In monogamous cultures, there may be only two parties to a marriage. This is enforced by legal codes which outlaw bigamy. In polygamous cultures, there may be more than two parties to a marriage.
In heterosexual marriages, the husband was traditionally regarded as the head of the household and 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 such a man who has separated from his spouse and ceases to be applied to him only when his marriage has come to an end following a legally recognized divorce or the death of his spouse. On the death of his spouse, a husband is referred to as a widower and after a divorce a man may be referred to as "ex-husband" of his former spouse.
In today's society a husband is not necessarily considered the breadwinner of the family, especially if his spouse has a more financially rewarding occupation or career. In such cases, it is not uncommon for a husband to be considered a stay-at-home father if the married couple have children.
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").
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. In heterosexual marriages the woman is called a wife; in same-sex marriages between males, each male is called a husband; between females, each is called a wife. Regardless of gender, a married person is the spouse of the other party to the marriage.
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 and for the duration of the 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.
In some cases of heterosexual marriage, 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 offenses 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. 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.
"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.
As an external symbol of the fact that they are married, each spouse commonly wears a wedding ring on the ring finger; whether this is on the left or right hand depends on the country's tradition.