Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

New Study Shows Being Hen-pecked Does Not Work

Capitulation is not the answer.

A new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships  by researchers at the University of Arizona assessed the sex differences in communication styles of heterosexual couples. It confirmed a 2011 study headed up by Neil Warner of Creative Conflict Resolutions that found that appeasement by the male is not the way to relational peace in our time.

The Creative Conflict Resolution study found that 68% of men preferred to say, "yes dear" or "uh huh" instead of sharing their true feelings  to please their quarreling mate. The Arizona study found that girlfriends and wives are not fooled by this capitulation and that this "no mas" defense actually antagonizes and frustrates these women, who then have a lower opinion of the relationship because there is no real satisfactory resolution of the conflict.

University of Arizona researcher Ashley Randall observed that "cooperation is something that's invaluable and instrumental in a successful relationship." Sadly, many American men have opted out of a cooperative union that openly and honestly deals with inevitable conflict. These men are instead choosing a relationship style based on ceding control of the romance to their wives and girlfriends. The questions are how does this happen and what are the long term consequences?

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The key thing to realize is that it wasn't always like this. Men who simply agreed with their mate to avoid conflict used to be referred to as "hen-pecked" and they were a source of humor and derision a century ago. Back then, society, for all it's faults, had it right on courtship. It was an often long process lasting months or even years  based on both partners being candid, with its stated goal of linking two people of compatible personalities and shared interests in a union that would last a lifetime. Caution in marriage was crucial because the married American couples often had to live and work together as a team in isolation in cramped and primitive conditions with constant hardships including famine, pestilence, disease, drought, floods and almost immediate and extended motherhood. Character counted because both partners were tested on an almost daily basis.

As explained by Virginia Wright Wexman, in the twentieth century America gradually transitioned from the oppressive patriarchal marriage model that featured rigid roles performed regardless of romantic feelings to the enlightened companionate model which emphazied men and women as co-equals. Romantic love was now  not only required during courtship but was mandatory to keep the two equal partners together after the wedding ceremony.

Honesty is vital if a companionate marriage is to succeed. If both partners are candid in their courtship, there is a strong possibility they will choose to unite in full knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. As co-equals, negotiations and allowances will be made before commitment so neither will feel defrauded by the reasonable behavior of the other.

Unfortunately in the last century many American men abandoned honest courtship and began exploiting a gaping weakness in the companionate system. Encouraged by the media of film, music and television, they increased their short-term chances of successfully finding a  heterosexual partner by pretending to be emotionally compatible. In a society that praises living for the moment, being disingenuous gradually became an accepted technique of dating for many men.

After the thrill of the physical part of the relationship fades, many women discover they have bonded with a compliant wimp who observes the letter of the marriage or cohabitation and secretly years for just a little peace from a woman of clashing temperaments and few if any shared interests or goals. These hen-pecked men will kindle a simmering resentment from living with an incompatible mate, but rarely openly voice their true feelings. They will attempt to find opportunities to covertly do the things they really like such as hiding out in their "man caves" or volunteering for business trips so they can  find a quiet refuge where they can eat pork rinds and corn nuts and watch their beloved ESPN in peace. Eventually many women discover that their one time Prince Charming has no core beliefs besides pleasing her. These wives and girlfriends will lose all respect for their spineless men who stand for nothing. Then the magic of the marriage or cohabitation will be over.

 

 

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

more...

Subscribe to Repairing Relationships

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?