For centuries, men have faced societal pressure to be primary breadwinners, pressure that doesn’t seem to be relenting much. In fact, a Pew Research Center study of 2,691 adults conducted in 2010 found that 67% of respondents believe that a man should be ready to support a family before marriage. (The same was said about only 33% of women.)
Despite the increasing frequency of women who work and occupy high-earning positions, many men continue to link their value, both in terms of self-worth and worthiness to their partners, with work performance. So what happens to the intimate lives of men who struggle at work or, worse yet, face unemployment?
From the Boardroom to the Bedroomsuicide, men are significantly more likely to worry that they are less attractive to a partner following a job loss.
The challenges facing men are compounded by the uncertainties of a 21st-century economy. With competition high for available jobs, many men experience bouts of unemployment or feel undervalued at work, and many are unsure how to improve their prospects for work or a more fulfilling role at work.
In light of a shaky job market, it is becoming more common for some men to describe a sense of shame that permeates their relationships, especially as they question their ability to be strong and consistent providers for their partners and families.
What can couples do to counteract this trend?
Many men who experience workplace stress do so silently. Generally speaking, societal pressures make identifying and exposing vulnerabilities especially difficult for men. Therefore, the importance of communication, especially with one’s significant other, cannot be overemphasized. Many men need more than platitudes and verbal validation from their partners to feel comfortable expressing their true feelings and vulnerabilities. Spending time together to create opportunities for emotional and physical closeness may help. Designating time for intimacy and communication is essential for men who are struggling at work.
Acknowledge His Virility
Some men may need reminded that their attractiveness extends beyond their role as providers, and there is often no better way to show this than by helping them get in touch with their “sexy sides.” This could take the form of reminding the man in your life how much you love it when he pays attention to you, whether it’s by cooking a meal for you or simply expressing his passion in the bedroom. A man may long for affirmation outside the workplace, and when a partner expresses desire for him, it may boost his sense of virility.
Boost His Self-Worth
Some men feel as though their identity and their role at work are highly linked, and those who are struggling at work or who lost their jobs may feel as though a significant part of their personal identity has been compromised. It’s important for couples to spend time together when work hours are finished, using their free time to take walks, watch movies, or read or simply laugh together. These shared experiences may increase the likelihood that a male partner will experience his self-worth as extending beyond the work context. Thus, his intimate life is less likely to be affected as well.
Seek Help for Workplace Issues
Some men feel as though their identity and their role at work are highly linked, and those who are struggling at work or who lost their jobs may feel as though a significant part of their personal identity has been compromised.Although many of the challenges of intimacy for men struggling in the workplace may take place in the context of a relationship, men may also benefit from communicating in a confidential space with other men undergoing similar challenges. Support groups designed to help build a masculine identity not only help many men feel less alone, but they may also provide support for becoming proactive in improving intimacy with their partners at home.
There is no one way for men to protect their intimate lives as they struggle with work performance, but these ideas may help. Men struggling at work benefit from nurturing closeness with their partners, identifying and expressing feelings of vulnerability, finding new ways to define their attractiveness, and encountering other men experiencing similar challenges.
Many therapists specialize in helping men with issues such as self-worth. Even if group therapy isn’t for you (or your partner), seeking one-on-one help from a qualified therapist may be worthwhile.
- The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families. (2010). Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/the-decline-of-marriage-and-rise-of-new-families/
- Masculinity: Understanding the Causes of Male Suicide. (2014). Campaign Against Living Miserably. Retrieved from https://www.thecalmzone.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CALM-State-of-the-Nation-Audit-Summary.pdf
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