First, check out the introduction post here before you get started. Also, if you haven’t read the summary for Chapter 2 on Respect, Chapter 3 on Insecurity, Chapter 4 on Thought Processes you may want to do that as well. This post will assume you’ve read them.
Disclaimer: this is a summary of Chapter 5 in the book For Women Only not my own thoughts, feelings or research.
Let’s get started.
Men are driven to provide.It weighs him down every step of the way, but he just may like it that way.
No matter what we think about the family income, a man believes that providing his his job as the man of the house. Even in cases where wives work and contribute, men tend to think
“I cannot depend on her to provide because that is my job”.
The author has this discussion with a few men while their wives sit listening. Wives, she says, were shocked to hear that their husbands thought this way. In this day of dual income households, we feel like we are contributing and we don’t realize that men feel the way that they do. Even if a wife makes enough money to comfortably provide for the family, men feel the mental burden to be the provider and it is unrelenting.
As women, we may have a vague notion that men think like this, however, we rarely understand that this isn’t an issue of wanting to provide. It goes much deeper than wanting. He needs to provide for his wife and family. Even single men feel a drive to provide, if only for themselves.
The surveys showed that 78% of men would feel compelled to provide for the family even if his wife’s income was sufficient. This holds true across most men regardless of whether they are married or single, old or young.
The author points out that this result goes against what we see in culture. That culture might not reflect our actual gender differences should surprise no one here at RPW. She cites the image of the man in his recliner with the remote as a trope of the lazy husband that is unfortunately prevalent. But that this simply isn’t the reality. The provision drive is so deeply rooted that almost nothing can relieve men of their sense of duty.
If you have trouble understanding this, she suggests that it is not dissimilar to women’s sometimes obsessive body insecurity. It’s there and it’s difficult to change.
Men constantly carry this mental burden and it is always in his mind. When asked: “Under what circumstances do you think about your responsibility to provide for your family? Men overwhelmingly answered (about 71%) that it is occasionally to always on their minds.
“A man won't feel like a man if he doesn’t provide, if you are going to be the man, that’s just how it is”
What drives this need?
And, more importantly, why is it unchanging despite our dual income culture?
Providing is at the core of his identity as a man and as a person of worth. Even single men feel this way. One single guy explains:
“You want to be in control of your life, and if you don’t provide for yourself, someone else will have to”
Men feel powerful when they provide and they want to be dependable and depended on. Providing for himself and his loved ones is an enormous part of who he is.
Consider that sex and money are opposite sides of a coin for men and women. When it comes to sex, men are utilitarian while women are emotional. On the other hand, when it comes to money,/work and providing, men are emotional and women are utilitarian.
Providing is Male for “I love you”
For a man, bringing home a paycheck is love talk. He does it because it proves that he can take care of you and he is worthy of you. He demands this of himself and he wants to deliver. Providing for his wife is a central way a husband expresses his love.
Women often make the mistake then, of complaining about a man’s work habits. We say “you work too much” or “you don’t spend enough time with me”. When we complain about our men’s work habits, it’s distressing and confusing to him. He thinks he’s saying “I love you” and we are turning around and complaining about it!
As an example, one couple discusses how they feel about the husband traveling a lot for business. The husband asks if his wife believes his constant travel is an indication that he cares more about work than her. Unsurprisingly to us, his wife answers “well of course I’ve wondered that”. Her husband, shocked, explains “it’s because I care so much that I work this much.” What she was viewing as a (potential) lack of care, he instead viewed as a sacrifice that he makes out of love.
Providing goes hand in hand with his need to succeed
But before you go getting a big head over this, it’s not all about you! Many men combine a selfless desire to provide with their equally important desire to succeed and find pleasure in their work. About half of the men surveyed agreed that while they had to work a lot to get ahead, they did it because that they wanted to get ahead OR they enjoyed working as much and as hard as they did OR in some cases, both.
“The one thing I wished my wife knew is that I enjoy my career and that being successful is important for me *and for us.*”
Just as we have multiple reasons for doing the things we value so do they. We should hope that our partners find themselves in the enviable position of doing what they love for a living. Don’t get upset if he’s working long hours, he’s doing it for both himself and for you. As long as his life remains balanced, be grateful if he has a career that he loves.
