Men Can Be Caretakers Too

Published On: July 11, 2023|Categories: Advice for Men, Dating Tips|11 min read|

Video Summary

Why do some men feel compelled to protect and take care of women? Genevieve Gresset, Master Certified Matchmaker, asks that and more in today’s episode with Dr. Avrum Weiss, author of “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Men’s Fear of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships.”

Join Genevieve and Dr. Weiss as they break down the reasoning why men feel responsible for protecting women and how society is progressing past that stereotype.

Video Transcript

Genevieve: Hi, and welcome back to our channel. I’m Genevieve Gresset and new viewers might recognize me from Married at First Sight in the UK. And today I’m here with Dr. Avrum Weiss. He’s a speaker, psychologist and award winning author of Hidden in Plain Sight. And we’re very excited to hear your expert opinion, Dr. Weiss, on men’s emotional lives and this week’s topic.

Genevieve: I’d love to discuss the pressure men feel to provide for their partners. Now, this goes off of your article that you’ve recently written for Psychology Today about men being caretakers. And there seems to be an enormous amount of pressure on men’s shoulders to provide for women in a heterosexual relationship. I really want to understand where does that come from, in your opinion?

Dr. Weiss: It comes from an interesting area of research called Fragile Masculinity and the idea is that for men, masculinity is not a given, but rather something that they’re expected to earn, and that is always subject to revocation. And so that anytime someone perceives you as more feminine, you sort of lose all the ground. You gamed in being seen as a genuinely masculine person.

Dr. Weiss: And one of that elements or components of masculinity in our culture is that men are expected to be without needs themselves and to take care of all the needs of their family, women, children, anyone who’s in their family. That reason is so intense for men and why their reactions can be so strong is that if their partner is upset about anything, it can feel to men like an indictment of themselves, a failure, if you will, of their role as a man.

Genevieve: And do you think that is still true in this day and age of equality, or has the balance slightly changed that takes the pressure off guys?

Dr. Weiss: I’ll give you the slightly. Actually it’s been an ongoing conversation, that would be a polite way of saying it, with the editor in Psychology Today, who’s been saying to me that she thinks these ideas are dated. And I’ve been saying to her, “I wish you were right. I wish that were true.” Maybe slightly things are changing.

Dr. Weiss: But one interesting piece of data which contradicts that is that couples in their 30s actually have less egalitarian relationships than couples in their 60s.

Genevieve: Wow. Now that surprises me. That really, really surprised me is that when we’re talking about the couples in their 60s. Are always talking about couples who are newly created couples or existing couples? Because I get it. If it was couples who have sort of gone off, they’ve got divorced and they’ve got together again later on in life, that would make sense to me. It’s a bit of the couples perhaps having been together maybe 40 years doesn’t make sense to me.

Dr. Weiss: I don’t know the answer. I’d have to go back and look at the original study, but I’ll tell you a way that it might make sense. And when I was in my 30s, I thought I knew everything too. I think that the practice of having an egalitarian relationship is harder than the theory. Also, I think what happens in a lot of couples is that social roles go this way and also income inequality goes this way.

Dr. Weiss: So the question I always ask couples about this is when one of your children is sick, who stays home with the child? If you divide that, then you really do have an egalitarian relationship. But most people go with the person who earns less is the one who stays home. In other words, what’s going to cost that family less money for who to stay home? My guess about couples in their 60s, although they were socialized and raised in, my guess are probably in the 1950s and/or 1960s, is that it takes decades to learn this stuff. You have to sort of bump your head against it time and time again, and that after you’ve been together 20, 30, 40 years, maybe it takes that long to kind of figure it out.

Genevieve: I didn’t even think of it like that, but it makes sense. That makes total sense. One of the things when I was reading your article, you talk about the acts of service being perhaps the most prominent one from a man’s perspective when it comes to a relationship. How does that play out and how do we recognize that in modern day relationships?

Dr. Weiss: Well, let me add one piece to what you said, which is you said “from a man’s perspective,” but I think from a woman’s perspective, as well, I think that women are taught to look for acts of service as acts of love. And there is a positive side and a not-so positive side from that. The positive side is that works out well. If women are looking to feel loved in the way that men are comfortable expressing love, that’s a good match. The not-so-well side is women sometimes believing that is all men are capable of, that they’re not capable of being emotionally intimate. So acts of service are kind of the best you’re going to get. You might as well learn to enjoy it, because that’s all men are capable of. That part I would disagree with.

Genevieve: So do you think that women are using the acts of service instead of allowing their men to be emotionally expressive within the relationship?

