts for a while. I didn’t like the images the term “wife” and “husband” typically conjure up in most people’s minds. But finally, I stopped myself and said: “Who cares?” Honestly. If me calling my partner “fiance” or “husband” is going to affect how people perceive me, I really think that’s their problem, not mine. Our friends and family know that my fiance and I have a kick-butt, equal, amazing partnership, and that we don’t really fall into typical gender roles. That’s all that really matters to me, regardless of what we call each other.

  • i love this post, because it is the perfect example (to me) of the wide variety of “right” ways to do things.

    while i was reading this, going “yeah, that makes sense,” i also got a bit of a smile reading the description of “traditional” – because that is exactly why i like “wife.” i love the traditional connotations. it’s not that it is an accurate description of us, but i think it says a lot about us that is true also.

    now, if only i had the guts to call my honey “husband” – i don’t feel like “wife” really fits her (and the alternatives tend to be too…nontraditional).

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  • Harriet

    Before I got married, I didn’t think I would have any trouble with using the words “husband” and “wife,” but while it’s only been a few months I’m still not comfortable with it. My family doesn’t have many examples of couples who follow traditional gender roles, so I don’t think what I’ve seen in my family is the cause of my concerns. I think partly it’s political–I’ve always been a supporter of marriage equality, but since I’ve gotten married it’s become more of an emotional issue. Mostly, though, I’m a private person, and I’m always uncomfortable sharing personal information about myself. Introducing myself as my partner’s wife, or my partner as my husband, feels weirdly intimate. It’s bizarre how saying you’re getting married/just got married opens the door to all kinds of personal questions from strangers, about your wedding or baby plans.

    • Steph

      Agreed! I tend to be a very private person and I’m still amazed at the intensely personal questions people (who you don’t even know that well!) feel like they can ask you about your marriage and family. Weird.

  • I don’t know that I can add much else that has already been said. “Wife” feels like an odd term for me, simply because I was married once in an awful marriage where I felt the need to play 1950s housewife to the service member. And I hated it and him and our life and it was all just badbadbad. So I associated the words “husband” and “wife” with those feelings.

    It took a while to realize it wasn’t the word that was the problem… it was the memory I stuck to it. Is my husband anything like that? My life anything like that? No. But he’s my husband. I pledged my life to him to live as husband and wife. And I’m really happy that those awful feelings once tied to the words (and marriage in general) are gone. I’m happy to call him my husband… it’s the role I chose him for in my life, just as he chose me to be his wife. But in a very “we are walking down this path together” way, not a “thou shalt obey” way.

    As a writer, and therefore someone who loves words, I always find it curious the connotations people will stick with words. PRIME EXAMPLE: “gay” once met happy, carefree, etc. The definition has now changed to describe something else entirely (though I’m sure plenty of them are still happy & carefree ;) ). Words as simple as “apple”, a fruit, can be used as a swear word.

    Now, we don’t run around calling each other “husband” or “wife” to our faces. Nor do we used euphemisms like “babe” or “baby”, though his country occasionally comes out & he’ll call me “gal”, we just stick to our names. But I like the sound of his name. He likes the sound of mine.

    I guess it’s all in how you feel comfortable with the words. More power to you for telling society to eff off if you don’t like it!

  • Isn’t it nice that we all have so many options?

    We can reclaim ‘husband’, and include “expert laundry-folder, and kickass granola-maker” in the title, along with best friend and encourager. We can call ourselves ‘wives’, and be self-full and martyrdom-free. We can take or leave any of the following: diamond, church ceremony, children, name-changing (heck- I changed my MIDDLE name, and kept my last name. You can do that!). And, we can do any or all of this based on gut-check and comfort. Yikes. I’m grateful that APW has prevented me from running screaming away from marriage, with only my parents’ and gradparents’ as evidence of what this institution can mean.

    Thanks so much for providing a reminder that marriage roles (right down to our preferred names for them) can be defined however we choose.

    BTW- Has everyone read this Meg post?

  • Victorian by style, feminist by sensibility

    This post really resonated with me – thank you. I have been married for nine months, and while I was hardly a bride who was excited to run around looking for her “husband”, I have been surprisingly comfortable with the traditional terms. Perhaps it is because I never loved calling him my boyfriend or referring to myself as a girlfriend (at first I was reluctant to embrace the concept, and then it just felt a little incomplete for our partnered situation) or because I really did not like the fiancé/fiancée option (I always felt like I was demanding someone to grab my hand and squeal over my ring and engagement every time I used it), but husband/wife just feels settled and unfussy – in a good way. I come from a family of incredibly strong women, so I know this shapes my perspective, but, to me, those terms signify one’s life teammate as opposed to power dynamics.

