Just over six months ago, I married the woman I’d been dating off and on since I was 16. I feel like I’ve learned a lot already, and over the past few months I’ve jotted down five lessons on what it means to be a good leader and husband to my beautiful wife.

I hope these lessons will be helpful to you as you seek to represent Jesus to your wife. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Be proactive, not reactive.

What it means: Take the lead. Don’t wait for your wife to guide the relationship. Don’t react to what she wants—provide a vision for the relationship.

What it looks like: My wife is a planner. I am a “go with the flow” type of guy. However, part of leading and loving well means that I am proactive about planning the upcoming day and the week with my wife.

Just this morning, as I was showering before work, I asked EA (Elizabeth Ann) to come into the bathroom. We talked about each night this week—what we had going on and when we would make time to spend together. Six months ago, I would have kept all of that stuff in my head, or maybe I would not have even thought about it (until it was actually happening). Now that I know my wife better, I do my best to be proactive about planning the days and weeks with her.

2. Talk less, act more.

What it means: Don’t talk about something until you’ve already done it. The more you talk about something, the less likely it is to happen. Talking about it gives you the illusion of progress.

What it looks like: Guys like to brag about things. They like to talk about things they either did in the “glory days” or things they will do “some day” when “I finally get the time.” Enough. Women don’t need more men with big mouths. Just shut up and do it.

Here’s an example: I’ve made it a goal of mine to always make sure that my wife has gas in her car. And I’m always asking her, “Hey, do you need gas?” or saying, “Let’s take your car tonight, so I can put gas in it.”

I am really bad about keeping my wife’s car gassed up.

Here’s how I could fix that: When I get home from work, grab her keys, say, “I’ll be right back,” and then go put gas in her car. Maybe she doesn’t need it. Maybe I’ll only end up putting two dollars worth in. But you know what? I did it. And I have a feeling that the more I do it, the more it will become a pattern, and the less I will end up talking or even having to think about it. It’ll be second nature.

What are some things that you’d like to do for your wife that you need to just start doing?

3. Engage, not escape.

What it means: Engage in meaningful conflict. Seek the good of your wife. Stay focused on the end goal of the argument.

What it looks like: My wife is an external processor. I am an internal processor. Translation: She likes to talk through things; I like to go away and think for a while, then come back and talk once I’ve got it all figured out. Just a few months ago, whenever EA and I would get in a disagreement, my tendency would be to shut down and completely lock up emotionally. This would send my wife even further into a tailspin. It was pretty ugly.

But here’s the thing about being married: You have to resolve conflict. You’re stuck together. So you’ve got to figure out how to have conflict. Meaningful conflict. Conflict that benefits your relationship, instead of tearing it apart.

Now when I get frustrated, instead of locking up, I gently and lovingly express what I’m thinking and feeling to EA and we go from there.

A big key here is to ask clarifying questions. Make sure you’re hearing each other correctly. Really listen to each other. Remember that you’re on the same team, and that Satan wants to tear you apart. Be radically committed to keeping him from making that happen.

4. Create, not complain.

What it means: If you don’t like something, change it. Don’t complain about it unless you’re willing to do something about it. Create solutions instead of talking about problems.

What it looks like: Anybody can complain. Anybody can criticize. Anybody can cut something down. The courage lies with the creator.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The very first verse of the Bible shows God as a creator. We were made in God’s image. What does that say about us? Be strong and courageous. Step out on a limb and create something new, rather than “sitting in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1).

How does this apply to your marriage? Well, here’s one real obvious scenario: when you don’t like what your wife has made for dinner.

Yes, I’m really suggesting this … why don’t you cook dinner for once? Why don’t you try your hand in the kitchen? Create a meal. Then sit under your wife’s scrutinizing taste buds.

EA and I generally make brunch together every Saturday. All I’m doing is frying eggs and bacon, but we have a blast (and it’s always delicious).

Why not give it a try?

5. Be confident … and humble.

What it means: Don’t be so overtaken by humility that you lack the gumption to lead. And don’t be so overtaken with confidence that you become an arrogant jerk. Find the balance and live there.

What it looks like: Some guys are all humility. They slink back into the shadows and defer to others and never take any credit for the work they do. They’re “nice guys.” They’re tender and kind and loving and smart. Whenever people mention them in a group setting, everyone says, “Aw, what a nice guy he is.”

Other guys are all confidence. They’re macho men who eat barbecue, pizza, and burgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They watch football, go hunting, and carry around boulders on their backs for fun. They’re tough and manly and have Sherwood Forest growing on their chests (and backs).

It’s essential that you learn to cultivate both sides of healthy, biblical manhood: the tough and the tender. Stu Weber calls this being a “tender warrior.” Strong, but gentle. Tough, but kind. Protector, and lover. Not one or the other, but both!

How does this apply to your marriage? Mostly in conflict. Men like to fix things. But usually that’s not what a woman needs. She needs you to be tender and loving, to hold her and tell her you love her (yes, even if all you want to do is say, “If you would just do it this way everything would work out fine”).

EA and I learned this lesson on Christmas Eve, when I used the word “nagging” to refer to her in a joking context. She didn’t think it was funny.

We talked, and I tried to explain that I didn’t mean it the way she had perceived. I was steadfast and adamant about making sure everything was clear.

But she didn’t care about that. She wanted to know that I heard her and loved her, and she wanted me to hold her. And I couldn’t get that through my thick brain.

There’s room for both, men. Meet your wife where she is, and then take the opportunity to clear things up, learn from it and move on.

First Corinthians 16:13-14 tells us, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Why don’t you write that verse on a piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror? Read it every day for the next week. Pray that God will continue to mold you into a man after His own heart.

Whether you’re six months or 60 years into your marriage, God can and will continue to teach you about how to become the man He wants you to be … in your marriage and in every other aspect of life.

Copyright © 2013 by James Lepine. All rights reserved. Used by permission.