Forget the caveman stereotypes: Guys crave emotional nurturing


Affirming your love

In serious relationships, men as well as women crave affective affirmation, the little non-sexual things you say or do to make someone feel special and appreciated, according to sociology professor Terri Orbuch. Here are examples:

•  Gestures: Hugging, kissing, handholding, making coffee in the morning, doing an errand, making a favorite dessert, fixing the sink.

• Words: “I love you.” “You’re wonderful.” “You’re the best husband/wife.” “I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.” “You look great in those jeans.”

Chicago Tribune

What if you lived in a world where men were more romantic than women, where guys were just dying to talk about their feelings, where men were the ones who craved affection from their partners?

Actually, there’s good evidence that you do.

Oakland University sociology professor Terri Orbuch, who has been studying the same 373 married couples for more than 25 years, has looked at the impact of “affective affirmation” — words and gestures that show your partner he is special, noticed or cared for — on the long-term health of a marriage.

Her findings, she says, are surprising.

“When husbands reported that they did not get affective affirmation from their wives often, that couple was two times more likely to divorce over time,” Orbuch says. “And that was not true when wives didn’t get that affirmation. Wives need it, but it’s not as distressing to the couple if they don’t get it.”

Warren Farrell, author of the bestseller Why Men Are the Way They Are (Berkley), says man-cave hype obscures a basic truth he saw while conducting relationship workshops: Men want to talk to their spouses about what’s troubling them. Often, he says, it’s women who get uncomfortable when their partners reveal their fears and vulnerabilities.

Psychologist David Schnarch, author of the bestseller Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships (Norton), says that there are a lot of men who want to talk more than women do — and they’re not hiding their needs. The problem, he says, is that stereotypes about women being “all heart and no crotch” — and men being just the opposite — are so strong that they often prevent us from seeing the men who are right in front of us.

A lot of information that runs counter to popular wisdom has gone unremarked and undiscussed.

For Orbuch, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Steps to a New and Happy Relationship (Sourcebooks Casablanca), a key moment came when men and women in her study were asked to map the five closest relationships in their lives onto a series of concentric circles, with the inner circle representing those closest.

Women, Orbuch says, tended to put all five of their nearest and dearest in the intimate center circle. Men put only their wives there, and their other confidants in various “outer” circles.

That pattern makes men heavily emotionally dependent on their wives, and may help explain why “affective affirmation” in marriage is so important to them, Orbuch says.

“Women need affirmative affirmation as much as men, but we’re lucky because we can get it from lots of other people,” she says. “We don’t crave it and need it only from our partners. Women in our studies reported they get it from their best friends, their mothers, their sisters, their children.”

Men’s emotional reliance on their partners may also help explain why men fall in love faster and tend to idealize their romantic relationships, Orbuch says.

“We know men are more likely to believe in love at first sight and that love conquers all,” she says. “Men are more likely to believe you need love in order to have commitment. I think it also has to do with needs getting met in that primary relationship. There’s an awful lot invested in that primary relationship for men.”

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