    All that being said, I absolutely HATE being referred to as “Mrs.” And yet I changed my name – I know, what? I might have been hasty in that one, because now I just become unreasonably upset every time someone new does not read my mind and know that I intend to go by Ms. for life. Don’t worry, I keep the rants to a very close circle of those who know me and love me anyway. But I digress. I find that term archaic and, because of its origins as a possessive, a wee bit offensive (even though I intellectually understand that the meaning has long since come into its own…it is an emotional, gut response). Much like it bothers me that a woman who marries is forced to consider the name thing – regardless of the choice she makes, she still in fact has to make a choice whereas the vast majority of men never need to think about it one way or the other – it drives me up the wall that a man’s formal title remains steady while a woman’s defaults to be contingent on her marital status. Let’s not even get into the infuriating “Mrs. his name” business…

    So, yes, this post resonated deeply, even if on a slightly off-topic angle. As always, thanks Team Practical!

  • april

    This is an interesting post. I’ve actually never thought about married titles being anything else other than just that: a title. They never made me cringe or think of myself stuck in the past and relegated to all the tasks that go with said title.

    Personally, I only associate the meaning behind “Husband” with the person I married and love, and he’s awesome. I waited a long time and looked forward with heartfelt earnest to call the man I eventually married “Husband”. I *LOVE* saying it, love introducing him as such, and he loves hearing it.

    He calls me “Sweet Wife” and has introduced me as “my wonderful wife”, or his “Bride” (which makes me grin and gives me butterflies). And I have to say: singing out a happy, “Hello, Husband!” as I walk in the door each night makes me feel totally happy and very proud of the road he and I traveled together, as partners, to arrive at “Husband and Wife”.

    • Izzy


  • I’m loving reading these perspectives! When I read the original post, one thing in particular struck me. My paternal grandparents were similar in that my grandma had dinner on the table and my grandpa never did dishes. That was part of their relationship, but the other part was also him working double and triple shifts at the steel mill to provide for the family. They also rode Harleys and went to trap shooting competitions all across America. He was by her side when she had cancer. She was by his side when he passed. There was a lot of love and they had 50+ years of marriage to show for it.

    I think that boiling down the term husband to one grandparent who didn’t cook or do dishes is a bit simplistic. If he wasn’t doing anything else in the familial relationship, then that’s one thing. But does that make him a bad husband or just a plain old an inconsiderate person? If it were the other way around, would there be the same reaction? I’m not trying to be accusatory, I’m just trying to think through why the actions were linked to the term husband.

    • FawMo

      My paternal grandparents had nine kids (hello!) and my grandfather jokingly prided himself on never changing a diaper. BUT I still admire their marriage for its lasting love, support and intense commitment to their kids, community, and each other.

      My relationship has a different political outlook and a division of labor that flows from that but I want the health, happiness and commitment that that had for nearly fifty years of marriage.

  • I consider myself a feminist without even a sliver of hesitation, but I can’t help but think that these rejections of tradition are not at all necessary for feminism to be embraced. I went to an all women’s college, took the women’s studies classes, and fight for a woman’s right to choose in every sense of the term. But I have a diamond (a modest one that’s been passed down through the family) and can’t wait to be called ‘wife.’ We’re having a big church wedding and I cook for my fiance every meal of the day – he doesn’t know how to boil water.
    Sure, there are plenty of battles still to be fought, still to be won, but we are in a new time, and with that new time comes a new context for any of these traditional roles. They are what you make them, those roles, and if you love them for what they are, then they can empowering. When I bring a meal out to my fiance, he doesn’t sit gruffly expecting anything. He gets the most ridiculous smile on his face and looks at me like I’m a goddess while he in turn eats and compliments me on my cooking.
    I understand that there are long histories to each of these ‘parts’ of the picture – a church wedding, a wife in the kitchen – but simply reframe it and reclaim it. And no need to guilt people who choose those things into feeling hypnotized by societies norms.

    • Anonymous

      I just want to “Exactly” this a million bazillion times.

      Also, I think as a society (and ESPECIALLY as women) we care too much about what people think of us. It concerns me a little bit that on APW, where we’re constantly redefining wife, marriage, engagement, etc., people are still so caught up in how they’re perceived when labeled “wife.” Be confident in who you are (and who you and your partner are, as a couple) and pay no attention to people who think negatively of you.

