I’m Not Sure I Want To Call My Spouse My Husband

Help! I Need Alternative Names to Call Your Spouse


Q: I know that it’s been brought up a couple times, but can we do another post on what people call their loves? Because honestly, I don’t want a husband. I want a wifey. And so does my guy. Who DOESN’T want a little person cooking food, matching your socks, and making sure that you feel good? I understand the posts on reclaiming wife, and I get that, I really do (although that scares me almost as much as “husband” does), but can we discuss possibly reclaiming husband? Or something? I’m not sure what I’m asking…besides, if anyone was getting into husbandry between my partner and I, it’d be me. I want goats and chickens and cats and dogs and the full nine yards.

So, yeah. I just know that when I get married my mother is going to refer to my guy as my husband, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. Or that people are going to tell me that I’m a wife. Why can’t we just be us and in love?

If there’s a post out of this, I’d love to see it. I’m not fully sure what I’m asking, but I want to see APW tackle this and see what solutions people have come up with that work for them.

Nervously Erratic Ramblings Volunteered Out Unto Sages


You know, I think this is probably one of those things that won’t be such a big deal once you’re married. What I mean by that is being introspective has this nasty side effect of maybe allowing us to think about things so much that they become a really big deal sitting there in our little heads. And then, when they finally happen, we realize, “Oh. It’s not as big of a deal as I thought.” Sort of like bracing for the shot in the doctor’s office. Only, even less painful than all that. I’ve heard people describe all sorts of “big things” that way—from weddings, to changing your name, to having a kid. You stress yourself out worrying about the transition, and then it happens, and meh.

And I say all that because, well, he is going to be your husband.

The main thing here is definition, not connotation. And the definition of “husband” (married male) is what your spouse is going to be, all connotations about breadwinners and belly-scratching grunts from the couch aside. We can’t really change the definitions of words. Ask any linguist—that sort of thing takes time. But, we can change the connotations of them a bit more swiftly, which, like you mentioned, is the idea behind Reclaiming Wife. To take a neutral, actually not half-bad word, and wipe it clean of its terrible connotations while holding onto the actual definition, and by doing so, broadening it. Just like “wife” doesn’t necessarily mean house robes and dustpans and pot roasts pulled out of the oven as he walks in the door, “husband” doesn’t necessarily exclude those ideas.

Beyond its own dictionary definition, the only other meaning that your use of “husband” should have is that which you invest with your vows. So, that bit about making you feel good probably is in there (and matching your socks may be, too, who knows). My husband, by definition, is the man I married. But as a result of my vows, that role comes with a whole bunch of meanings for my own husband that may not necessarily translate to yours. You and your husband need to determine between the two of you what this role signifies.

Of course, all that said, sometimes transitions do take a bit of time. Maddie mentioned that she remembers feeling sort of similar to you, and that it helped her to realize she could take baby steps, starting with calling him “husfriend” instead of “husband.” If you’re still uncomfortable using the “H” word, give “partner” a shot. You don’t have to call him husband if it makes you feel icky. I know folks who completely avoided ever uttering “fiancé” because it felt weird. “Partner” isn’t gender-specific or status-declarative, so it’s nice and neutral in a bunch of ways.

But you do need to prepare yourself for folks calling him your husband. Because they will. I’m not sure I’d encourage you to march around asking folks to say otherwise, because, well. Them’s the facts, kid.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off! 

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  • Amy March

    I’ve heard hetero couples who refer to each other as “spouse”. It’s a bit different, but doesn’t sound too strange to me.

    • lindsay

      I use “spouse” 99% of the time and only rarely use husband, depending on the other person in the conversation (because after 2.5 years, I still feel complicated about it). My spouse uses “wife” most of the time. We each use what we prefer to use and let the other one use what they want.

      We both, however, agree that calling ourselves “parent/mom/dad” to our dog is weird, so he’s our dog and we’re his people.

    • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

      Yes! I had a boyfriend once upon a time whose parents often CALLED each other “spouse.” Like, “Spouse, can you help me with the dishes?” Coming from them, it sounded like a cute pet name, although in print it looks a little creepy/robotic. I always liked it.

  • Lisa

    I’ve been married for over a year now and I’m still not used to husband and wife, I think because it sounds old to me. I still will almost refer to him as my boyfriend sometimes, maybe because often I don’t feel much different than I did when we were dating… and the term can sound more endearing and cutesy to me at times.

    Maybe I’ll start calling him my partner in crime ;)

    • AnotherCourtney

      My mom sometimes called my dad (her husband) her “boyfriend.” As a kid I thought it was WEIRD. Now that I’m grown up and married, I find myself doing it, too. I think it is endearing. :)

      • Kaitlyn

        My grandparents did this. It was absolutely precious… when my grandfather would refer to himself as my grandmother’s boyfriend? Oh, my gosh. We all died. It sounded so sweetly affectionate. Best couple ever.

        My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t understand how “downgrading” a person from spouse to non-spouse could be anything but offensive. So, he will always be husband. Different strokes!

        • it’s funny, i sometimes slip and use “girlfriend” (less intentionally, and more “old habits”-like), and while neither me nor my wife mind it, we have a friend who bristles and corrects us *every time*. i think it has to do with this “downgrading” idea, whereas to us, hey, we know we’re married, so who cares what words we use?

        • Laura

          My grandparents did, too. So cute.

  • I have thought about this a lot, too. I feel like I have a harder time with being known as a wife, than calling him my husband. I do, however, always shorten husband to “hubs.” I currently refer to him most often as “future hubs.” I like “partner,” too, because it’s gender neutral and feels like an appropriate mix of sounding caring and also being a part of a team. I think I have a harder time in my mind with wife, because there’s no fun, pseudo-goofy alternative to that word. “Wifey” seems to be too much in reference to traditional housewife.

