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Stand by Your Man?

What women learn about men from their moms.

Key points

  • Mom's often unknowingly pass on their relationship disappointments to their daughters
  • Women are often taught not to trust their partners or seek intimacy with them

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Givin' all your love to just one man
You'll have the bad times
And he'll have the good times
Doing things that you don't understand

But if you love him, you'll forgive him

Even though he's hard to understand, mm, mm
And if you love him, oh, be proud of him

'Cause after all, he's just a man

Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill

In my decades of work with men in psychotherapy, one of the most common complaints I hear from men is that they feel criticized by their partners. Men often talk about their frustration at trying to please their wives, complaining that they can never get it right, as if the relationship is a rigged game and their partner has a secret playbook they have never seen. In couple’s psychotherapy, men often seem hypervigilant about possible criticism from their partners. They occasionally point to something their partner said as critical. While I can see how they might hear it as critical, I am often surprised by the strength of their hurt feelings and angry, defensive reactions. The women, of course, most often insist that what they said was not intended as a criticism, and they are often puzzled by the strength of their partner’s emotional reactions.

In an effort to better understand these discrepant perceptions, I’ve asked more than a hundred women what their mothers taught them about men, not so much in words but in how they treated their husbands in front of their daughters.1 I invite women reading this post to briefly set it aside and write down your own answers to these questions before reading further:

  • What did your mother tell you about men and about what to expect from men?
  • What did your mother teach you about men through the ways she treated your father?

While I was pleased to hear a smattering of positive responses, even the positive responses were often subtly condescending. For example, many women said their mothers taught them to be loyal to their partner and to stick with him no matter what, which suggests that their mothers were teaching them not to expect much from men and to tolerate bad behavior rather than expecting it to change. For example, when asked about her reaction to the leaked audio tape of her husband talking about “grabbing ‘em [women] by the p***y,” Melania Trump said, “Sometimes I say I have two boys at home; I have my young son and I have my husband. But I know how some men talk, and that’s how I saw it.”

On the other hand, it’s been distressing to hear the generally negative judgments women learn about men from their mothers. While this was not a scientific sampling, the fact that so many women endorsed these same judgments is disturbing. Here is a summary of what these women said:

  • Don’t rely on men. They will “help,” but they won’t see what needs to be done on their own. You will always be the one responsible for keeping track of everything. You have to tell him what to do and then follow up to make sure it was done and done properly.
  • Don’t trust men. This is especially true regarding children: Men need to be instructed about the care of the children, and then supervised.
  • Don’t expect emotional intimacy. Men will only disappoint you. Count on your friends for this instead.

I want to be clear that I am not criticizing women or blaming them for their negative judgments of men. In many cases, men have earned these criticisms. In many other cases, the critical judgments modeled by their mothers are repeatedly confirmed by women’s painful experiences of feeling frustrated, let down, disappointed, and alone.

Extensive research on cognitive dissonance makes it clear that people are inclined to find evidence for what they already believe. In this case, it appears that women may be taught not to expect much from men; to expect to shoulder most of the responsibility for running a household and family; to put up with men’s bad behavior; and not to look to their life partner for emotional intimacy. Not surprisingly, men live down to the level of these expectations, further confirming what women have been taught to expect.

Excerpted, in part, from Hidden in Plain Sight: How Men’s Fears of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships. Lasting Impact Press.


Dr. Weiss is engaged in an ongoing research project interviewing women about what they learned about men from their mothers. If you would like to participate, please reach out to him at dravrumweiss [at]

CNN. (10/18/2016) Melania Trump: Trump was “Egged on” into “Boy Talk.” Accessed 4/1/23

Harmon-Jones, E. (2012). Cognitive Dissonance Theory. In Shaw, J. & Gardner, W. (eds). Handbooks of Motivation Science. Guilford Press.

New York Times. (10/8/2016) Transcript: Donald Trump’s Tape Comments About Women. Accessed 4/1/23.

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