      But, as others have already said, you obviously shouldn’t use a word (or be called a word) that makes you uncomfortable, for whatever reason.

      • liz

        i think redefinition is totally necessary. not because what “they” think matters, but because we need to create an environment without “acceptable” and “unacceptable” roles. i have a bad habit of thinking of everything in terms of “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” (high school teacher. what can i say.) but that’s exactly it for me. i don’t want my students (or my children. or anyone of the next generation) to feel trapped into one way of life. the more we broaden terms to include different ways of life, the more we make room for people to make authentic life choices.

        • For me, APW helped to reclaim the word wife precisely through proud identification. That is, I felt more comfortable with the term when I saw the women who hang out here – who are intelligent, educated, international, strong, interesting, and (I’m just gonna’ assume) damn good looking – using it to describe themselves. It felt like a club I would be excited to join, rather than one I dreaded belonging to. When I first started to read Wedding Graduate and Reclaiming Wife posts, I realized: “Oh, these women are married. They are wives. I could do that.”

          I guess what I’m saying is that redefinition and self-identification aren’t actually mutually exclusive, necessarily.

          • This. Exactly this. We are the wives and husbands of today and we are re-defining these words every single day by living them, our way.

    • SpaceElephant

      What feminism fought/fights for, in my opinion, is CHOICE. To give women the choice to work or stay home, to cook or to order in, to have kids or not, etc etc etc. It is the ability to choose that gives us equality. The fact that I choose to change my name, to be called a wife, to cook for my husband, makes me no less a feminist. Or a bad feminist.

      I am very mindful that I exercise my ability to choose even when I am making more traditional choices. The beauty and the modernity is in knowing that I could choose otherwise, and that I can always decide what is right and best for me.

      • Beb

        I like this!

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  • It’s really common in our town for men to refer to their spouses as “the old woman” or as “the wife.” (It’s sort of like how they accepted him to be on the fire department and not me…sexism is under the surface everywhere here.) While I have no problem looking forward to being Forrest’s wife, I absolutely HATE the connotations of needing to “ask The Wife” or “check in with the Old Lady.” (I think all these guys love their wives but you know, there are just somethings you can’t deal with…for me this is one of them.)

    I’m not quite sure he gets why but he did agree to use either “my wife” or plan old “Beth.” :-)

    • Hmmm. I know what you mean. Our geographic locations and communities definitely shape our expectations of our partners and how we view our roles within marriage — as Louise so kindly pointed out upthread.

      • I think it becomes a particular point of discussion/contention for us as we moved into the town as a couple but weren’t engaged yet. It’s definitely made for a topic of conversation for us because I definitely don’t fit the “wife” mold in our little town (he doesn’t really fit the “husband” role either…but much closer than I am to “wife”).

        It’s really important to me that we hold strong to OUR values as we move forward and don’t assimilate/stray too much.

    • Vee

      I hear this a lot. I am absolutely fine with “wife,” but my husband knows that if I ever catch him calling me “the Old Lady,” he’s going to catch hell from me! Luckily, he’s not a fan of the term either.

    • That is the way people usually refer to their husband and wife where I come from (“el viejo”, “la vieja”), it’s considered a sweet way of doing it. BTW, my home country is Argentina.

      • Here, in rural America, it’s more like when these guys use “the wife” it’s sort of like “the ball and chain.”

        Simple semantic difference but “the wife” is infuriating while “my wife” is adorable.

  • I like Tim Minchin’s alternative for ‘wife’: Vaginally Endowed Life Partner, or VELP. I’ll be using VELP and PELP as often as possible.

    Alternatively, I much prefer either partner or lover! I wish ‘lover’ would come back as a usable word.

    Despite being able to redefine words for ourselves, I don’t want to make the effort with the word ‘wife’, it just doesn’t have enough positive for me to try and let go of the negative.

    As for husband – I recently found out about the origins of the word. To ‘husband’ means ‘to look after’, as in animal husbandry – the raising of animals. The caring aspect might be appealing, but the idea that a man ‘husbands’ his animals and his woman – that they are in the same linguistic bracket – is certainly not appealing in the slightest.

    • liz

      i don’t know. that’s exactly WHY i like the word. my husband looks after me. i look after him.