    When we visit his family and friends in Phoenix and play board games, the teams are always called hubs and wife. It’s sometimes divided by actual hubs and wife, and sometimes not, which is cool. But there is something about hearing, “WIFE, WIFE, WIFE!” being chanted by a bunch of people during a particularly riveting game of catch phrase that makes the word sound more empowering than it ever has.

    • Nicole

      I totally agree about “wifey.” I refer to my husband as the hubs and he calls me the babe.

      • Crayfish Kate

        I also totally agree about the “wifey” thing. This is an absolute no-no for me. When I hear “wifey,” to me it seems degrading, as in an “oh look how cute she is, a little wifey! *pat pat* kind of way. I know people don’t mean it like that, but that’s how it comes off. It makes my teeth hurt.

    • Adi

      I love this!! I sooo want to be on TEAM WIFE now.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      And, adding to the perspectives, I have never allowed a romantic interest to call me “baby.” I’m not a baby. I much prefer “wifey.” It has the added feeling, for me, of being youthful. We married late, statistically, and in our group of friends, and already deal with chronic illnesses. “Wifey” makes me feel young.

    • MDBethann

      So my bro-in-law works in the telecommunications industry and he said that the French pronunciation of “WiFi” is more like “Wee Fee” than using the “i” sound. My hubby thought it was cute and because it sounds so much like “wifey” he has taken to calling me “Wee Fee” and I call him “husband” or “hubband”. I honestly LOVE calling him my husband, but that’s just me.

  • Kelly

    I am absolutely terrified of the term wife, for it’s connotations, but I think husband sounds sweet and snuggly. I have told my fiance I want to be his “wiffle,” since it sounds less threatening. But inevitably, I’ll have to figure out the wife thing at some point. Sigh.

    • Marie

      I like “wiffle”! Occasionally we’ll refer to each other as “hubs” and “wiff”. For whatever it’s worth, “wife” still feels uncomfortable to me, and I’m 6 months into my marriage.

    • Denzi

      Yep. I have gotten desensitized to “wife,” over a year in, but I still don’t like it. Please call me “spouse” or “partner.” (OTOH, I like “husband.” If my husband wanted to call me “husband” too, I would be all for it…)

  • A couple of months ago I overheard my husband talking to someone from the voter registration’s office. We had just moved and he was inquiring about getting registered in our state. He explained my situation by saying, “Well, my wife will need….”

    In that moment I had never been more proud to be called “wife” and to me it represented exactly what I want it to be. We are attached. We help each other. And the Pennsylvania registration knows it. To me, that’s what it’s supposed to mean. And now I understand what I didn’t get before I was married and was a little afraid of that word.

    This is not to say that YOU have to or WILL feel this way. But perhaps there will be room for a different definition and different feelings associated with “wife.”

    • Darcy

      I use “partner” unless I am dealing with an institution like the insurance company. “Husband” definitely carries more weight in some situations and elimiates doubt about your ability to speak to the situation.

      • Kelsey

        This. Right here. Hit the nail on the head and provides a visceral reason why we need marriage equality!! We want weight! We want weight!

    • Teresa

      Yes! Wife kind of gave me the icks until the first time I heard my husband refer to me as his wife to someone else. Then, it made my heart feel kind of warm! I guess it just depends on who is saying it and how it is being said.

      • DanEllie

        Like Heather G I had a moment like that too – the week of our wedding, he was helping me resolve something and was dealing with the customer service people. It was great to have his help!

        I’ve mostly gotten used to refering to my spouse as my husband and hearing myself called his wife. But what I still find odd after 7 months is hearing OTHER people refer to us that way. Especially my mom. Don’t know why, but I pause everytime.

  • I was actually really excited for the terms husband and wife before the wedding, and I expected to use them a lot more than I do. I, personally, get a bit of a tingle when he refers to me as his “beautiful wife” or I get to call him my “handsome husband” but the fact is we don’t actually use those terms often.

    In conversation with other people I’ll go back and forth fairly easily between spouse/partner/husband when talking about him, if I’m not simply refering to him by name. In our relationship with each other we still both tend towards calling each other “love” and “lover”, which we’ve been using for years. “Love” also works when talking about him to other people, now that I think about it.

  • Copper

    I often just refer to my fiance as ‘my person.’ Maybe I’ve just watched too much Grey’s Anatomy, but that has only positive connotations to me. When I say ‘my person’ it means, that one person who I can rely on and is an essential part of my life. The most important, bestest person.

    • Another Meg

      I use that, too! I also refer to him as my Other, as in other half or significant other. But we’re still engaged, so right now he’s my FutureSpouse as well.

      • Another Meg

        I call him my gent, my fella, and my gentleman caller intermittently as well. There are so manly times when I honestly don’t care if people know that we’re engaged. We’re together- if you aren’t on the guest list and you don’t work for my insurance company, do you really need to know that we’re getting married?
        Wow. That actually sounded harsh. But every once in a while, I just like to keep our relationship ours. And avoid someone asking me what our “colors” are.

        • Louise

          This is exactly why I hated and never used the term fiancé when we were engaged. I don’t want to be congratulated during every conversation, especially when I felt like our love was worth celebrating before we got engaged too! The term comes with simultaneously too much and not enough information for me. I felt so uncomfortable accepting congrats from people who don’t actually know how awesome we truly are together, but are forced to pretend simply because now they know we’re getting married. Ok, I over thought it. I know. But I never got used to the term and I am so glad it’s behind me.

