Saturday, May 1, 2010
"Being a man is like being a diabetic in a candy shop."
"She's very attractive. Maybe she's just using me."
"I am controlled at work. I'm controlled by my family. Now you want to control me. To control what I wear! To MY bowling league!"
"Stop telling me what to do."
All real quotes from real people.
Each is from a different man---one an electrician, one a medical intern, one a CEO, a chef, and one, a therapist himself.
Sometimes women puzzle over this, not universal, but-at the same time-not uncommon, reaction by men to them. A female boss is very difficult for some men. An attractive female teacher can be experienced by a male student as almost overwhelmingly powerful. A female physician is sometimes, confusing.
A wife or a girlfriend, though, asking her man to do something or making a suggestion---a person who, theoretically, should be in an egalitarian position to him---may get an angry reaction like one of the last two quoted above. Why is a request or a suggestion by one's partner so often heard as a command?
When I asked the CEO these questions, he said: "Most men yearn for control because they don't have it. But they don't really realize what they are yearning for."
Males are socialized to never feel helpless: They are the ones who are expected to have the answers, to manage the problems, to be strong in the face of all challenges, to always be on top of things. So, possibly when someone else is seen as trying to direct their behavior, it feels like a threat to their identity.
Hers may be a simple request in the hopes of supporting their sex life together-such as, "...please shave off that beard."-the sex life presumably being something he would also be interested in preserving. And yet he hears it as another instance of someone limiting his choices.
Perhaps he is feeling not so powerful in the world. His circumstances may cause him to have to compromise his identity most of the time. The one place where he can speak up about it is with his closest person, his intimate partner. So her requests may be met with resistance, defensiveness, or even some of the pent up resentment accumulated from other areas of his life.
(Thus, a misunderstanding and an inappropriate expression of power, undermines a marriage.)
``A less usual, but no less real, pattern in men is the one who wants to completely give over all responsibility to his wife and let her run the show. He gets to primarily focus on his own interests and lets her make most of the decisions and take care of business. I mention this opposite rendition-the 180* other side of the coin- of the control issue, for the sake of completeness, but, we'll discuss these guys another time.``
So, here's the practical question that comes out of the conundrum for women, of being in a relationship with a man who is sensitive/reactive to what seem to him like hierarchical moves: Men---how can women say what they think or ask for what they want in a way that won't trigger this negative sensation?
Looking for some ideas from men...
Please join the conversation by commenting below-