  • You know, thinking about it, there are two small issues I have with the words husband and wife. One is that it sometimes makes me feel like I’m inadvertently rubbing my relationship status in the face of my single friends. Which I’m not! I mean, he is my husband and sometimes I refer to him as such, but I would hate to thing that it could make someone else feel bad.

    The other is much sillier. It sounds… old. Now, I’m pregnant, have a mortgage, a pension, retirement savings, a job, a husband, am turning 30 and have a passport full of stamps. I am a grown up! But, well, somehow, I still feel 14 much of the time, and 14 year olds aren’t old enough to be married, right? So sometimes I trip over the word just because I don’t feel old enough to have a husband.

    But in bed, at night? I do love the warm fuzzies a “goodnight, beautiful wife” gives me.

  • liz

    do any of you have friends who call their wives “my bride”?

    i know an older couple who’ve been married for over 50 years (!) and i love it because it makes me think he still sees her as he did all those years ago.

    but i also know a couple my age that do this, and it just sounds weird.

    thoughts, anyone?

    (re: the actual topic at hand, i like husband. i like the connotations of it. josh suits the idea of “husband” i have in my little head. “wife”-barf.)

    • Yeah, somehow I have a much easier time with “husband” than “wife” (though I’m still awkward and fumbly about it, a mere 5 months in). I wonder why that is – fewer negative connotations? Less connected to personal identity? Hm.

    • Benny

      My grandpa totally does that. They’ve been married 50 years.

    • My uncle always refers to my aunt as his beautiful bride when he’s giving a toast or something. It’s so wonderful (they’ve been married for 40+ years)…they also still hold hands and it makes me quite happy.

    • My grandparents have been married 65 years and my grandpa still calls my grandma “my bride” all the time. I love it so much. It’s so sweet.

      BUT I think it would totally weird me out if my husband started calling me that right now. Once we’ve been married 50 years, I’ll be fine with it. But not yet.

    • Hmmm . . . I dunno . . . I think on the day of the ceremony, it’s fine. But after that, I’m not a bride anymore. And if himself said that, I’d be like, uh . . . what?

      I totally get the sentiment, that an older man still thinks of his older wife as he did on they day they got married, and that’s sweet. On the other hand, I would hope that by then, I would be so much more than a bride. I see the term as a transitional one. Whereas wife, well . . . I hope that’s forever.

  • Libby

    The main reason I’ve ever felt discomfort around the terms “fiance” or “husband” is the feeling that I was somehow showing off my status as an engaged or married woman. When I was engaged, I avoided the term fiance and generally used boyfriend, except when I was talking with vendors or specifically about our wedding. Fiance just felt fussy and formal as a term (and also very temporary), whereas boyfriend was what I had called him for years and years.

    Now that we’re married, I love calling him my husband. But that’s really because I’m so proud and happy that I get to share my life with him and take pleasure in the fact every time I’m reminded of it. But I do avoid labeling him (ie, always using husband rather than his name, which I’ve sometimes noticed women doing.) He’s not JUST my husband or ONLY my husband. He’s also X (first name). And he was X for years before he became my husband. It’s really just a way of showing that I value him as both a person and as my partner.

    • Agreed.. If people know himself, then I use his name. Only if I’m referring to him in passing to a stranger/acquaintance do I say ‘my husband.’ Not because I feel that I’m showing off (I don’t think it’s to be held in higher esteem than any other relationship status), but because himself is himself, and he just also happens to be my husband.

    • gloucester

      Chiming in re: preferring the proper noun over the common noun (sorry, I’m teaching English right now, got grammatical terms on the brain!). For me, part of that emotional connection to his name comes from the fact that a significant period of our relationship–including the second and third months of our marriage–has been long distance. In talking to my friends in my new town (soon our town, yay!) referring to him by his name feels like a way, however small, to keep him present.

      Sure, there are certainly situations where you have to resort to a common noun (my default is partner, which I don’t really like the sound of but do like the privacy it affords, so that I can reveal as much or as little as I want about gender/marital status in a given conversation.) But it makes me a little bit sad when I can’t use his name.

      Maybe it’s just the English-teacher-language-is-crack talking, but to me, in this relationship, first names are like love. I am thinking too of Diana’s comment above, where she says so beautifully that using the word “wife” “feels like a hug” in the face of legal discrimination. I think it is so interesting and lovely how people can find intimacy, comfort, and even protection in different words.

