Toxic masculinity in marriage
This post discusses issues related to marriage/partnerships, and sexuality, and occasionally uses strong language. Please be aware also that this represents only my own views, and is not personal relationship advice.
I spend a fair bit of time in variously themed mom's groups on Facebook and one of the things that gets talked about often is the men in their partnerships. I hear things like:
- "my boyfriend wants me to quit breastfeeding because he misses playing with my breasts during sex"
- "he gets upset every time I ask him to do something to help around the house. He says its my job and he doesn't know what I do all day"
- "Oh we can't cosleep even though I want to and neeeed the sleep, because my husband doesn't want to share our bed and won't sleep on the guest bed."
Then there is the well intentioned advice from other women like like:
- "make sure he feels loved and appreciated even for the ordinary stuff or he won't be willing to do the big stuff. Like be sure to say thank you and give him a kiss when you notice he put the toilet seat down"
- Guys are really physical so if you do stuff like rub his feet and cook his favorite food he'll be more willing to help you out on his day off"
- "I find if I give him a blow job before I need help with something he's more likely to say yes to the chores I need him to do
Each of those are examples of how toxic masculinity affects ordinary marriages. Toxic masculinity is this idea that men must reject anything inherently feminine and adhere to a stereotypical male gender role which is aggressive, entitled, and unemotional except for possibly anger. It does not mean that all men are toxic, but it does mean that all men in our culture are undoubtedly influenced by these toxic stereotypes of what it means to be a man and it influences how women learn to interact with the men in their lives.
Toxic masculinity teaches us that men are not actually responsible for their own well-being let alone that of others because caretaking and wellness are considered feminine. We are all conditioned to believe that men by their very design have the need and therefore the right to be taken care of by women. We're conditioned to believe that it is our role to make sure all their needs are met so they can do their ‘manly’ job of earning money for us then come home and get all the strokes and praise for being a ‘good provider’. Conversely, toxic masculinity teaches women that their primary purpose is to serve men, no matter the cost. If you are not submissive then you are not desirable.
It goes even further with us buying into the myth that a man is SUCH a good guy if he's willing to “help us” by demeaning himself to do “women's work” like.... I don't know... Wiping up their own pee off the toilet rim when they inevitably miss or putting their own dirty laundry in the hamper or “babysitting” their own children. (And they don't even KNOW about the hidden and emotional labour that we invest daily!)
We're talking about grown ass men here, who have chosen to be in a relationship and it is not our job to have their slippers, cold beer, and gaming station controller waiting for them when they get home so they can ‘put their feet up after a long day’. It is not 1950.
It is not our job to wipe up their toddler-esque messes.
It is not our job to stroke their ego or their penis in order to get them to participate meaningfully in family life.
Let me be clear. If you feel like you need to shower your boyfriend with praise, or give your husband a back rub or a blow job all so he’ll take out the kitchen trash or participate some other way in family life, that's not a healthy marriage that's prostitution. It is a business exchange, not a relationship of equals. It is a transaction, in which you're buying your partner's good will using the only currency he accepts. It is toxic masculinity hard at work.
By all means give him a back rub or a blow job if you LOVE TO and as an expression of love. Do it because you WANT to show you care or because you like it too. Do it to connect and to give each other those awesome oxytocin. vibes. But those things should be gifts of mutual affection not transactions designed to purchase good will.
If your partner will not listen to you or participate meaningfully until you've paid the fee of stroking his ego or his body that's NOT OKAY.
And these transactions, are not usually even a conscious thing that we're choosing but if you find yourself saying “I'll give him a back rub and buy his favorite beer before asking him….” Then this dynamic of trying to buy good will is happening in your relationship.
Despite all the above and how confronting it probably feels to read it….
Please know that you are not alone. Many many relationships today have an overall dynamic of the woman doing the majority of the household duties including hidden emotional labour, even when she has responsibilities outside the home too. And for the most part we don't complain, even when we're dying inside, because we've been trained to believe that this is the way of things. We've been born and bred on this idea that we are the nurturers and they are the providers. We're told both implicitly an explicitly, that we exist in body, mind, and soul, for the pleasure of men. We hear phrases from our mothers like "You're too big for your britches and if you don't learn your place no man will ever take you". And our brothers hear those same phrases and messages, and they learn that a woman's place is for them to be taken by a man to serve him. Yet somehow our souls yearn for more, as we ARE more. So we try out our voices. We test the limits. We start to push back. But the programming runs deep, and often, if we express a desire to be treated as more than a maid or a nanny by the man we have chosen to be partnered with, we are shut down with phrases like:
- "You must be on your period because you're being bitchy"
- "You should be grateful I bring in a good income"
- "How hard can it even be. You must be lazy"
So we stop talking about what we need. We give the strokes to our man because either we don't know we have a choice or because in choosing to be partnered we often sacrifice our own financial security making it necessary to keep our financial provider satisfied with us in order to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.
