Becoming Conscious of Gender Expectations in Intimate Relationships
The issue of expectations in intimate relationship has two dominant perspectives, the male and female. In reality, there are multiple perspectives. In fact, there is a different perspective for every person on this planet. But today I will focus on dominant Western gender perspectives about expectations in intimate relationship.
From the dominant Western female perspective of expectations in intimate relationship, a lot of women believe it is important to have high expectations of the men who date them. There is a culture of increasing “feminine desirability” and the concept of “deserving” that are echoed in how women want to be treated in intimate relationships. There is also the age old concept of male wealth, status and how well they can be provided for. Finally there is a new addition to women’s relationship expectations. This is wanting emotional safety and sensitivity from men in relationships. These are generalised and do not pertain to all women, but they are trends in media and Western culture.
From the male perspective of expectations in intimate relationships, I am hearing more and more from men that the expectations from women are simply too high. I am hearing a lot of anger and discontent from men about unrealistic feminine expectations of them. As men seem to feel more marginalized for not living up to these expectations, they are asking questions about what they see as women’s manipulation and criticism of men. I also hear men saying that they do not know what women expect of them or what they should be doing in intimate relationship. It is described as the goal posts are always moving and that it seems to men that no matter how much they try, they are never good enough.
Looking Down the Consumer Lens
As gender roles and beliefs have shifted post World War II in the West, there has been a great deal of discount between men and women, putting each other down, relationship disharmony and increased rates of divorce. Since generation X, most simply are not getting married at all. Ironically, through this journey there is actually more socioeconomic expectation on the individual to succeed financially and being everything to themselves. Given we are social creatures and that societies financial expectations are high in the West, this has lead to a whole lot of incredibly stressed men and women looking after themselves. This has also resulted in sole parenting (usually women, but not always) being the social norm which disadvantages families and children. It is sad that the only winner in all of this is consumerism!
Expectations and Gender Differences
Back to gender… Given this social context in the West, the feel of the connection between the genders is more like war than love. From both parties, there appears to be a great deal of misunderstanding and lack of healthy communication. Gender differences in expectations just seem to become polarized, leading to increased isolation and heart break. Rather than listening to each other, both men and women tend to be defensively reacting to each other in this tug-of-war. Women hear men say that women are manipulating and expecting all this stuff in relationships, while often they feel deeply hurt from previous relationships and just want to be loved. Men hear women say that men are useless and are bastards, while often they are carrying their own wounding from relationships and are protecting themselves from being hurt again. Let’s face it, this topic goes straight to our hearts like a poison arrow.
The truth is, love is healing! The loving connection that can be cultivated between men and women in inmate relationships can buffer us from the world’s harshness and increase our physical and mental health. The misunderstanding between genders partly stems from both men and women holding old traditional expectations in relationships as well as newer expectations that stem from social and technological change. This leads to a confusing mess. Feminism has often been blamed for this. However I think it goes deeper than that.
There have been huge shifts in consciousness in humanity which has affected gender beliefs, practices and expectations. We are all lost! These shifts require more understanding of ourselves and then each other more than what has ever happened throughout written history. It is challenging for all of us! As we are giving the other gender a hard time, we need to remember this context and give ourselves and the opposite sex a break. We need to bring compassion and gentle understanding into the mix. These changes in awareness of gender will take time.
What gender expectations have caused you problems in intimate relationships?
Have there been experiences of coming into compassion for the other gender rather than criticism?