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Ground rules
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A husband is a male spouse, or participant in a marriage.

Origin and etymology

The term husband refers to Middle English huseband, from Old English hsbnda, from Old Norse hsbndi (hs, house + bndi, bandi, present participle of ba, to dwell, so etymologically, a householder, ).[1]

Related terms

A husband has been married to another person (or multiple persons) in a wedding ceremony, during which he was known as the groom. His partner, if female, was known during the wedding as his bride, and in marriage she is called his wife.

Although “husband” seems to be a close term to groom, the latter is a male participant in a wedding ceremony, while a husband is a married man after the wedding, during his marriage. Upon marriage, he or his family may have received a dowry, or have had to pay a bride price, or both were exchanged. The dowry not only supported the establishment of a household, but also served as a condition that if the husband committed grave offences upon his wife, the dowry had to be returned to the wife or her family; for the time of the marriage, they were made inalienable by the husband.[2] When the husband dies, he might leave his wife (or wives), then widow (or widows), a dower (often a third or a half of his estate) to support her as dowager.[3]

Husband further refers to the institutionalized form in relation to the spouse and offspring, unlike father, a term that puts a man into the context of his children. Also compare the similar husbandry, which in the 14th century referred to the care of the household, but today means the “control or judicious use of resources”, conservation, and in agriculture, the cultivation of plants and animals, and the science about its profession.[4]

Western culture

Historical status

In premodern times (ancient Roman, mediaeval, and early modern history), a husband was supposed to protect and support not only his wife and children, but servants and animals of his domain, and the father (as the “patron”) was awarded with much authority, differing from that of his wife.[5]

In the Middle Ages and Early Modern European history, it was unusual to marry out of love, but then became an influential ideal.[6][7] A husband then had more opportunities in society than his wife, who was not recognized as legally independent.[8]

Contemporary status

In contemporary Christian or secularized Western culture, the rights of wife and husband have been made equal; although in regard to husbands leaving their families, the civil marriage generally forces them to provide alimony for his former spouse even after separation and also after a divorce (see also Law and divorce around the world); this law, however, typically only applies to women as well in the case of a wealthier wife separating herself from a less wealthy man/woman.[9]

The status of marriage allows the husband and his spouse to speak on each other’s behalf when one is incapacitated (e.g., in a coma); a husband is also responsible for his wife’s child(ren) in states where he is automatically assumed to be the biological father.[10]

As an external sign to show his status as a married man, a husband commonly wears his wedding ring on the ring finger; whether on the left or right hand, depends on the country’s tradition.


In Islamic marital jurisprudence, husbands are considered protector of the household and his wives. The various rights and obligations offer the husband opportunities denied to his wife or wives, not only in legal and economical affairs of the family but within the family as well. In case of rebellious behaviour, Verse 34 of an-Nisa says the husband should urge his wife to mend her ways, to refuse to share their beds, and to admonish their wives by beating.[11] For other scholars, the passage “the Prophet (s) said: ‘Do not beat your wife’ and ‘Do not strike your wife in the face.’” is quoted.[12] Domestic violence is relatively common among Muslims, with, for instance, over half of all Palestinian women reporting being beaten in the previous year.[13] The World Health Organisation reports that domestic violence is more common countries with Muslim majorities.[14] On the other hand, progressive Muslims today may also agree on a perfectly equal relationship.[15]

There is no external sign to show his status as a husband, unless he adopted the tradition of wearing a wedding ring.


In marriages in Hinduism, a Hindu husband traditionally took his wife to his home, hardly ever to return to her family. As a result, he was expected to provide for her and to prove his abilities to do so. The marriage before modernity was a contract between families, similar to the Western (then: European) marriage.

In our times, equal rights for women and a modern jurisdiction have offered marriage out of love and civil marriage, different from the traditional arranged marriages.

The Britannica mentions that “In Hindu law, the male members of a joint family, together with their wives, widows, and children, are entitled to support out of the joint property.”[16]

In Britannica’s article on the family, the Indian Nāyar system is regarded as separating the two phases of Hindu marriage and two or more of the roles normally ascribed to a Hindu husband. Among other Hindus (and indeed among the Nāyars today), the tali-tier and the lover are reported to be the same person, whereas in the past the Nāyars held these two roles to be distinct.[17]

Buddhism and Chinese folk religions

China’s family laws were changed by the Communist revolution; and in 1950, the People’s Republic of China enacted a comprehensive marriage law including provisions giving the spouses equal rights with regard to ownership and management of marital property.[18]

See also


  1. American Heritage Dictionary on “husband”
  2. Britannica 2005, dowry
  3. dower - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  4. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
  5. Greek, Germanic and Roman laws compared by Theodor Mommsen
  6. Stephanie Coontz on “classic marriage”
  7. William C. Horne, Making a heaven of hell: the problem of the companionate ideal in English marriage, poetry, 1650-1800 Athens (Georgia), 1993
  8. William Blackstone, Commentaries upon the Laws of England
  9. Countries with gender-equal rights do not decide in regard to the persons’ gender.
  10. Cuckoo’s egg in the nest, Spiegel 07, 2007
  11. Ibn Kathir, “Tafsir of Ibn Kathir”, Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2000, 50-53
  12. Dr. Haddad, Damascus, Responsibilities of a husband
  13. WHO | WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women
  14. WHO | Gender-based violence
  15. Heba G. Kotb M.D., Sexuality in Islam, PhD Thesis, Maimonides University, 2004
  16. Britannica, Economic aspects of family law (from family law)
  17. Britannica, Universality of the family (from family)
  18. Britannica 2004, Legal limitations on marriage (from family law)
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