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Why Do Men Think Women Are Too Needy?

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

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

Source: Pixabay

One of men's most persistent and plaintive complaints about women is that they are too needy. Embedded within this complaint is the Western cultural value of independence and the 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 masculine. In this case, men are raised to aspire towards independence, often to the point of being emotionally self-reliant, and they are taught that to allow themselves to have needs and depend 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 their job to keep their wives or partners happy. If the woman feels needy, it means the man is 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, of 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 and partners, because it's not like men don't want them to be needy at all. Men start to feel very insecure if their wives or partners don't need them at all. Men just want women to need them enough to keep the men from feeling insecure, but not so much that they 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 because it's unlikely that men will talk much 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 that my wife 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. Then ask, "Is there some way I can be helpful?"