As your friendly neighborhood blogapist that tackles many non-PC topics in order to help your marriage, I consider it my business to help you actually understand your partner better, even if what I say isn’t politically correct. This post is no different! Here, I tackle the idea that men should generally try to protect their wives, because this is what most women that I see actually want. And, if the choice is between overprotecting and underprotecting (examples will follow), men who pick overprotecting will end up with happier wives and marriages. How does this play out?
Women frequently tell me that they don’t feel their husband “has their back.” This can manifest in a million small and large ways, but some common ones are:
- He is not on her side in arguments with the kids or inlaws
- He doesn’t watch out for her and try to help her when she is tired, overwhelmed, depressed, or sick
- He sits by and watches while she makes unhealthy choices (e.g., stay up too late, drink too much, work too hard, get involved in arguments with family members that won’t lead to anything good) even though she tries to stop HIM from doing these same things
- He is nonconfrontational to a fault and does not lead the family in a direction that would be overall positive because he is terrified of her short term frustration or disapproval
Women may say they want to be independent, and they certainly do want to make their own choices about many things, as does any human being. But most women also yearn for a partner who takes charge, especially when they feel tapped out or overburdened. The problem comes when they criticize their husbands for any attempt at taking charge, which makes men feel scared to do so, because then they are jerks or bad feminists. This idea is why I wrote my post Stop Caring So Much What Your Wife Thinks.
What are examples of protecting and underprotecting?
Protecting (which maybe you see as overprotecting if you never do these things):
- Making the decision about where to go to dinner because she is too stressed to deal
- Telling your mom that your wife will be taking a nap during their afternoon visit because she is wiped out from being up with the baby
- Telling your kids to respect their mother and giving them a time-out for being rude
- Telling your wife she needs to get more sleep and turning off Game of Thrones after this episode
- Not buying the snack foods that she says over and over that she gets addicted to and doesn’t want in the house
- Telling her to go take a nap because you have the kids and the house handled and she is exhausted
- Letting your wife make all the decisions because she criticized your choice of Mexican food when you were dating
- Saying nothing as your mom makes comments about how your wife should sleep train the baby
- Saying nothing when your kids are rude to your wife because this one time she told you not to invalidate them
- Figuring that your wife’s sleep, exercise, food and drink intake and whatever else is her business because she is an adult and not helping her with moderation even when she says that would be helpful
- Not checking on her during the day at all, even via text, and then saying it’s because you don’t want to bother her at work because she says she’s busy (as if a text is going to jump out of her phone and dance on the table during her meetings)
If you try some of the protecting ones and your wife says, “Don’t patronize me!” then you can openly share that you’re trying to make more decisions because she has said she wants you to make decisions/be involved/whatever she has said. But I can assure you that this reaction is better than the sobbing anger that you will get from a wife that feels that you never protect her or back her up.
If you are uncomfortable making decisions for your wife’s benefit because this seems chauvinistic, think of it as caretaking plain and simple. I have said before to treat your partner as well as you treat your kids. If your child said “But I don’t want to brush my teeth!” you would still make sure they brushed their teeth. Yet when your exhausted wife says, “But I have to watch one more episode to wind down,” you say, “Okay” and go back into the world of your phone. What if you said, “Come to bed and I will rub your back and then you can get the sleep you need?” This would be loving, caretaking, and protecting. If you do it for your kids, why not for your wife?
Sometimes women are uncomfortable being cared for because they never got cared for as children. Then, they usually secretly want to be taken care of and protected, but they think this isn’t an option for them. Then, they will say things like:
- “I do everything myself around here”
- “My husband acts like a child“
- “My husband is so irresponsible“
You may say that these particular men in the linked posts are actually all of these bad things that their wives call them. But how did these men get this way and why did the woman choose to stay when their selfish traits became evident (almost never late in marriage, almost always red flags early on)? It takes two to tango. Often, women who are very anxious and codependent find an irresponsible partner very familiar on a subconscious level. Growing up, they saw one parent who was a “problem person” (e.g. alcoholic, anger issues, depressive), and one who devoted their life to “helping” or enabling this person. When women stay in situations where a man cannot protect them and then say this is why they HAVE TO do everything themselves instead of getting out and finding a partner who would care for them, this is due to unexamined codependency and feeling like they don’t deserve and could never find anything better.
You may also ask, “Why is this post targeted toward men? I thought both partners are supposed to care for each other?” My answer is simple. I see many, many women in couples counseling who say they wish their partner protected them, and I have never heard this from a man. Men certainly want to be taken care of, and most frequently this is with physical affection and words of love. I take an equity approach to couples work vs equality. Everyone needs similar things, such as to feel loved and secure, but not everyone needs the exact same partner behaviors to achieve this. Women who want to care for their male partners can read other posts of mine like this, this or this.
Try to protect your wife and see if she starts to feel more secure, which would manifest as more smiles, less anxiety, less irritability and less anger (and more physical touch). People who feel vulnerable to attack (even in ways that you don’t consider “attacks,” e.g. your mom making comments) act angry and defensive. When they know someone is there for them, actively trying to care for and protect them, they frequently calm down because they feel more secure and loved. Share this article with your partner as well, because more communication on this topic may help you further understand how your spouse feels about this idea of protection. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Everyone Wants To Be Securely Reparented, But This Can Look Very Different To Different People.
For therapy, go here for Dr. Whiten and go here for other clinicians in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health. For coaching with Dr. Whiten, go here. Order Dr. Whiten’s books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, and listen to The Dr. Psych Mom Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Join The Dr. Psych Mom secret Facebook group for more discussion about these kinds of issues!
This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person. Also, all examples involving people or clients are hypothetical amalgams, not actual people.
Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten