Why Do Men Think Women Are Too Needy?

Men are taught that they should not need anything from anyone.

Posted Dec 22, 2018

     "The original sin of 20th-century men and woman is the sin of self-sufficiency" —Rabbi Harold Kushner 

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

One of men's most persistent and plaintive laments about women is that they are too needy. Embedded within this complaint is our Western cultural value on independence and our disdain for dependence as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. As is often the case, we tend to identify values we do not respect as feminine and those we aspire towards as male. In this case, men are raised to aspire towards independence, often to the point of being emotionally self-reliant, and are taught that to allow themselves to have needs that would lead to depending on others is less masculine.  

Men often refer to women they judge to be too needy as "high maintenance," which reveals another reason that men are critical of women expressing their needs. Men are socialized to believe that it's our job to keep our wives/partners happy. If they are feeling needy, it means we are failing. Now it's our responsibility to figure out how to satisfy our partner's need, no matter what that need is, no matter how reasonable it is. Women implicitly understand this and are socialized to use the expression of emotional need as an effective way to get the kind of emotional attention and connection from their male partner that is often difficult to get any other way. Men implicitly understand that women can use an expression of their emotional need to balance the playing field in the relationship by pressuring men to be better at attending to their partner's emotional needs. Accordingly, men often resent and resist being leveraged in this way, trying to minimize the reality of their partner's emotional needs or insist on superficial "fixes" to reestablish the upper hand. Paradoxically, these efforts to suppress their partner's expression of emotion are, or course, incredibly unsatisfying to their partner and inevitably lead to an exacerbation, rather than a diminishing, of what she's feeling.  

Men's criticism of, if not disdain for, neediness can be very confusing to their wives/partners, because it's not like we don't want them to be needy at all. We start to feel very insecure if our wives/partners don't need us at all. We just want them to need us enough to keep us from feeling insecure, but not so much that we feel disempowered and inadequate. Of course, women are somehow supposed to figure out where this sweet spot is and stay within it without any guidance from us, because it's unlikely that we will talk much with them about it.  

The way out of this dilemma for couples is to understand that feeling in one person does not create an obligation in the other. Let's say my wife/partner tells me about something she needs: For example, she tells me that between her job and the house and the kids, she is working all the time and needs to find a way to have some fun. It would be easy for me to interpret that as a request for me to get more involved and take care of some of her responsibilities so that she can have a little time off. That may be the conclusion we come to, but if I go there too quickly, out of my own anxiety about failing to meet her needs and being rejected, it will interfere with my ability to hear where she's coming from, and I run the risk of preemptively offering a solution that is more designed to satisfy my own anxiety than is a more full response to hearing and responding to her.  

The next time your wife starts to sound needy to you, and you find yourself feeling anxious about whether or not you will be able to please her, try taking a deep breath, really listening as best you can to what she is trying to tell you, and then asking, "Is there some way I can be helpful?"