    • Caroline

      When I was a kid, my sister and I called our crushes “your person”, so that we could hve an oh so secret code to discuss them without telling mom or dad who they were. So I feeling like calling him my person, for me, has weird, unrequited teenage infatuation overtones. But I like it for you.

  • Kara

    The main thing here is definition, not connotation. And the definition of “husband” (married male) is what your spouse is going to be, all connotations about breadwinners and belly-scratching grunts from the couch aside.

    I think that’s the crux of it. How you define it internal to your relationship is up to you–and what names you use for each other are too. Also note that you generally don’t need to refer to your future husband by a non-specific noun, unless you’re at customs or in court with him or something. Usually, “this is [Insert Proper Noun]” works just fine for most situations where you’re introducing him. The “, my husband” bit is often extraneous.

  • Katelyn

    I’m not married but I’ve faced a similar problem with the term “boyfriend”. My partner and I have been together for almost 8 years now, and we’re in our mid-20’s. It feels rather juvenile to refer to us as “boyfriend and girlfriend”, as we’re beyond being “boy” and “girl” and far beyond the “dinner and a movie on Saturdays” kind of relationship. But there’s really not a good descriptor in popular use.

    I used to call us “pre-engaged” on wedding blogs and at APW book club, but that implies to me that there’s something wrong with just being in a state of partnership without the end goal of getting married. We do plan on getting married eventually, but are happy with our current state and don’t want others to get the impression otherwise.

    So, when I can, I use the term “partner” or when that feels a little heavy, “manpanion.” The second term is really a great parallel to “boyfriend” while conveying the permanence of the situation. People seem to think it’s fitting and funny to boot.

    • I agree with you on the boyfriend/girlfriend front. While not at the 8-year mark (congrats, btw!), I have a hard time with a term that gets applied not only to my three-year, co-habiting, very committed relationship, but also to the two sixteen-year-olds who make out exclusively for two weeks before calling it quits.

      I still use boyfriend just out of conventionality, but I also use partner sometimes. Though I also don’t want to detract from same-sex partners who are at the highest level of commitment vs. me who is a level or two down from that.

      “Manpanion” is a good one. Often I just stick with “my man” if I really need to refer to him without his proper name. Or, if I’m in a particularly good mood, my Main Squeeze a la Save the Last Dance :-)

      • My man and I are also not married, but have been together for near 8 years. He’s 37 and I’m 29 so “boyfriend” seems silly. …I call him my manfriend most often. I think he usually calls me his girlfriend which I actually find endearing since I know that possessive title freak him out.

        Though every once in awhile I lie and call him my husband when I need to schedule a Dr. appointment for him. …then I get all blushy at the idea of us getting married.

    • Anon

      I am in the same boat. We borrowed the term domestic partner and/or life partner from our gay friends At first they were a little offended because they thought it cheapens those words for them if we were using them casually, but they came around when they saw that it was a serious commitment by us and not just a “cute” term of endearment.

      My friend described her definition of life partner as “the person I consider when making life decissions”, and we thought that it also fit our living togethr codependantly long term relationship perfectly. We like the legitimacy it gives our relationship to our friends and family while also being gender stereotype free. We still may choose to get married down the road, it has been discussed, but we’re in no rush to transition right now

    • Cara

      I have good friends in the same situation who aren’t the marrying type. They use the term “other half” and it works wonders. Gender neutral, conveys the seriousness of the relationship but is still light and fun.

    • mimi

      I love the term “manpanion”! I totally agree that society needs a term other than “boyfriend” (or girlfriend) for long-term, non-high-school relationships.

    • bookgal

      I use “partner” and really like the term. I am legally in Australia on a domestic partnership visa and the term seems really widely accepted here and in NZ for both married and unmarried couples. In a country without marriage equality, I also think the prevalence of the word creates a small, verbal, level playing field*
      Plus, I just like the connotations the words brings to my mind. We’re in this together, we’re connected but still distinct.

      * in no way to be confused with any actual level playing field.

  • Alex

    I don’t know how to say this without sounding accusatory, but honestly it seems like there is a LOT of emphasis on the labels — more than there should be. People’s feelings and emotions are complicating an issue that doesn’t need to be an issue. In this world of real injustices, do we have to take time to talk about the connotations of a label?
    The last suggestion, to try to “give ‘partner’ a shot” seems like the most ambiguous and least sincere way to approach this, if one really does have so many feelings about what they’re referred to that it keeps them up at night.
    It’s perhaps just me, and it’s perhaps my upbringing, but I can’t understand why such a special relationship between husband/husband, wife/wife, or husband/wife, would WANT to be reduced to introductions proclaiming the other as your “partner.” I had a partner; it was my chem lab sophomore year of college. Not the person I’m spending the rest of my life with.
    I think pet names are lovely, and can be cute, but the saccharine ways we’ve re-named husbands and wives makes me bristle. Seems as though I’m in the minority.

    • KEA1

      I can see that, and at the heart of it I agree. BUT having lived through *SO* many occasions of other people making a much bigger deal about terminology than I felt necessary (even when the terminology was in reference to me!), or bullying me with particular connotations of different labels even when those connotations were clearly not the reality of the situation, or just generally being semantic assholes, I can sympathize with anyone who gets uncomfortable with xyz name/label/identifier. It isn’t always easy maintaining your cool and succinctly explaining yourself. What I really wish is that people would be less asshole-ish so that we wouldn’t need to resort to alternatives to find some “perfect” identifier. Husband/husband, wife/wife and husband/wife relationships *should* be held in high regard and given respect to transcend the labels, and shouldn’t need to be renamed because of negative connotations of the terms, but I know that isn’t how things always play out.

    • One More Sara

      Part of me agrees with you, but the other part really really disagrees.

