Interpersonal relationships touch at the core of who we are, and this need to have our relationship “just right” can consume us.
So what defines the “perfect” relationship? Is it even achievable?
The definition and focus of a “good” relationship has significantly changed in the past half-century or so, and this has created some confusion as we adjust to a new definition of what a great relationship looks like in the 21st century.
Thus, I invite you to explore the following five domains that have evolved over the years, and how today’s relationships have a potential for a happier ending—if you ask the right questions.
1. Does your husband consider you as a partner?
Today’s Man is adjusting to a new era, where his dad’s advice about relationships is no longer valid, if not downright damaging. Statements like, “I’ve never changed a diaper, and I’m proud of it,” is not an uncommon comment I heard growing up from my own dad.
Not too long ago, relationships (say in the 1950s) had a very strong power differential. Men made most of the money in the household, with less than 10% of women holding jobs above clerical positions. This is in sharp contrast to today, where things are shifting fast.
Men need to redefine how they see themselves in relationships, so ask your husband:
Is he seeing himself through his dad’s lens—meaning, does he have preconceived notions of how financial responsibilities, chores, etc. are shared?
How much of his current views are influenced by his past and old thinking style?
Is it in his best interest to change how he sees himself and relationships as a whole?
What views are currently serving him, and which would he consider revising?
Spend some time contemplating these questions; your relationship will be better for it.
2. Is he emotionally connecting?
This is something that was not on a man’s priority list back in the day. Some “marriage experts” suggested that when a woman gets married, she should take on a doting role, almost like a professional responsibility to attend to her man’s and family’s needs. This, as you can imagine, did not help with emotional connection to a partner, as a woman was fulfilling a role out of obligation rather than a desire for closeness.
Current theories, in contrast, focus on emotionally focused conversations, where emotional expression and acceptance of partner’s needs are at the forefront of creating a strong, emotional bond. One treatment approach called EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) has been shown to be highly effective in helping couples stay in happier, long-lasting relationships.
The challenge I throw out is this – is your husband man enough to have a deep emotional conversation with you? And by that I mean, can he be vulnerable enough where you feel that you can open up and talk about your own areas of growth and challenges?
How does he balance being a strong, empathetic, warm, and supportive husband, without compromising his manhood? Men typically alternate between trying to be the alpha male—dominant and in control, and opening up to show the more hidden parts of himself. If we can tap into how we feel, communicate and connect with our partners, we will be a more realized Man, where great relationships abound.
3. Is he open to less rigid role definitions?
This one focuses more on potential behavioral change in relationships, meaning asking how married he is to defined roles, e.g., as a provider, father, partner, lover?
When we try to fit ourselves into prescribed “boxes,” no one wins. The hope is that today’s relationships focus more on integration, so the question to ask may be what works for you as a couple? What joint goals do you have, and how, given your individual strength and weaknesses, do you get there?
Is there a way, for example, a wife can fix a broken drawer and a husband wash the night’s dishes, and yet maintain their sense of femininity and masculinity and come together to respect each other’s contributions, however non-traditional they maybe? These are just some ideas to marinate on, and hopefully adjust with time.
4. Is your husband threatened by your success?
How does your husband manage his own internal responses, i.e., emotions, when you tell him that you have been promoted and are now at a higher position and pay grade than he is?
Is he looking to grow from within? Or is he comparing himself to you or others and making himself feel worse in the process? Is he able to be supportive and encouraging regardless of your success? Or, is he taking out his frustrations and anger on you by denigrating your accomplishments just to make himself feel better, shooting the relationship in the foot? Men need to rise above their own insecurities if they want a relationship where they are appreciated for their manhood, not their bravado.
5. Is he able to have conversations about intimacy?
This one is often difficult for men, for many reasons. Men are rarely taught how to communicate (period, but especially) about our intimacy and sexual needs. Ask him how many times, and with whom, did he ever have an actual conversation about sex (except for bragging to his buddy about a one-night stand—that doesn’t count)? It’s probably never.
A sense of pride gets in the way.
Above and beyond just having sex, are you talking about each other’s needs when it comes to the bedroom? How do you broach this topic? Can you even envision him asking for something that he’d like? Alternatively, is he open to hearing something from you that may question his “skill” or how you perceive him as a man in the bedroom? On the surface, these are all simple questions, but asking them opens up the possibility of discovering that he is not “all that.” Then the question becomes—what do you do with that new information? I guess my point is, lean into these conversations— have them even though they may be uncomfortable—you will be a much stronger and better lovers for it.
Men need to grow and adapt to the current environment. Nothing about the change in the dynamics of relationships over the past 50 years gives me the impression of doom and gloom. If anything, I feel empowered to have a partner by my side, rather than a dependent.
The old adage “happy wife, happy life” is as true as ever. If men find ways to be content with their own manhood whilst promoting woman’s search for their own definition of what it means to be a modern woman (women are also struggling with their own re-definition of motherhood and job satisfaction, which is well illustrated in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean in), we will all be individually happier and co-create happier relationships.
I am optimistic about the state of marriage and relationships as a whole. Hopefully, if you consider the aforementioned, you will be on the right track for a more fulfilling partnership as well!
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood and Hoboken, NJ. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.