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Title: Husband  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Family, Marriage, Spouse, Psychology of sexual monogamy, Chinese kinship
Collection: Family, Gender, Marriage, Spouses, Terms for Males
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A newly wed husband kissing his bride

A husband is a male in a marital relationship. The rights and obligations of the husband regarding his spouse, others, and his status in the community and in law, vary between cultures and have varied over time.

In monogamous cultures, a man is expected not to have more than one wife at the same time, and a woman is expected not to have more than one husband. This is enforced by legal codes which outlaw bigamy. In polygamous cultures, a man may have more than one wife at the same time.

Traditionally, the husband was regarded as the head of the household, who was expected to be the sole provider or breadwinner, a role which is still maintained in some cultures, which are sometimes described as paternalistic. The term continues to be applied to a man who has separated from his wife and ceases to be applied to such a man only when his marriage has come to an end following a legally recognised divorce or the death of his wife. On the death of his wife, a husband is referred to as a widower and after a divorce the man may be referred to as "ex-husband" in relation to the "ex-wife".


  • Origin and etymology 1
  • Related terms 2
  • Western culture 3
    • Historical status 3.1
    • Contemporary status 3.2
  • Religion 4
    • Islam 4.1
    • Hinduism 4.2
    • Buddhism and Chinese folk religions 4.3
  • Other cultures 5
  • Expectation of fidelity 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8

Origin and etymology

The term husband refers to Middle English huseband, from Old English hūsbōnda, from Old Norse hūsbōndi (hūs, "house" + bōndi, būandi, present participle of būa, "to dwell", so, etymologically, "a householder").[1]

Related terms

At the conclusion of a valid wedding, the marrying parties acquire the status of married person and, while the marriage persists, a man is called a husband, whereas a woman is called a wife. Married people are the spouse of the person they married.

Although "husband" is 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. The term husband refers to the institutionalized role of the married male, while the term father refers to the male in context of his offspring, a state which may or may not indicate that a marriage ceremony has taken place.

Before the 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, he had to return the dowry 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]

As an external symbol of the fact that they are married, husbands and wives commonly wear a wedding ring on the ring finger; whether this is on the left or right hand depends on the country's tradition.

Western culture

Historical status

In premodern times (ancient Roman, medieval, 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 (in these cultures, no polygamy existed).[5]

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

Contemporary status

In contemporary secularized Western culture, the rights of the wife and husband have been made equal. The civil marriage generally forces the wealthier spouse – which traditionally has been the husband – to provide alimony to their former spouse, even after separation and also after a divorce (see also Law and divorce around the world).

The legal 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.[9]



In Islamic marital jurisprudence, husbands are considered protectors of the household and their wives. As protector, the husband has various rights and obligations that he is expected to fulfill and thus is offered opportunities different from that of his wife or wives, not only in legal and economical affairs of the family but within the family as well. As in most cases in Islam law and culture, everything is being related to the Qur'an.

Many Muslims may agree on a perfectly equal relationship.[10] Islam is the only major religion that puts a cap on polygamy, limiting the number of a man's wives to four—provided the husband can do justice to all of them. According to the teachings of Islam a Muslim man should have a valid reason and have to get permission from his existing wife (without any force) if he requires to marry again. Islam vehemently abhors any intimate relationship outside the bond of marriage.

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


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 modern 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 Encyclopædia 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."[11]

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.[12]

Other cultures

In Japan, before enactment of the Meiji Civil Code of 1898, all of the woman's property such as land or money passed to her husband except for personal clothing and a mirror stand.[13]

Expectation of fidelity

Although there is generally an expectation for a husband not to have sexual relations with anyone other than his spouse(s), historically, in most cultures, this expectation was not as strong as in the case of wives, a situation which was evident in legal codes which prohibited adultery, with male adultery often being criminalized only if "aggravating" circumstances existed, such as if he brought his mistress in the conjugal home, or if there was public scandal.[14] The double standard was also evident in divorce laws of many countries, such as the UK or Australia, which differentiated between female adultery, which was a ground of adultery by itself, and male adultery, which was a ground only under certain circumstances.[15] This double standard continues to be seen today in many parts of the world. For instance, in the Philippines, a wife can be charged with the crime of Adultery (for merely having one act of sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband), while a husband can only be charged with the related crime of Concubinage, which is more loosely defined (it requires either keeping the mistress in the family home, or cohabiting with her, or having sexual relations under scandalous circumstances).[16] [17]

A breach of this expectation of fidelity is commonly referred to as adultery or extramarital sex. Historically, adultery has been considered a serious offense, sometimes a crime. Even if that is not so, it may still have legal consequences, particularly a divorce. Adultery may be a factor to consider in a property settlement, it may affect the status of children, the custody of children, etc.

See also


  1. ^ on "husband"American Heritage Dictionary
  2. ^ Britannica 2005, dowry
  3. ^ – Definition from the Merriam–Webster Online Dictionarydower
  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. ^ Cuckoo's egg in the nest, Spiegel 07, 2007
  10. ^ Heba G. Kotb MD, Sexuality in Islam, PhD Thesis, Maimonides University, 2004
  11. ^ Britannica, Economic aspects of family law (from family law)
  12. ^ Britannica 2004, Legal limitations on marriage (from family law)
  13. ^ Britannica, Legal limitations on marriages (from family law)
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
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