If you are married, you may have experienced a significant letdown after the wedding festivities were over. In my practice, couples often report that the day after the wedding they get into a big fight, and the honeymoon is suddenly ruined. Some say they never really recover from the blow out. In the rush of getting married, many of us forget to reflect on our internalized messages about marriage. These messages are unseen ‘ghosts’ who say, “I do” along with you.
These ghosts are born from our upbringing. They include family, cultural, and personal experiences that subconsciously tell us what marriage “is” or “isn’t” and what it “can” or “can’t be.” As a therapist, I know these ghosts can cause significant rifts between couples.
There are a broad range of reasons that justify fighting after a wedding. Fighting may be caused by sudden commitment stress after months of intense planning, money and intimacy fears or even hangovers. I believe there is a hidden reason some of these fights happen that is rarely discussed. This hidden reason comes from the male half of the partnership.
The majority of married men in my practice tell me that marriage is emasculating. That’s right: marriage equals castration. Instead of actually using the term ”emasculation”, they say things like ”Who am I?” or “Why does she need me?” .
Without sounding cliché, men want to feel like “Men.” While we do not believe that there is a conspiracy afoot to kill off manhood, there is definitely a deep cultural anxiety that we are not allowed to be Men once married. No, we are not referring to the stereotypical Cro-Magnon Man. We are talking about the New Millennial Man, but with the ages of old hunter instincts shamefully hidden away.
Emasculation begins with expectations. These are common (and often legitimate) expectations:
- Men are co-providers for the family, and are expected to never complain about it. (Let’s keep this one!)
- Men are a significant part of child rearing duties. (Let’s keep this one!)
- Men listen to what is said. (We are all for it, as long as we get to talk, too!)
- We are your best friend, partner, lover and shrink. (Let’s be realistic, we can’t be EVERYTHING!)
- We are emotionally stunted. (Maybe! Please give us a chance!)
Society and requirements impose many expectations on us. The moment we are married, our ghosts decide to visit and say things like, “Well, you’re married now, you need to bring home the bacon.” The answer we hear is, “She can take care of herself.” “I want to relax!” She will say, “Honey, I’ve had a horrible day at work.” All of a sudden, we force ourselves to transform into problem solvers and jump into action, only to find out she just wants us to listen.
Men no longer have clearly defined roles in marriage. Our testosterone laden brains function differently than estrogen created brains, and we actually crave clarity of roles to help us flourish. Women thrive on collaboration. Men thrive on solving.
I am not preaching that we go back to the stone age. I am suggesting that happier marriages begin with a discussion about what your women’s expectations are from us, and setting up clear, but flexible roles within your little slice of heaven. Make sure to revisit the agreement regularly since our thoughts about marriage change as we grow and age.
Finally, we know women are super competent, and don’t ‘need’ us in the traditional sense but feeling wanted is pretty darn awesome for us, too. Not that we were taught to tell you that. The men in my caseload over the past six years have consistently echoed the desire to feel needed and important. We want to believe that our opinions are relevant and meaningful.
Yes, we still have to work at it, ghosts and all, but it’s a good starting point.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Mar 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Does Your Husband Feel Emasculated?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/01/12/does-your-husband-feel-emasculated/