      I agree on the front that (some) nicknames for husband and wife can get under my skin, but I know for a fact my partner will never use those terms when we are married (they annoy him even more), so it’s easy for me to let it go.

      But saying that the word partner is too small bc it reminds you of your chem partner? I don’t know.. most of the time when people are referring to a partner that they aren’t romantically involved with, they will use an additional adjective to describe the relationship. In college, most people would say “my lab partner,” in business “my business partner,” in sports “my tennis doubles partner” (I don’t play tennis. That might not be accurate). But I’m pretty sure 95% of the time if you introduce someone as just “partner,” it implies the relationship is romantic.

      Sure, I agree with you that the best words for husbands and wives are husband and wife. But if other people prefer to call each other their spouse or their partner… so what?

      • Alex

        Well, but, yes, exactly my point.
        If you have another name for your spouse, be it sticky-sweet and grating on the nerves of everyone who has to see your relationship on Facebook, or s/he is your “partner,” “spouse,” or some other generic, neutral term…SO WHAT?

        What are we discussing? Why does it matter? To each his own, right? Or wait, HER own, because THAT is what we are discussing — that sometimes people feel bad when there is a gender-specific identifier.

        What if we all put infinitely less energy into getting offended, and more energy into separating our feelings from our behaviors?

        I just feel like the question posed, “has the transition to using new roles been difficult for you?” is misleading, or poorly worded, or something. We’re not talking about transitioning into new roles as spouses, we’re talking about transitioning into a new label and what that feels like, and the latter is a conversation that is so personal, so specific, and so meaningless (in the grand scheme of things, in one’s relationship with their SO, in one’s relationship with their family), that there just seems like ONE MILLION other things that make sense to talk about.

        • I see your point, and I think your argument is interesting. You’re right that there are larger to fish to fry, but I think where the original poster and many commenters are coming from is viewing the label as symbolic of the larger role transition. An object (or name) is only a symbol when a human being decides to give it meaning.

          So for you, if the label isn’t symbolic, I’m sure this discussion is as interesting as tomato/tomahto. But for those who do imbue the label with a lot of meaning- personal, cultural, or otherwise- it’s a simplified way to grapple with larger concepts.

        • One More Sara

          Well then thank goodness the world isn’t ending tomorrow!! We have tons of time to talk about heavier things (there will be a shiny new topic tomorrow morning even). Sometimes it’s a nice break to talk about lighter problems.

          What you are saying though brings me back to grade school. There is no such thing as a stupid question, and usually someone else in the class is wondering the same thing.

          People have reinforced in the comments that dealing with these labels can be hard. Sure, maybe this isn’t the most relevant, ground-breaking topic ever on APW, but it was bothering someone enough to write to a stranger for help. And that makes it important. Maybe not to you, but to someone.

    • JESS

      I get where you’re coming from. I understand that people invent the “saccharine” labels to remove themselves from the outdated and false connotations of husband/wife, but is it possible that by not using them, we are also excusing ourselves from the responsibility and seriousness of the relationship? I mean, I can’t imagine showing up panicked to a hospital and pushing through crowds of people yelling, “Outta my way! That’s my hubster!!!” Maybe sometimes we do need the weight and tradition of those labels.

      • anon

        There was a similar post a while back by someone who strongly objected to being called wife. My comment was shot down in flames, because I said I didn’t really see how you can object to the terms husband and wife if you don’t object to the concept of marriage. The two are inextricably linked, by defintion and by connotation. It is up to you to make your marriage your own and be a wife/husband as works for you. I don’t see that wife or husand are negative terms and look forward to using them when I get married this year. Yes, it will be a little strange and new, but not bad in any way.

  • Moe

    I had a friend who liked to say “let’s get back to Planet What-Is” meaning let’s get back to reality.

    The reality is that the commitment you are making comes with connotations, expectations, responsibilities, and CENTURIES of tradition dating back to the beginning of time. You are entering into an institution that is the cornerstone of society.

    Does it sound big, and significant? It is!! So I think that it’s a good thing you’re taking all these things into consideration now. Imagine if more people did??

    There has been many posts about how marriage changes and doesn’t change a thing. They’re really good and thought-provoking. For everyone it’s different. People will most certainly see you differently. I find it weird that suddenly at lunch-time conversations with some singles that I am no longer qualified to speak on dating. Really? Do you have any idea how many losers I went out with before finding my love?

    At the same time, this is your marriage. Together the two of you make it whatever you want it to be. Yes, you can still be you. He will still be him. You will still be in love. You can still be boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, spouse, husband, wife.

  • Cara

    I was having a really hard time with the idea of “husband” and “wife” at first. Then the reality of marriage set in really quickly when we had a couple of family emergencies in the first year and I realized that husband and wife mean family. When you tell your boss that your husband’s father is in the hospital or your husband is having surgery it carries the weight of family in a way that “boyfriend” doesn’t. And it turns out I rarely use “husband” in the ugly context that makes it feel icky (i.e. “I have to ask my husband first”). It’s a little uncomfortable at the beginning, but you’ll grow into it.

  • Maddie

    I’m still standing by Husfriend. Say it out loud. It rolls off the tongue. :)

    • Haha! Totally using that now.

  • Tegan

    Original poster here — I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who had problems with this. I mostly just call him My Guy right now, since it’s easier than saying “my ex-fiance who called off the wedding a month before the date but we still are sorta seeing each other nearly every day”. :-D

    • Goodness gracious! Hope you’re dealing well with such a complex situation. I’m gonna throw out there that your situation definitely sounds like it falls in the “Not a Rom-Com” category for next month.

