What ‘Being a Man’ in Your Relationship Really Means

Many men come to therapy feeling challenged by the expectation to be “tough” in the face of hardships, particularly in their romantic relationships.

They may say things like the following:

  • “I wasn’t raised to be open with my feelings. Will I ever be able to be vulnerable with my partner?”
  • “How am I a man if I show my emotional weakness?”
  • “I am the breadwinner of the family. How does expressing my anxieties help?”

It takes courage to speak up about issues that go against gender norms. But it can be supremely rewarding, as it often deepens the connection you have with your partner.

Here, I’ll talk about three strategies to help you re-examine what it means to be a man in the context of your relationship.

1. Learn to embrace uncertainty and emotional vulnerability.

In many cultures, men are socialized to believe that expressing one’s emotions is a sign of weakness. However, psychological research highlights the importance of talking about one’s feelings and expressing one’s emotions even when it makes you uncomfortable.

Brené Brown, who has done extensive research on courage, vulnerability, and empathy, suggests that vulnerability is a precondition to being authentic and making life more meaningful. And, there is a litany of research showing that authenticity is one of the most important factors in predicting happiness.

“When we think of times that we have felt vulnerable or emotionally exposed, we are recalling times of great courage,” says Brown.

So, instead of believing that emotional expression is indicative of weakness, expand on your understanding of strength to include vulnerability and emotional authenticity.

2. Invest in your relationship.

Romantic relationships require continuous effort and attention. Like with your finances, you need to actively invest and make deposits for your relationship wealth to grow.

Dr. John Gottman, a renowned researcher specializing in relationships, advises one way you could go about investing in relationships: Go to couples counseling.

Sometimes, therapy is a form of preventive care. It can help you with preemptive interventions to ward off everyday obstacles. For example, going to therapy can help you and your partner

  • Manage stress.
  • Reignite the spark.
  • Address touchy subjects that both of you have been avoiding.

Investment in relationships can also take the form of committing to regular date nights or having uninterrupted alone time with your partner at home or outside.

Perhaps show your partner a bit of selfless behavior by making plans to do something they really enjoy.

3. Educate yourself on gender norms.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, emotional expressions by men in relationships are not only accepted by women but also encouraged. It is linked to relationship well-being.

For men, however, the act of emotional expression generates discomfort. One way to overcome this is to educate yourself on gender normative behaviors.

“Societal norms and patterns have consequences. We all should consider how broadly they might be influencing our life,” says Azriel Grysman, author of the new study.

“The bigger takeaway is that expression of emotions serves our relationships—it builds strong bonds and ties us together,” adds Grysman. “Strong bonds to others are good for us. We are a species that evolved to live in groups and being close to others is something we want and something that gives us a sense of belonging and fulfillment.”

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