Providing creates the ongoing risk of failure
Providing also ties back to our previous discussion of men’s insecurity. Providing is the main area where men will experience the ongoing risk of failure. Biblically, it is said that a man who does not provide for his family is “worse than an infidel” We shouldn’t view this as a commandment but as a description. If times are tight and a man is not providing the way he feels he should be, he will feel insecure and terrible about himself, or, if you will, worse than an infidel. It is a statement of internal angst, not a command because no one needs to tell men to provide. They have an internal drive and they feel terrible if they cannot succeed.
And because of this drive, men have anxieties about failures at work, business downturns, and layoffs. Surveys showed that 61% of men feel unappreciated at work. They really do feel at risk. Since we see our men as talented and effective, we might not realize how strongly they feel this anxiety and how much of a burden it is on them. They feel the need to do whatever is necessary to protect their job. And when the family encounters financial problems, a man will feel like a failure even if the cause of the problem had nothing to do with him. If the result is that you will have to adjust your lifestyle, he will suffer emotional torture.
One man, while going through a rough patch, described it like this:
“Every day, with every step I take, I feel like my skin is being flayed off”
Men can also wrestle with the feeling of failure if they aren’t bringing in most of the family income. Many men said that they struggled as the primary caregiver or as the partner earning less money. This internal struggle happened even when there had been a mutually agreed upon decision to structure the relationship in that manner.
When a man isn’t the breadwinner, he has a stronger need to be respected or appreciated for what he does provide. This can mean being seen as a great dad or covering as much of the bills as possible.
Providing feels like a trap
And no, not like you are trying to trap them. But men feel a tension between wanting to be depended on and feeling trapped by the very virtue of the fact that they are depended on. Many men work long hours because they feel that there is no other option. Not infrequently, we are contributing to this pressure to some degree.
Because you see, it’s not about just about meeting the minimum bills. It is also important to a man that he is making his wife happy. He’ll often try to do this by getting her the things she wants, or claims to want. We must then do our part by not send signals that we care more about the things than about him and how hard he has to work to provide them.
- “I feel confused, you want me home more, I want to be home, but you want a new house, nice things, this is a catch 22…”*
Men can hear pressure when none is intended. This happens because they are trying so hard to make us happy. As a result, what we see as venting can be interpreted as a critique that he is unable to provide. The RPW advice to STFU becomes more understandable in this light!
Outside of creating financial pressure, we can pressure them by complaining about their long work hours. Women are inclined to think that our men should just tell their bosses “no” from time to time. Other women misinterpret their men’s hard work, thinking that he doesn’t want to be home with her. In actuality, only 5% or less of men thought those things.
More commonly (85% of men) felt that if they didn’t work hard they’d let down their families or organizations. Most men don’t want to be away from their families; they are away because they have to be. Their priorities are their families, but this sometimes means working long hours.
The best thing you can do it to try and put yourself in his shoes. See things from his side and understand how he might feel trapped. If you can see where he is coming from your concerns will be more likely to be viewed as supportive rather than antagonistic and nagging.
How should we respond?
After reading this chapter, reconsider existing areas of conflict in your relationship with your new perspective in mind. Our men feel caught with few options on provider issues and probably deeply misunderstood by us. We have to look at where this is impacting our relationships.
a refusal to stand up to his boss ... is a drive to continue paying the mortgage.
seeing you coming home with shopping bags every day may put pressure on him to work harder
out-earning him might make him feel insecure.
Understanding where he is coming from is essential to any productive conversation.
Help relieve the pressure.
We all face difficult financial seasons. When we nag him to “do something” we are simply adding to his burden and potentially demotivating him. Instead try a steadfast belief that he will solve the problem. Then offer to do what it takes to stay afloat. This can come in the form of encouragement and faith that he will pull your family through the tough times. You can also show excitement about lower cost alternatives. And it’s important that it be excitement, not willingness. If you indicate willingness, he’ll internalize this as disappointment and feel as though he failed. Alternately, show you understand his burden by refusing to spend when things are tight.
Finally and always, thank him regularly for providing. Let him know your pleasure so he knows all the hard work is worth it.