    • Pippa

      Oooooh I’ve been THERE sista! And what a tricky situation it is, especially when it comes to the labels! This situation is what forced my hand to start using the word “partner” despite being only 22 at the time. Sometimes, the whole thing is just so freakin’ complicated that special words are needed!

    • Kara

      Ouch, and best of luck to you as you navigate the whole situation.

  • I think that becoming comfortable with marriage and believing that it’s not, as an institution, what it used to be, has made me way more comfortable with “husband” and “wife.” If we can reclaim marriage, then I suppose by extension we are reclaiming those terms as well, and so I actually really like them, or at least have no issue with them. And, as Meg said this morning — remember the lesbians! Seeing gay men refer to each other as “husband” or lesbians use “wife” is always a great reminder to me that those terms ain’t what they used to be, and that’s awesome news for all modern couples!

    PS One of the things that has made me feel positively about marriage and the term “husband” is working with a ton of men who are awesome husbands and dads. I would LOVE if “reclaiming husband” became an APW series because I, too, am sick of all of the stereotypes of married men. Perhaps NERVOUS and others like her would also benefit from seeing the experiences of more husbands who defy those stereotypes?

  • Katy

    NYT had something relevant recently: “what to call two people who act as if they are married but are not.”

    My favorites are “mi hombre,” “fusband,” and “POSSLQ.” (person of opposite sex sharing living quarters)
    POSSLQ could become PSSSLQ without changing the pronunciation.

    • In Scotland, we’ve had this problem solved for years. We call a cohabiting non-spouse a “bidie-in.” (Certainly rolls off the tongue better than “cohabiting non-spouse.”)

      • @Kirsty — My coworker and I have been discussing this a lot lately and have been wondering if any other cultures have solved this problem yet and lo and behold: yes, they have! Thanks for sharing this, seriously.

        • JESS

          In Spain there are various terms for married people (though while males have a word for husband, “wife” and “woman” are actually the same word).

          But what’s interesting is that there is no word for fiance. People are “novio” or “novia” up until the wedding day, because the word for bride is the same as girlfriend, and the word for groom is the same as boyfriend. Maybe it just comes from a time where you wouldn’t have bothered dating anybody unless you were actively preparing for marriage, but it defintely solves a lot of problems of labels up until marriage. After marriage, that’s another story…

          • Just M for this one

            In Kenya you would call that person your “Come we stay”

          • “Wife” and “woman” are the same word in French too. My husband doesn’t like that, so he usually calls me his spouse (“épouse”). I use husband (“mari”) for him.

          • Sarah

            In Hebrew the word for husband is “ba’al,” which literally means “owner.” Ick. Wife is “isha” which literally means “woman.” Many people instead use “ben or bat zoog,” which is “partner.”

          • BLIMUNDA

            I find this interesting! in Italian there are specific words for husband and wife. But boyfriend/girlfriend are the exact same words as boy/girl, so after a certain age (25?) I don’t find it appropriate. We do have another word, fidanzato, which has the same roots as fiancé but does not imply “I have a ring and a set date and I’m spending my life with this person”. In some areas of the country 15yr olds would use it. I use it to describe my pre-engaged, cohabitating, life-sharing partner, with whom I plan to spend my life with. Some people would use “compagno” (“mate” or “companion”), but I feel this word implies a choice more than a temporary status (as in, we don’t believe in marriage, but we plan to spend our lives together). Actually, since in my life he has basically the role of a husband, I’d like to marry him and just.call.him.my.husband. (Bonus random fact: We have the same word for bride/groom and spouse: sposa and sposo. I think they’re frilly, lovely words in both languages. Sorry, this was too long, but as a five-language-speaker I always love a good discussion about how words in different languages are deeply intertwined with roles and feelings)

  • Newtie

    The difficulty I had/have with “husband” is not so much all the connotations or the strangeness or the bigness, but the what-will-other-people-think problem. (This, unfortunately, is often a problem of mine). I’ve heard SO MANY women complain about their married friends and say something like “Oh, now that she’s married, she’s all, ‘My husband this, my husband that…'” It’s made me worry that if I use husband too much it will sound like I’m somehow overly identified with the fact that I’m married. But, practically speaking, in pretty much every setting outside a purely friends-only setting, I can’t just call him by his name because people won’t know what I’m talking about. I try to use “partner” and “spouse,” but I confess every time I say “my husband…” I have this momentary pang of worry that I’m going to somehow be judged, or seen as not very feminist, or seen as annoyingly defined by my marriage, or somesuch…

    My husband, on the other hand, LOVES calling me “wife.” He never loses an opportunity to call me his wife, and he beams rainbows every time he says it. I find it endearing that he loves it so much, and I also love how uncomplicated it is for him – he’s just happy we’re married, and he’s not worried about the connotations or that other people will think he’s not feminist, or anything.

    • In college, when my BFF and I both started our first serious relationships, we had this discussion as well. Since I was more boy-crazy and was gaga over my guy, I wanted to inject “my boyfriend this, my boyfriend that” into every conversation, but I really didn’t want to sound like THAT girl. She had a good strategy, since her parents were wary of her spending too much time with her bf and not enough on her studies- either just use his name (and let people figure it out), or leave specific reference out all together and just say “I” or “we” unless people ask for clarification. Because when you’re swapping everyday stories, often the point of the story or shared experience has nothing to do with your relationship, so who cares what he is to you or who was there with you?

      Also, your hubby sounds aDORable :-)

      • Louise

        I pull out “we” on a daily basis! i agree with not being the girl who blathers on about her man, but its also helpful when talking to professional acquaintances, like when talking to parents of the kids I teach. They ask about my weekend or whatever and we exchange pleasantries, but they don’t need to know about my marital status. In fact, none of them even knew last year that I was getting married, because I never once referred to my fiancé. not keeping it a secret, just none of their business.

