Men and women make assumptions about one another all the time. For example, you must have heard by now that men are:
- Not as emotional as women.
- Have a hard time staying faithful.
- Unable to take care of themselves, let alone the children.
Stereotypes are a mental shortcut, a way for the brain to efficiently process information without having to attend to all the pesky details. Unfortunately, the mind’s tendency to generalize in the name of efficiency can have a detrimental effect on a relationship.
Let’s examine a few stereotypes about men and how these ideas can affect a relationship:
1. Men are not as emotional as women.
Research shows that young boys are actually more emotionally expressive than girls until about first grade. In the early years, boys tend to smile, laugh, and cry more often than girls. After that, there is significant social pressure for them to “toughen up,” and they become less likely to show distress or sadness. By the time they enter a romantic relationship, they have often been well-trained to keep their emotions under wraps.
Feeling emotion and expressing emotion are two different things. For example, if you look at the studies of how men respond to an intense argument with their spouse, you will find that when men appear shut down, they are in fact experiencing intense stress that they are attempting to manage by distancing. They are masters of the Poker Face.
Typically, In response to the frustration of a husband who has withdrawn, many women intensify their pursuit. If you consider the possibility that your partner may actually be overwhelmed by emotion, rather than devoid of it, you would probably choose a different response.
2. Men have a hard time staying faithful.
There is a prevalent idea, even among some researchers, that men are biologically predisposed to seeking multiple partners. This mindset reinforces the idea that men “can’t help themselves” and are incapable of being mature, monogamous, responsible partners. In reality, men often desire a committed, emotionally rewarding relationship as much as women.
For both men and women, the capacity to remain faithful in a relationship is strongly linked to having emotional needs met, much more than it is linked to any biological drive to cheat. Ironically, assuming that your partner is hardwired to cheat can set off fear-based behavior, such as jealousy and constant monitoring, that may ultimately lead to what you fear most.
3. Men are unable to take care of themselves, let alone the children.
Read that one again and notice the disrespect inherent in this idea. This stereotype essentially lumps men and children together and reinforces the notion that men are helpless, useless creatures who will always need mothering.
Because of the different ways males and females continue to be socialized, there can indeed be significant differences in how well they are able to engage in domestic and childcare duties. The majority of women have much more practice in how to take care of the home and children than the men they marry. Because women are frequently judged on their caretaking skills, they face social pressure to be proficient in this area.
That being said, there are plenty of men around these days who are not only willing, but actually open, to being full partners at home. However, if they lack skill in the domestic realm, it is important they be allowed the time and space to develop these abilities in a safe, supportive atmosphere tolerant of the normal mistakes that are part of learning.
It is extremely important to separate biological leanings from social realities. In the same way that women are not biologically engineered to love washing dishes and wiping runny noses, men do not have a gene that prevents them from becoming domestically proficient.
So, check your assumptions about your spouse. Be curious about the social pressures he has faced as a man, and learn the details of his life. After all, both of you deserve to have a partner who relates to the real you, not an inaccurate stereotype that barely scratches the surface.