Dr. Weiss: I probably wouldn’t say it as strongly as allowing, but I would say that we know that expectations shape reality greatly. If you walk into a party and you’re expecting it to be dull and lifeless, chances are you’re not going to have a very good time. If you’re a heterosexual woman and you walk into a relationship with a man not expecting him to be very emotionally fluent, communicative and not much emotional depth, it’s less likely you’re going to get that depth from him than if you went in with a different set of expectations.

Genevieve: Interesting. And I’ve got another question still within that. But one of the things is obviously financially, women are far more independent now than they’ve ever been. And in a lot of cases, women are earning more than their male partners. How do you think that has changed the dynamics within modern day relationships?

Dr. Weiss: Well, we probably would be remiss if we did not mention that although women are earning more, it’s still $0.73 on a dollar to what men earn. So there’s still more likely to be an income discrepancy in favor of men. I think it has influenced the basic fact of marriage in that women typically are the ones who are more interested in marriage, and women are less interested in marriage than they used to be. What the research suggests is that without the economic incentive, or with less economic incentive, women don’t see marriage as favorably as they used to.

Genevieve: Interesting. How can men move away from the need to be solely a good provider and begin taking on more of the caretaker role?

Dr. Weiss: It’s a tough one because it’s an internally generated need, so it’s not very amenable to women’s reassurance. So women frequently will say, “I never told them I need them to protect me.” But the need sort of persists in men regardless. I think the way I would answer your question is, the more other kinds of exchange like an intimate exchange between the couple, the less reliant probably they will be on that traditional form of expression of caring and love. So the more emotionally open they are, the more conversations they have, the other ways they are close. The hope would be that they would be less reliant on older stereotypes.

Genevieve: But it interesting because whenever I’m talking to women and trying to get to the bottom of the values that they’re looking for in a man, it’s feeling safe and secure that comes up time and time again. Still, perhaps the number one thing that we ask for is that safety and security. So men really can’t almost let go of that protector role.

Dr. Weiss: It’s a dance. I wrote an article, that is titled “Who Gets Up in the Middle of the Night in Your House.” And I was prompted to write it because there was a noise in the house in the middle of the night. I did not hear it. I slept through it. My wife heard it and was anxious. She poked me and said, “I heard a noise,” and I got up to go downstairs and check out the noise. Well, we have never had a conversation then or any time about whose job it is to get up in the middle of the night to take care of that. And it wasn’t even my anxiety. She felt anxious, but I knew it was my job to get out, that was an act of service that she would appreciate. She knew it was my job. We didn’t even have to talk about it. We both knew what our roles were.

Genevieve: It’s almost intuitive and instinctive.

Dr. Weiss: I think it’s more learned, but it feels good to me to be able to be of service in that way. I would say it felt good to her as well. But the problem comes in when I’m not home because she feels in some way reliant on me to do that and less familiar with and confident in her own ability to do that. I think that’s the potential downside of it.

Dr. Weiss: The other downside I would name, if I can just add one small piece, is that men often feel like their value to their partner is limited to their acts of service. So it’s sort of like, “What have you done for me lately?” So they feel like an employee with a really critical boss like: “You have to keep the sales numbers up,” you know. And you might have been the best selling guy in the whole company for ten years in a row. But if you have a bad quarter, you worry that you’re going to be replaced.

Genevieve: That makes total sense to me. What tips can you give for men to break that cycle? What tips can you give to women to encourage men to break that cycle?

Dr. Weiss: I think for men, it’s not an either/or, it’s both. I think acts of service, as I said, feel good to men and feel good to women. I grew up in the 1960s and we were so rigid about things then that if a man held a door open for a woman, he might get a lecture. I think that’s a little silly. I like opening doors for my wife or any other person actually, for that matter, it feels good. I don’t think it’s either/or. You have to drop that either/or, but you might want to supplement that by talking with your wife about other ways in which she cares about you, values you, cherishes you, relies on you besides just opening doors.

Genevieve: That’s probably an important conversation to have if you’re starting to date someone is to understand that female-male dynamic as well.

Dr. Weiss: That’s one of the main reasons dating feels so uncomfortable because there you on the first date, and you come up to the restaurant ,and you open the door. Will she appreciate you opening the door? Will she think it’s sexist that you open the door? I say, if you enjoy opening the door, go ahead and open the door. And if she doesn’t like it, then you might have an interesting conversation.

Genevieve: I completely agree with you. And we always get lovely feedback when men do open the doors and they do these acts of chivalry and acts of service. Women always comment on it. So I wholeheartedly encourage people to keep doing that. And for women to thank a man as well, women have to be grateful and say thank you and not just expect it.

Dr. Weiss: Absolutely. I think that’s a critically important thing that you’re naming, because when it becomes taken for granted and expected, then it’s not appreciated. Then it doesn’t have nearly as much value.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!