  • I don’t have a problem with the word “husband” but I hated (hated hated) using the term “fiance.” It felt really fake to me, like I was fishing for congratulations and questions about the wedding. And on some level I felt like I was bragging about competing in the “bride wars” where the first to go down the aisle wins. Okay yes, maybe during the many years I was single I would get annoyed by the snooty women saying, “oh my fianceeee…..” like they had won a prize. I didn’t want to be that person (and didn’t really want to talk about the wedding to strangers) so I would say “partner” or “boyfriend.”

    I also hate when people continue to refer to their spouse as only “husband” or “wife” when I know their names. I understand it for clarifying the relationship. My co-worker can say, “oh my wife, Nicole, and I love that restaurant.” But then just call her Nicole. I know who she is, I know her name, don’t just keep calling her “my wife.” It sounds too possessive to me and like she doesn’t have an identity other than being your wife.

  • Phew, this post and the ensuing comments were a bit of a relief. I got married in April and have since felt awkward with the “husband” and “wife” terms. “Boyfriend” and “fiance” and “partner” were always easier for me and I didn’t see this coming, which made me wonder what was wrong with my tongue when all of a sudden I started stuttering when using pronouns. I really just prefer to use my husband’s first name rather than any title, but that obviously doesn’t work in every situation which is frustrating. I had been feeling rather guilty and confused at my discomfort but it’s nice to see that it’s fairly common and likely based in legitimate concerns (buried somewhere deep in my subconscious, apparently).

    This week the titles have taken on a bit of a redemptive quality for me as my husband has been very ill after a trip overseas. Taking him back and forth to the hospital and identifying myself as his wife, both verbally and on paperwork, has felt deeply empowering and has truly driven home the significance of legally recognized marriage in a new way for me. It wasn’t any less awkward, but it did feel much more meaningful and important.

    Joanna, thank you for de-stigmatizing and opening up conversation and giving permission.

    • liz

      i felt that way at first. but now i’m used to saying “josh, my husband…” just like i’m used to saying “josh, my son…”

      which is weird for its own reasons. (the AAAAHHH, I’M A MOM ones)

  • Sarahkay

    It is a mistake to look at the lives of our ancestors and assume that they felt repressed by the roles they played. Just as we in modern times can never really know what goes on in someone else’s marriage behind closed doors, we can’t look back and know what those marriages were like from the inside either.

    Maybe she wore pearls and dresses while she made dinner for herself, because it made her feel sexy and it reminded her that she was more that just a cook or a laundry-folder or someone’s mother?
    Maybe she loved making a production of dinner, because she loved cooking and liked to watch people enjoy it?
    Just because he didn’t help with the supper dishes doesn’t mean that he didn’t thank her every night. Maybe he cared for her in thousands of unseen ways, beyond paying the household bills? Maybe in bed he rubbed her feet when she removed her heels for the day?

    Maybe she was an awesome storyteller, and loved fly fishing in the summer. Maybe he doted on his children and was the one to give them their baths while she was preparing those amazing dinners? Maybe he loved growing roses along the back fence, not just cutting the lawn-

    We don’t know what these people felt in ‘traditional’ husband and wife roles, and we also don’t know the countless ways in which they made these roles fit them. Maybe, just as we are now, many of those people were more than just a Wife, or a Husband- They were creative, vibrant people. They had good marriages and bad ones, just as we do.

    Everytime one of us goes out into the world, we show another facet of what it means to be a wife, husband, or a partner. WE can choose the words we use, we define the roles by the way we wear them.

    • thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

    • FawMo

      Thanks for opening up space for this idea.

      My grandfather, the aforementioned non-diaper-changer, loved gardening so he handled the yardwork. He loved it so much he was a volunteer gardener at his parish AND the priest’s house. My grandmother cooked for her family but also for sick church members and people with new babies, because she liked cooking and she liked babies.

      Happy marriages have their own logic that we will never to privy to.

    • april

      I would “Exactly” this one bajillion times if I could. :-) Beautifully and thoughtfully said…well done!

    • Jess

      You said this much more eloquently than I could have. I am currently a stay at home wife and it bothers me when people judge me based on that fact alone. I cook because I enjoy it (and he does thank me each night). I clean so that when he isn’t working, we can have fun together instead of catching up on chores. I don’t mind the words husband and wife, and I’m not ashamed or repressed because of the traditional roles that we have in our marriage.

      I think calling yourselves something that agrees with you is good, whether it be partner, spouse, husband or wife, whatever, as long as you are comfortable. But I don’t think a term defines your relationship. No one will know what your marriage is really like on the inside, no matter what term you use.