    • this is interesting, because in using “wife” for my wife, i was a bit stumbly about it because of the connotations (especially around gender, but also around relationship roles), but have come to love it because of the what-will-people-think aspect.

      i think this has everything to do with being queer: “wife” has such a specific meaning that i feel like it gives me the freedom to tell people *exactly* what i want them to know about my relationship, unlike most other terms, which give people a lot of leeway not to take your relationship seriously (or to assume it is whatever would make them most comfortable). i appreciate how unequivocal-yet-ordinary it is. but i can see myself feeling awkwardly capitulating-to-weird-expectations about it if i had a husband instead =)

  • I love this post, I love the idea of changing personal definitions of what these titles mean, but may I just say that in my experience, “partner” is not as gender-neutral as I wish it were. It should be. It, on its face, is totally gender-neutral and signifies a level of commitment that “boyfriend/girlfriend” often doesn’t have. But I have so often mentioned to people my “partner” or “domestic partner,” where it is then assumed that I am in a same-sex relationship. Not that this is even a problem, and I do think the term does solve a lot of the problems raised here, but I have definitely had a lot of acquaintances look surprised to discover that my “partner” is male.

    I still much prefer to use it though, because he is legally my domestic partner, he is not my husband/fiancee yet, and “boyfriend” makes it sound like he’s taking me to prom.

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  • Any transition is a little strange and takes getting used to. I still remember the first time, three days after our wedding, when I introduced him as my husband. Three years in we’re really comfortable with those terms now, even though we rarely use them. Mostly it’s other people using them. Now we’re trying to get used to the upcoming hats of “dad” and “mom” that still sound REALLY strange to us.

  • Sarah N.

    My husband got into an accident a week before our wedding, and I spent the day after our wedding calling various insurance companies and healthcare providers to find out where we could get his stitches out before we left for our honeymoon. I used the phrase “my husband” more times in a ten minute phone call than I was really prepared for. I also spent the entire week of my honeymoon gawking at my spouse and saying “huuuuuuusband” in the goofiest, giddiest way humanly possible (which, really, is the entire purpose of a honeymoon).

    I was discussing the “boyfriend” thing with a friend of mine, because she wasn’t really on board. The way I argued it was, once you have a birthday, are you no longer the person who was the age before? I vote NO. I’m still a five year old, and a fifteen year old, and a twenty five year old. Therefore my spouse will eventually be father to my children (woah), but is currently my husband and co-person for our dog, and remains my fiance and boyfriend. To each their own. :)

    • Co-person ftw!

    • YEP.

      The day after our wedding Bryan’s transmission died while we were halfway up a mountain with no service. I drove my car (and my brother-in-law) back down to the cabins we stayed at so I could get phone service, call a tow and call the parents. According to said brother-in-law, every time I said “husband” I would make a face like an infant with a lemon. What can I say, it was weird transition.

    • “I also spent the entire week of my honeymoon gawking at my spouse and saying “huuuuuuusband” in the goofiest, giddiest way humanly possible”

      You know how when you say a word over and over again and it starts to sound REALLY weird, I can imagine that being a very good way to get used to a new title in life. Plus, I’m imagining my husband’s face if I did that and it’s pretty funny.

  • H.

    Oooo! Have to comment. Betrothed and I had a discussion of how we don’t lose boyfriend/girlfriend since we got engaged, and we won’t lose fiance/fiancee when we get married, and we analogized it to video games. You know, when you start out, you have a character and they have some sort of title saying what they do – like wizard. Then you go up like 5 levels, and you have a badass wizard. We said fiance/fiancee is like leveled-up boyfriend/girlfriend. Those other terms still apply, and similarly for husband/wife when we get there. So we’ve just leveled up for now.

    • Adi

      So freaking fun :)

    • The leveling up reminds me of the line from “You’ve Got Mail” – I always take a relationship to the next level. If that works out, I take it to the next level after that, until I finally reach that level when it becomes absolutely necessary for me to leave.

      Except we reached the level when it became absolutely necessary for us to stay for as long as humanly possible.

      I’m no good at video games, I love that I could be good at a real RPG. :)

    • amigacara

      Hahaha, my partner/husband and I always talk about “leveling up” our relationship at different stages…it might be our longest running joke. :)

  • Adi

    I’m weird. I was totally freaked out about the terms “husband” and “wife” right up until the ceremony. I then spent the entire reception being thrilled to death to say and hear both. It really was like a switch flipping. Once I was a wife, I knew I could make it mine. And once my husband became one, it instantly suited him. Crazy, I know.

  • Aly

    I completely understand. I HATE the word fiance. Hate it. In my head, I’ve been practicing saying “husband” and I much prefer that word. So, I guess I’m getting used to it by accepting it as the lesser of two evils. :)

  • It took me nearly six months to get used to saying “fiance.” Before that, I just called him “boyfriend” to my friends, because none of them knew each other (at first, and I thought it would be less complicated than going “you know, Chris? My Chris? The one you haven’t met yet but you will soon?”) But we have been calling each other wifey (his name for me, which I think is adorable) and “husby” (because for some reason “hubby” freaks me out but “husby” is cute) to each other for years.

    My mom and dad are each others’ husband and wife. It doesn’t sound great to my ear, but they like it.

    My grandfather called my grandmother his bride every time he talked about her. It was beautiful and adorable and heart-meltingly awesome every time. I don’t think she referred to him much outside of their interactions with family when he was always, “your father/grandfather” etc.

    I don’t mind being a wife, but I do mind the thought of having a husband. Maybe this will change, as others have said. I’m going with “my guy” for now?

