The 21st century seems to be a confusing time for many men. Many men are lost as to what their roles are supposed to be in the world at large and on the home front. Things were simpler in years past when roles and expectations of the husband were more clearly defined. Husbands of the past were generally expected to do three things good enough:
- Make money to support your family.
- Try not to hit your kids too much.
- Don’t get too drunk on the weekends.
If you did all of these 3 things, you were generally viewed as being a successful husband and most folks would leave you alone. Although much could be said about what was missing in the roles and expectations of husbands of past, it was simpler nonetheless and with that simplicity came more clarity around expectations.
By comparison of other husbands, most guys were able to nail it back then and felt really good about their competency as a husband. Not so much today.
THE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF HUSBANDS
Like most things during the human experience that undergo a shift, the pendulum of changing expectations has swung far and wide as it relates to what is expected of men in marriage. These expectations, often perpetuated by therapists, are often a set-up-for-failure for men.
In today’s time, the expectation of husbands often feels more like this:
“Be not just emotionally intelligent, but a surrogate therapist for me”.
“Be a fierce competitor in your career that yields a top 5% financial success status, but make sure you come home at a reasonable hour”.
“Be a pursuing passionate lover, but be content when sex is unimportant to me”.
“Be a nurturing father with a keen astuteness in child development rivaling Jean Piaget.”
“Don’t be too angry or aggressive, but protect us at any cost, and be a man ”.
“Be willing to share yourself and who you are, except when it’s in conflict with me.”
Kidding aside, the bar has been substantially raised for husbands and what wives are expecting. Some of the expectations we place on our roles as partners is great and long overdue from past generations, but some of it is problematic and raises serious concerns about what can be reasonably expected from your marriage relationship.
Before you try to assonate me for defending bad behavior in men, just know that’s not where I’m coming from. Expectations across the board are out of balance and the same often goes for what husbands expect in their wives. This isn’t a gender problem and men are often guilty of looking for surrogate mommy’s in their partners, which is obviously problematic.
WHERE DO EXPECTATIONS OF MARRIAGE COME FROM?
Most people get their expectations of what marriage is supposed to look like from two sources: 1. Their own parents, and 2. The movies. Unfortunately, these two sources are rarely qualified to offer perspectives on what marriage should look like.
Unless you’re one of the few lucky folk that was role modeled a great marriage by mom and dad (statistically, those are few and far between).
So if most of us don’t learn what it’s supposed to look like from mom and dad, then we have the movies to learn from, and as a generality about Hollywood, I think it’s safe to say that the movies offer us a fantasy, and very rarely reality.
THE TRAPPINGS OF UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
This takes us to the crisis for so many men in modern marriage. This is the crisis:
As a way to cope with the often unrealistic and unachievable demands and expectations of marriage, the typical American husband has totally resigned his dreams, wants, and desires. He’s resigned his soul as a sacrificial offering to meet the demands placed on him. He’s chosen, “Happy Wife, Happy Life”.
It’s as if the modern husband has said, “I can’t give you what you’re looking for, so I will give you the rest of me.”
Of course these husbands love their wives and out of desperation continue to try and meet these demands. Feeling utterly and hopelessly incompetent along the way. Failing. Feeling as if nothing they do is right.
And all these feelings of “not being good enough” just get continually reinforced by the insidious messaging from the media about husbands and their general folly.
I have one more thing to offer, says the modern husband…. ”I can offer more niceness”.
As a way to meet these impossible demands, many men have simply chosen to become nice. To lose themselves. To stop fighting for what they want. They’ve become deferential and acquiescent shells of their true selves. They say: “Yes, Dear”. Many men have opted for a marriage that looks more like servitude than any semblance of marital partnership based on mutuality.
Of course no human is capable of this type of self-denial for any great length of time, and eventually these men pull the plug with a mid-life crisis, a younger girlfriend, or they put a grenade in the marriage with a divorce filing. To their wife’s surprise.
THE MASCULINE CAN SAY “YES” & “NO”
Please don’t mistake this writing as absolving any man’s bad behavior or lack of genuine care to become a better person. This is not an indictment about wives either. As a therapist, I love working with men and helping them become all-around better men. I hold the guys I work with to a high standard – they all know that.
However, I’d like people to consider an appropriate balance with the expectations we place on roles in the marital partnership. Or at least recognizing that the expectations society at large has placed on husbands will require teaching, patience, and most importantly, a genuine acceptance of limitations.
I’d like the men, who’ve opted to forsake their own soul as a way of appeasing their disappointed wife, to consider reclaiming their God given masculinity. The true Masculine can humbly admit to deficits and seek to correct the areas in your personal development needing work. The Masculine can also find a voice to push back against the unreasonableness of the expectations placed on you.
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