    • JL

      I agree, I’ve been looking through the comments to see if I would be repeating myself if I said what struck me about the post, and so far yours is the closest to what I’m thinking.

      I notice in these wife discussions and husband discussions that we’ll often make note of how we DO fall into “traditional” husband/wife roles. And unfortunately… we’re often defensive about this to some degree, because we feel guilty being happy with cooking and cleaning, so we declare that at least we are CHOOSING these activities instead of being expected to do them. It always makes me wonder about how “forced” and “expected” all the husbands and wives before us felt? I’m sure that there were plenty of resentful feelings from plenty of individuals, but saying “I chose this, while my grandparents didn’t” always sounds to me like a subtle condemnation of all these marriages. It seems like we don’t think that people in these marriages in past generations could have been happy.

      Maybe the further (time-wise) we’re removed from these “1950s” and “traditional” marriages, the more we homogenize them in our minds. From all the awesome stories we hear here on APW, I think it should be easy to remember that these marriages were not all the same! Our parents and grandparents were unique whether they were happy or unhappy, traditional or non-traditional. If I enjoy cooking, chances are my grandmother may have, also. If my husband thinks it’s fun to grill burgers and enjoys taking care of the lawn, who’s to say that his grandfather didn’t feel the same way? Maybe they felt like they were making the choice as much as we do.

      That’s something I’d like to see on APW! Can we get more first-person accounts from members of these marriages?

      And in case anyone’s counting, chalk me up as one more that sees the terms “husband” and “wife” as “male spouse” and “female spouse.”

  • I’m not married yet (a little over a year!!), but I find myself excited of the prospect of being “wife” and him, “husband”. I know already that neither one of us subscribe to the traditional roles of marriage. Our wedding won’t be “traditional” in the same way my grandparents or my parents got married. I am excited to use the words “husband” and “wife” because to me, they symbolize the extra step of commitment we will make to each other. To me, they mean, “We are serious about our commitment and our love for each other, so we took the step to make our love legally official in the eyes of our nation.” (Which, is one of the biggest reasons why I am for marriage equality!) It’s almost a pride thing–I am PROUD to be his future wife and I am PROUD that he will be my husband. I’m happy and excited and proud to let others know that we could have chosen ANYBODY but, we chose each other.

  • Jess

    I freaking LOVE calling him my husband. Love it. And I love being his wife. I love how when I order take out, I can say “my husband would like a dynamite roll with no mayo” and she’ll be all like “So, your husband will have a dynamite roll with no mayo”. YES! It’s just so much fun. My husband does the dishes. My husband has such pretty hair. My husband likes to cuddle the cat. My husband is working a lot lately. My husband is so smart and funny. My husband and I are going to Chicago. And I am his wife. I am bad at dishes. I wear his clothing more than mine. He thinks I am smart and funny. My husband is making me coffee. Being married is awesome.

    • Your post made me smile because I could totally feel your smile coming through it.

      • Anonymous

        Agreed, this comment is adorable. Ridiculously so!

    • april

      YOU are awesome! Love what you wrote. :-)

  • Reading your post it was hit home to me that what we associate with “wife” and “husband” is what we saw in our lives. My parents and grandparents were wonderful examples of help meets and best friends. So that’s what I associate with those words. It was two days after our wedding when I first used the word “husband” when I was introducing him to a group of former co-workers. And it made both of us smile. But we have different associations with the words than “Leave it to Beaver” would have.

  • JJ

    Honestly, I do not see how the word husband can be seen in a bad light. I love this website, but i dont agree that there is something wrong with the word wife. And I am supportive of couples with two wives or two husbands, because that word carries so much meaning, and I see no reason why it shouldnt be used in that context. I love it when my (female) friend proudly speaks to strangers about her wife, because in one word she is communicating the depth and strength of her relationship to people who might be closed-minded, using a word they recognize. If she just used the word partner, jerks can downplay the validity of their relationship, but wife is not going to be misunderstood. I mean, I think there is something romantic about using a word to refer to your spouse that directly converys the unique relationship you have to them, a word steeped in history (some good, some bad) but which unequivocally states how you are linked to each other in something as sacred and special as marriage. Maybe it is just me, but the word partner doesn’t do it for me. Partner is a business partner, a partner in crime, or a team member, but it isnt the same to me as a husband. I feel like the tradition of that word is what makes it so special, even if you dont follow traditional gender roles.

