Have you ever felt like you “lost yourself” in a relationship with a male partner? That you’ve slowly but surely changed and you don’t really recognise yourself after the relationship has ended? Now there’s a scientific explanation for what happened – and a trick to avoid getting there again.
Some of us can probably relate to feeling like the “annoying” or “nagging” girl when you’ve lifted small and big problems in your relationship. No matter how nicely or humorously you ask your male partner to put down the toilet seat, grab the cleaning every now and then or maybe affirm you a little more in either word or deed, it’s easy to feel like a nag or that you’re taking on a boring mommy role. After all, you can’t change another person – while many girls after the relationship has ended have found that they have changed their whole personality or lost themselves.
Drawing on sociologist Carin Holmberg’s research in the 1990s, she has looked at something called asymmetrical role-taking, which means that women are more likely to put themselves in the man’s shoes and embrace his notion that his opinion is the neutral one, the one that just “is”. The fact that both men and women perceive men as “just being” means that he is expected to change his behaviour for his partner to a much lesser extent than his female partner.
In Carin Holmberg’s study of couples who considered themselves to be relatively equal, she found, among other things, that several men knew that their partner would appreciate something, such as talking more or occasionally showing appreciation in the form of flowers or compliments, but that they rarely did so because it was not “just the way he is” or something he used to do. At the same time, they felt that their female partners “demanded too much” when, for example, they wanted to talk about things that the men were not interested in – a view that the women also took on board, saying, among other things, that they “knew they talked too much about uninteresting things”.
The asymmetrical role assumption is explained, among other things, by the fact that women perform a kind of “emotional work”, that they constantly (consciously or unconsciously) want to satisfy their partner’s need for appreciation, which makes the men think that they themselves do not need any appreciation when in fact they receive it from their partner more or less all the time.
- He doesn’t need to ask her for affirmation of himself because she is active in giving it to him. That may be one reason why he thinks these expressions of love are less important. He does not know what it means to be without them, Carin Holmberg wrote in her study.
But is this skewed role-taking a problem? Yes, according to Lena Gunnarsson, it affects our sense of worthiness to be loved just as we are, which means that we constantly have to make small unconscious adjustments to keep the relationship together. To build up women’s sense of self-worth, Lena Gunnarsson therefore urges us to direct more of our love and support towards other women to a greater extent – which would ultimately mean that men as a group would have to make more of an effort and be more loving in order to gain women’s love.
So: direct some of those sweet gestures, texts or words you make to your boyfriend to some of the women around you instead. It’s guaranteed to improve her self-esteem and your relationship – and maybe eventually lead to a change in society!