  • Amber

    I don’t like the terms wife and husband either. I’ve been married for over two years and use those terms as little as possible. I don’t use them unless there’s not another alternative and even then it’s weird to say. Even something simple like, “oh yeah my husband works there,” to a a stranger. Weird!

    When he introduces me to people as his wife, it sounds weird and I wonder who he’s talking about :P. We’re just who we are and happen to be married.

    I have never felt warm or gooey or happy being referred to as a wife. I get zero pleasure from describing him as my husband. I will never use the term hubby. I would never refer to him as my husband if the person I’m talking to knows his name.

    Also never used the word fiance.

    So, it’s totally OK for you to not use those terms or enjoy using them. You don’t have to go through a transition into liking them. You may not “get over” how you’re feeling now, and that’s OK.

  • Yeah, we basically avoided ‘fiance’ as much as possible and just stuck with partner. I am not sure how we will deal once we tie the knot this year!

  • Katherine

    I’m not at the wife stage yet, but I definitely had trouble with the transition to talking about “my fiance.” For that matter, I originally had trouble with saying “my boyfriend.” I think that for me, using those words felt like I was trying to draw attention to myself. As in, “hey, look, I have a boyfriend/fiance now! Aren’t I cool? Please congratulate me!” It almost felt as if I was bragging, possibly because I’d spent so much time as a single person, and I’m very sensitive to the fact that someone people think that you’re leaving their team when you become part of a couple. But I’ve gradually gotten used to those terms; I use them because they’re the appropriate words, and I’m sure I’ll use husband when the time comes.

    For those of us who shy away from words because we’re worried about how they’ll be perceived, perhaps it’s helpful to reflect on how we react when other people use them. Sure, I’d be annoyed by someone who talked about her husband all the time (and not much else), but I don’t even think about it when a friend mentions something she did with her husband, or boyfriend, or whatever. I’m just interested in whatever she has to tell me. And so, perhaps, I should work on getting over my own insecurities. This thought doesn’t address the traditional wife-role issue at all, but it at least helps me. :)

    • Edelweiss

      I agree! My major issues with “boyfriend” and “fiancé” were that I was worried I was showing off, even though I never placed that judgement on others.* I’m hoping I’ll be more comfortable with husband because it’s a less changing status. We could be married for 10 days or 10 years and a new acquaintance wouldn’t know the difference.

      *I did get used to boyfriend after a few years, but then switched to partner when I started referring to him as someone that got to have input in my decisions. Talking to my boyfriend before I moved for a job offer sounded trivial. Talking to my partner about a move felt more reasonable to me.

  • I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the title, for all the worries of not being “feminist enough” or somehow making everything about my husband. (I never made everything about him BEFORE the wedding. It stands to reason I’d still have other things to talk about than him every second.) He never had those fears, and started introducing me as his wife about 3 months before our wedding. He was so happy to use it, I didn’t see my own anxieties about spousal titles as a good reason to dampen something he clearly found enjoyable.

    However, on the day after our wedding, I found myself using “my husband” a ton. On the way to our honeymoon in New Orleans, our pilot quit the airline. He announced over the loudspeaker that the airline was terrible, that he was tired, that he didn’t have a co-pilot, but that they were “waking up someone at the mariott.” After that, and several other ridiculous mistakes on the airline’s part, the two of us decided we were going to have to cancel this trip and plan a new one for the next day. All the tickets were in his name, but I’m the one who tends to do the negotiating, so I had to explain to every person is the claims department that I was “calling on behalf of my husband.” I found it opened a lot more doors than when I’d made similar calls “on behalf of my boyfriend.”

    • Lucy

      Wow what airline was this? That is incredibly poor service and rather scary.

  • Sara

    I call my husband my ex-boyfriend. Just cause it makes people laugh

    • I told my husband this and he laughed real hard.

  • Ren

    What I like about the term “partner” is that it’s both gender neutral and status neutral. It implies a somewhat important relationship, but doesn’t define if you’re married, living together, seriously dating, etc. While, for us, deciding to get married means something different than when we were “just” dating — that’s up for us to determine, not you based on your idea of “dating” versus “married.” An acquaintance, workplace, guy on the street does not have to know if we’re married or not, just know that I said “partner” and you should give that appropriate respect.

    I like the intentional ambiguity in “partner”.

  • TTok

    During dating, moving in together, and becoming engaged I have consistently referred to my significant other as my ‘partner’, and will continue to use refer to him as such after we get married this summer.

    Partner is commonly used in the UK to refer to long-term adult relationships, married or otherwise, but I have not found that to be the case since I moved to the US. Indeed, I was asked to participate in an LGBTQ seminar on campus (which I was honoured and happy to do) but there was some confusion when it became known that my partner is male, and we are a heterosexual couple. It definitely ruffled a few feathers and I think that people felt that I had deliberatly misled them.

    • Lucy

      This made me laugh. Actually i had an experience when working in Australia. I was invited to an American couples house for dinner. I mentioned my partner was working up north and they were shocked that i would could him a partner – they made a rather embarassing scene about it. We had been together for years and had called each other partner within Australia and NZ without any issues so i think it might be fairly specific to the US… Maybe?

      • Brenda

        That’s what I’ve found….. I’m an American in the UK, and before I moved here the word “partner” to me mean same-sex or business-related, or else that you were just a total weird hippie (not saying it’s true, just it’s what it made me think). However, in the UK I’ve found that many people refer to their opposite-sex spouses and live-in relationships as “partner”, and it’s really grown on me. It implies a level of commitment that is immediately understandable, without getting into details of whether or when we’re getting married.

        I’ve only been engaged for a month, am getting legally married tomorrow, and am having a wedding in June. I don’t like fiance at all and feel weird saying “husband” before the big wedding that everyone will know about. I think I’ll stick with “partner” for now to avoid the questions.

        • Anon

          I’ve also run into some confusion with the term partner in Canada used in that way. I’m from a very liberal background where many people in my circle are familiar with how it is used elsewhere and think it is great. But I do run into strange attitudes and assumptions when I use it in the outside world like speaking to some businesses.

      • Amber

        I’m American and lived in Australia for a while and quickly realized that partner usually doesn’t mean same-sex, like it does in the US.

        I think it shows y’all value all relationships, not just ones that are legally defined. I know so many Australian couples who have been together for a long time and have children and don’t seem to be under any pressure or in any hurry to get married. The fact you can get a partner visa without being married says a lot too.

  • dysgrace

    Eh, I call my husband ‘my favourite ex-boyfriend’. He returns the favour.

  • The author states that the definition of “husband” is “married man.” This is misleading. “Husband” derives from “husbandry” which has historically implied that women as chattel property. I find this disgusting and reject the term.

  • I call my husband the Mister or My Mister. I wouldn’t introduce him to people as my mister, but it definitely works as nickname and doesn’t sound as formal as husband. Despite the fact that I didn’t change my name when we married and that I bristle when I receive mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. His-First His-Last, I like the sort of old timey familiarity of it. He’s my mister, I’m his missus.

  • anonymous

    I started using the term husband a lot more after I was diagnosed with cancer and nurses and doctors and medical staff wanted to know who was in the waiting room.

    It turned out it was really handy to have a word that said that this guy is my family, my best friend, lives with me, can be trusted with my medical information, etc. without having to explain it a million times.

    I’m all for critical thinking and challenging assumptions, but sometimes it’s really nice to have a shorthand that most people understand.

  • It’s interesting to read through everyone’s comments. There are a lot of similar feelings, running along a few common veins, with multiple, personal solutions. While looking through all of them I am starting to wonder a few things.
    For example, how common were these same feelings and thoughts in women one, two or more generations ago. I think perhaps not that unusual, but perhaps not as openly spoken of to others. I’d love to hear from those in other generations. At the same time I wonder if it is generational. I think people are not as commonly expected to get married in our late teens or early twenties. We don’t as often refer to ourselves as women and men…. Hmmm…
    It certainly seems as though NERVOUS’s Question really is about change, in particularly the way change is identified by labels. The discussion has taken that and carried the conversation onto the meaning imbued in labels, and the meaning inherent in labels, and the meaning we can reclaim for labels. I think they’re certainly related thoughts, but not exactly what the OP was fretting about.
    OP says, “Why can’t we just be us and in love?” you can, it’s just like SARAH N says, just because something new happens, something that adds to who you are, it doesn’t take away what you had before. Be you and be in love. But if you don’t want to be husband and wife, then don’t get married. If you want to make radical changes, then go ahead, wage a battle against common language and the way things are. But being husband and wife isn’t a bad thing.
    It’s great in fact, I love it, about the same as I loved being not wife and husband, but a tiny bit more. Funny thing in fact, I rarely called my husband, boyfriend,l or anything else similar and I don’t know if he ever called me his girlfriend or anything else connoting that. But once we were married we delighted in calling each other husband and wife.
    I think it is because doing so celebrates the choice we have made. It identifies our commitment. Marriage is not abut what it’s called, marriage is about what you do and how you act. And whatever that is, that’s husband and wife. Or wife and wife or husband and husband. And if you want to use other names, sure, go ahead. Maybe they’re personal or maybe you’ll change our linguistic heritage. As for now, we’re women and men, wives and husbands.

  • In Québec people in our generation just don’t get married. In fact, people stopped getting married after the late 60s. So most people use the term “conjoint(e)” which is like “partner” and works for anyone you live with romantically. And it’s an actual legal status.

    But I have found that I tend to use the word “mari” (husband) because, well, it’s factual, but also because it feels a little rebellious to be in our generation and to be married. It feels a bit like each time I use it, it raises awareness that marriage isn’t just that old-fashioned thing that people stopped doing in the 60s, but it is something that still has value now. So, yeah, to me, here, it feels kinda “edgy” to be married, in my thirties, and to use the word “husband” in conversation. :)

  • Sylvia

    I had a similar weirdness with the idea of being a wife and having a husband in the weeks leading up to our wedding. For I while I decided I would just call him my “ex-boyfriend”, which would technically not be a lie.

    About a day before the wedding, a friend dubbed me a “lady-husband”, which quickly turned Ryan into my “dude-wife”. We loved it, especially considering our non-traditional roles in our relationship, and it has stuck!

  • Rachel

    The latest modern love article in the New York Times speaks to just this topic, and it is just one woman’s journey to acceptance of the husband/wife language (not to say that should be everyone’s path) she says:

    “I use possessive pronouns for people all the time: I am Ivy’s mother, and she is my daughter. Kristi is my friend, and I am hers. And I might be Anthony’s wife, but he is my husband, too. My children and I, my friends and I, my husband and I — we belong to each other. I cherish that belonging.

    “To my same-sexing pals, let me say this: I know that my inability to use a set of words without irony is nothing compared to the long history of our society not allowing you to be those things. And I know that my tiny linguistic win is negligible compared with the victory you have gained in marriage equality. I apologize in advance for the accusations we all know will keep flying from the mouths of some: charges that you have somehow unsanctified the marriage institution.

    “But please know that for this churchgoing heterosexual, with her kids, dog, car pools, and yellow house with picket fence, you resanctified it. Please know that you revived it. Please know that when I hear you pronounce the words “wife” and “husband” so reverently, so lovingly, I remember that I can, too. ”

    Its worth a read:


  • Annie