    • Anonymous

      You nailed it. I am not a very traditional person in many aspects of my life, and I definitely think more in terms of feminism. But at some point, I have to draw a line and not think/say/do things just for the sake of feminism and being different. So I really agree with everything you said.

  • Beth

    In the three months we’ve been married, I find that I use the more traditional titles the most in transactional/stranger-y/less familiar situations and not as much in close friend/family interactions. Like, if I’m dealing with the insurance agent he’s my husband… but if I’m talking to a friend he’s Mike.

    It has definitely taken some getting used to making the association in my brain though. That when that’s the word I use, he’s the one I’m talking about. And “husband” still occasionally feels wrong in my mouth because it’s not a word that I’ve ever used in this context before.

    It is definitely going to take time for the language of marriage to feel comfortable, and I can relate to the desire to reject it and find a new language that works for your marriage.

    Also, my mother-in-law and I still giggle every time we address each other as an in-law. :)

  • I guess my question would be – if you have such an awful feeling about the terms husband & wife, why did you want to be married? Doesn’t marriage carry the same connoations? If there is a way to come to terms with the historical baggage marriage carries, isn’t there a way to come to terms with the historical/cultural baggage that can come with the labels? I second the comments (somewhere above) that ask what alternatives you have come up!

    • FawMo

      Hey Sarah, I’m worried about the judge-y tones I’m picking up in your first question. As folks have brought up here in several different ways marriage is something you and your partner build together in a framework that fits your unique principles, tastes and quirks.

      I took Meg’s suggestion and google image searched “wife”. I don’t want anything to do with the first 40+ pictures (nearly 100% white women, all hetero couples and a shocking lack of clothing). BUT I want to marry my partner because marriage, to me, expresses our deep commitment and bestows on us cultural benefits that are important to me and him. And I will be a wife on my own terms. Just as Joanna will be a spouse in a way that best tailors her unique features.

      • liz

        i’ve caught a few other comments that ask a similar question and, similarly, have been shot down. rather than reading it as questioning the author’s choice, i think it can also be read as a question about why the terms carry connotations that the word “marriage” doesn’t.

        • Thanks Liz-I agree! Why doesn’t marriage (as frequently) carry the same weighty social & cultural baggage that ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ do?

        • Beb

          Agreed. I didn’t read this question as being “judge-y” – she was asking a genuine question, and I’m curious about the answer myself.

        • Ursula V.

          That “marriage” as both an institution and a word has broadened and become more inclusive while “wife” may not yet have done so at the same rate (at least for some– including myself) is pretty darn interesting to me. I suspect it has to do with “marriage” being gender-neutral (both as a word and more and more literally so) whereas “wife” is still subject to a great deal of the baggage other woman-specific words and titles are.

          Still, I do think it’s worth highlighting that at least *some* of the folks uncomfortable with the word “wife” may also be non-traditional in other ways, and thus may have been previously hurt with “why are you even getting married if you don’t conform to X expectation”. Any implication that I shouldn’t deeply want to be consecrated with my partner into a brand new family just because I’m uncomfortable with some of the traditional titles that usually come along is upsetting. Asking why some of the language is very comfortable and some distinctly not, however, is a fantastic start to a conversation..

        • Izzy

          THANK YOU LIZ!!!!!

        • FawMo

          I get that, it just wrinkled me a bit and I wanted to make sure we were engaged in a forward-looking conversation.

          We’re all working together to challenge our ideas and accepted notions.

          • I get that & thanks for calling it out. But you also have to realize that comments like can silence dialogue in really powerful ways. If we are challenging ideas (and these are big concepts) it isn’t always going to come out in ways that fit neatly in each others comfort zone.

      • I had to google, just to see what you’re talking about. And then I saw . . . WTF?!?

        • FawMo


  • Caitlin

    I’ve been married 15 months, but I still feel weird calling my spouse my husband. My issue with saying the word is that I feel like I’m constantly around people who are not married, and it’s something that alienates me from them and possibly frames me in a way I don’t want to be framed. At the same time, I love being married and I love having that commitment be something that I say publicly almost every time I talk about him.