When a child come along the temperature on the pressure cooker gets turned up even higher. Because as women we're expected to just gracefully and effortlessly take on this additional role of mothering without allowing any compromise elsewhere. Because its natural. Because women are nurturers. We're expected to literally sacrifice body, mind, and soul, AND still give our partners strokes because its hard for them now they have to share us. What?!
He's upset because he has to “share you”?
You are not property to be divided.
He's frustrated you don't want to have sex because you're touched out or have pelvic floor damage or birth trauma or a postpartum mood disorder or you just aren't in the mood today?
Why do his desires as an adult take priority over the actual needs of his child(ren) and wife?
He's tired after a long day at work and wants to just watch TV? I'm sorry. But your wife is tired too. She wants to eat a hot meal, and have 5 minutes to shower alone. You guys are in this thing together and the focus should be on mutual care not getting what you feel you're owed.
Now OF COURSE we all have times of struggle when we're not bringing 100% to our marriage and OF COURSE it's not always gonna be a 50/50 or even 80/20 division of labour. It is absolutely crucial to remember though that in the 80/20 times one partner is carrying more ONLY FOR A WHILE and because of extraordinary circumstances. The person giving 20 needs to understand they're not owed that 80 everyday. And BOTH partners need to be on the same page about how they're gonna work together to shift back from 80/20 to 50/50 to 100/100 where both partners are bringing their best selves to the table.
If you're not on the same page about that then one partner gets resentful while the other one gets bitter and that's a recipe for disaster sooner or later.
Toxic masculinity not only harms women though. It keeps men from realizing the wonder of the divine feminine. It separates them from the full potential within themselves. It keeps them from being in true, deep, genuine, honest, compassionate and respectful relationships.
The harm we do to others we do to ourselves in the process, and in teaching our partners how to heal their relationships with us, we also give them the tools to heal their own wounds.
Do we owe them this? Not really. They are grown ups after all. But we have chosen to be partnered with this person and so we work to sharpen each other and grow together and sometimes one partner has to take the lead on that for a while so we can both get to a better place. These changes and shifts can be incredibly difficult for even the enlightened men among us because as Clay Shirky says “When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression” Most of the men in our lives have not been taught how to live in a mutually beneficial and truly respectful relationship. And in asking them to step up - to give up some of their male privilege - they FEEL as though they are being asked to do too much or even like are being oppressed.
This is where a GOOD marriage counsellor becomes helpful. A skilled counsellor or coach can help your marriage navigate through all the above - if you can get your partner to go. Because counselling is often perceived as feminine and weak and is itself confronting for some men. If they won't go with you - go anyway without them and/or pursue your own healing journey with things like reputable books, webinars, and podcasts, yoga nidra, meditation, Tapping/EFT etc.
Heal your own wounds. Be the light. Deal with all the old shit that's polluting your life today and turn it into rich soil for growth. Figure out who you want to be and how you want to feel and how you're gonna make those things reality. Your partner will either be inspired to come along or they'll drift further away as you keep growing forward and in both cases that is ultimately their own choice.
At the end of the day the only person we can control is ourselves and we have to decide for ourselves what steps we can take. We're not all in a position to give ultimatums. We can't always just walk away. And we can't drag someone along with us, who doesn't want to walk our path. We can't always eradicate the toxic masculinity from our marriage. Sometimes the best thing we can do is plot a course to navigate our way through it. Or to mitigate the damage that's being incurred along the way. We can't make the person we've chosen to be in relationship with change. But we can choose who we want to be in our relationships. We can be intentional in our decisions about how we can eradicate, navigate or mitigate the effects of toxic masculinity in our relationships. We can say "Yes Ma. I AM too big for those britches, and I'm gonna buy myself a new pair that fit me perfectly now."