    So I’m conflicted. I still watch people’s faces closely when I say the word “husband” because I’m very sensitive to how I’m perceived (heaven forbid I’m perceived as the “wife” I don’t want to be associated with). I think I’m coming to the conclusion that I hope to show people what our version of husband and wife is – which is maybe different than what others currently associate those words with. It makes me feel like a modern marriage ambassador, as silly and self-important as that sounds. :)

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective on husband & wife! Since calling him your husband doesn’t work for you, go with it. You have to love the fact we have options & can do whatever we want. I’m with you on changing my name- I haven’t done it yet & I’m not sure I will. But I do love calling him my husband & I love being called his wife. We define our roles, making them our own each & every day.

  • Marissa

    Has anyone here noted the origin of the word husband? It comes from Old English, during the early medieval period. Before a young man, called a thane, was married, he lived in what was called a great hall, basically a big long building where lots of men drank mead and ate meat while telling epic stories about famous warriors. When a man was married, he left the great hall to live in a smaller house with his wife. He became HOUSE-BOUND (HUS-BAND).

    Isn’t it interesting that becoming house-bound is what so many women find distasteful about becoming a wife, when originally it was the term that described what happened to men?

    • I’m curious where you found that word origin. all I’ve ever seen is more like “house dweller” (hus (house) + bondi (dweller)) or “house owner,” not “house-bound,” and didn’t originally mean married at all. similar to what you said but house-bound has a bit more of an edge. I’ve looked at a number of different etymology sites, but I’m no historian or anything, just curious!

      • Marissa

        There’s a lot more cultural context to language than the dictionary would have you believe! I was an English major in college, and I took a lot of courses with a medievalist professor. One of the classes I remember the most was a study of the history of the Bible in English (the Bible is the only text recorded in every stage of the English language). We did a lot of research on medieval life and the origin and evolution of English words.

  • Ursula V.

    I think the question “why is ‘wife’ uncomfortable but ‘married’ in and of itself not?” is a really good one. For me, “wife” doesn’t denote simply “the female spouse” but rather a specific traditional role in one idea of what a marriage can be. I’ve repeatedly heard marriage defined (by some traditionalists– and some sample ceremony texts) as being the joining of a very specific “husband” archetype with the opposite and complimenting “wife”.

    For me, marriage isn’t defined by two people supplying mandatory, predefined gendered traits to the consecration of a relationship. Marriage is now two in-love people joining themselves as a family and asking to be recognized as such, full stop. There doesn’t need to be a “wife” anywhere, whether it’s because two men are becoming each other’s husbands or because a woman is marrying her partner, or so on.

    I love that we can reclaim the word “wife” and change it into something inclusive, just as we have marriage itself. But for those of us who can’t shake the idea that it’s referring to a specific way of being a spouse as opposed to simply being a female spouse, there’s no disconnect between feeling marriage is something exceedingly precious and “wife” is something we’d rather not have applied to us.

    (True story: When a certain friend of my mother’s found out I was engaged, her exact words to me were “I can’t believe *you* are going to be a wife!” I could only heartily agree that yes, such a think was unbelievable.)

    • It’s funny, but I don’t think of myself as “a wife”, just as “Musa’s wife”, and since being his wife doesn’t bind me to the kitchen and to the rearing of children, I am ok with the term, and I even embrace it.

  • Em

    Part of the reason I wanted to get married rather than remain in a non-married but committed relationship was that I wanted to be able to call him husband. If there was another word that conveyed My Forever Person I’d have used it and been happy. Boyfriend didn’t cut it, even partner is often used for people who’ve just decided to give living together a try. Fiance was better but sounded a little pompous.

    But aargh, I hadn’t thought about abbreviations. “Hubby” sounded ick to me until I found out he felt a bit hurt I wasn’t using it, despite me having a huge cheesy grin every time he called me ‘Wifey’. Gah, semantics. So annoying and so important.

  • Izzy

    I guess what I basically wonder is why Joanna uses her grandparents as an example of “husand and wife” rather than of marriage – and why that is a different thing for her. It seems to me that just as marriage as a concept has evovled, so too have the roles within it. Wife certainy doesn’t mean “cook” or “cleaner” just as husand doesn’t mean “breadwinner” or “macho”.

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  • I loved this article and it made me feel a little less alone. I struggled a lot with my engagement. I knew i wanted to spend my life with my then-boyfriend but I grew uncomfortable when everyone insisted i call him my fiancee. I grew even more uncomfortable when our families pressured me to change my name. And I’m uncomfortable now when people refer to him as my “hubby.” I liked your line about how you see him as your best friend, thats how I see it too! We actually decided to call eachother spouses because using the word partner felt a little like appropriation from communities who are unable to wed.

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