codependencymarriage/monogamyMen

When You Feel Like Men Never Take Care Of You

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Many women come in to my office sad that the men they become romantically involved with don’t take care of or protect them.  These women are often complaining that a husband, long term partner, or even men in early stages of dating do not feel the urge to care for and protect them as other men seem to want to care for other women.  If you are in this situation, don’t fall into the rabbit hole of assuming this is just because you meet the “wrong” men or guys who are “selfish.”  When people choose to stay with the “wrong” partners, this is because of expectations and ideas that they have about the world, as discussed here.  So why do men never seem to want to take care of you?

Women with this pattern in their romantic histories tend to fall into one of two buckets:

  1. Women who are high achieving and high earning and mistakenly believe this is a turnoff to men
  2. Women who have long been enablers for men who “are irresponsible and do nothing” due to depression, addiction, ADHD or anything else

Let’s look at the first group.  When women are high achieving, they often think that this is a deterrent to men.  I see exactly the opposite in my practice, by and large.  The vast majority of men are very proud and often relieved to be with a woman who makes money, and they understand the practical value of this as well (better vacations, bigger home, no desperate fear of being laid off because you’re the sole breadwinner).  When women say that men are turned off by this, as I discuss in this post, they may be engaging in other behaviors that are turnoffs.  

In the comments on that post, a woman described a situation where everything was apparently going well until she told the man about her income and he said she didn’t “need” him.  Sure, maybe there are some very insecure “workhorse” men that believe that their entire value is predicated on their paycheck.  However, I usually see exactly the opposite, where men are insecure about feeling like the “ATM” and like their whole value to a woman would be their paycheck.  Also, it would be highly unusual for a man to not want to be with an independently wealthy woman, who also would not “need” his money, and everyone can agree that most humans would find it great to be with someone with more financial resources if all else is equal.  So what may have been going on here?

Often, when a woman finds it very hard to be vulnerable, a man may feel like his only worth to her would be his income, and if she doesn’t even need that, then there is no way she could really need him.  Everyone wants to be needed.  In fact, the highest achieving women usually “overfunction” and do more than they have to in every arena, making everyone need them, which becomes a source of self-esteem and identity.  So it is no surprise that men would also want to be needed. 

In the second bucket are women who are codependent with men with emotional issues that lead to them struggling with some life activities. Women who enable “problem” partners are usually in this sort of dynamic, which I call The Man Child And His Long Suffering Wife.  They feel that they can never get taken care of because their partner doesn’t have the resources to even take care of himself.  These women are trapped in a toxic dynamic where they choose to stay with a man who does not meet their needs, and they derive their self-worth from propping this man up and caring for him.  The more she cares for him, the less he feels he can do or needs to do.  It is the gender-inverted version of Mr. Perfect and His Crazy Wife.  In both cases, the more your partner does for you, the less confidence you have the more childlike and dependent you act.

In both cases, these women would be better off looking at the entire dynamic rather than rooting the problem only in their partners.  These women struggle with vulnerability and often do not act as though they need anyone, which makes a partner feel superfluous. If men feel needed in other ways, such as sexually, physically, and emotionally,  then the fact that she is a high earner or achiever becomes all positive. 

Most women who struggle with making a man (or anyone!) feel needed did not see a dynamic in their childhood where their mother needed their father.  Usually, their mother felt disappointed and angered by their father’s lack of responsibility and felt that she had to do everything herself.  If women are raised in a household where their female role model felt like a martyr and like the only adult in the home, then it is easy to see how they would learn that it is not safe to rely on men.  These women then find it very difficult to believe that men genuinely want to care for them in adulthood.  They are subconsciously drawn to more irresponsible men, and then exacerbate the dynamic by taking care of all the man’s needs and never asking for their own needs to be met.

How can you ask for your needs to be met?  It can be difficult when you’ve never done this before, but the only way is to directly state your needs without either being passive aggressive or micromanaging how they are to be filled.  For instance, if you want a kiss, you say, “I need a kiss” and move toward your partner for a kiss, trying hard to expect that this will be okay and welcomed.  99% of the time, it will be.  If you either wait until the next day and say, “Boy it would have been nice to have gotten some affection yesterday when I was feeling down,” that is passive aggressive because it doesn’t allow the partner to meet your needs in real time; they have already failed. If you take the teacher approach and say, “You should hug or kiss me when I come home or sit closer to me on the couch,” then you don’t sound like you have a need at all but are a teacher directing a little boy on how to behave better.  Neither will work to get a man or anyone else to want to take care of you.

Another example: If you are too tired to do the laundry and your kid’s uniform needs to be washed for tomorrow, you would say, “I am too tired to make dinner tonight.”  If your spouse does nothing you would say, “Please take care of dinner tonight.”  You do not get off the couch because you just said you are too tired. If you say you are tired and then you get up to do one million other chores, then you are probably not too tired to make dinner, and your spouse is likely to think you are asking for the chores to be split on principle versus that you need to be taken care of. 

If you think, “Well the chores should be split on principle!” then think about your goal.  Your goal is not to have a husband who philosophically believes this but to have a husband who wants to care for you (read this for more on this distinction).  The first sounds like a nice and fair roommate and the second is a loving husband.  Therefore, you have to let him actually take care of you which means that he can see with his own eyes that he is NECESSARY.  If he doesn’t make dinner then you do not eat.  It is a very rare man who literally will refuse or do nothing when directly asked to feed you and/or the kids. You need to eat and you can’t do it, so he will step in.  (If he refuses and leaves the house or something when he is asked to make dinner, then you are likely with a narcissist and need to seek counseling to figure out next steps.)

What not to say in this situation?  “For the past five years you haven’t offered to make dinner” (common statement and when pressed, she never directly asked him to).  That one is passive aggressive and setting the partner up to fail.  On the micromanaging or overfunctioning end, an example would be, “I’m too tired to make dinner so I need you to google Pasta Carbonara.  I have bacon in the freezer to defrost in the microwave on setting #3.  The kids prefer rigatoni.  I have heavy cream in the back behind the lunches.  While you do this I will do the laundry and ironing.”

The point here is a simple one.  If you do not allow yourself to be vulnerable and to need people, nobody will try to care for you, as you don’t appear to need it.  It makes sense why you would have protective armor; you likely learned the importance of self-reliance in your childhood and have been disappointed many times within your relationship due to a overfunctioner/underfunctioner dynamic that you have unintentionally helped to cultivate.  But it is never too late to change and to get the necessary reparenting that you yearn for.

Incidentally, often women in this situation will notice other women who get cared for more readily.  This is almost always because these women learned in childhood that it is okay and even desired to ask for needs to be met.  They expect others to want to care for them because this was a given in their upbringings.  Therefore, if you want to raise kids who know how to ask for their needs to be met, let them see you enjoying helping them when they need help. (Most parents nowadays have no trouble with this, and in fact struggle with allowing the kids to do things on their own, so a balance is important, as with everything.)

Try directly stating your needs and making yourself open to being cared for.  If you need more coaching, read this. I have seen many men in couples counseling transform from fairly selfish individuals to loving and generous partners within the context of a more loving, open, and vulnerable marriage.  I have also seen women transform into more open, vulnerable partners, who then receive more loving care from men who now feel more important and useful.  And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, People Don’t Do Stuff For You When You Can Do Everything Yourself!

Order Dr. Rodman 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. If you need therapy, check out her online group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Karolina
    February 10, 2022 at 4:55 pm — Reply

    What if, you notice this and consciously start making efforts to change your behavior, but your partner thinks you’re being weird or manipulative? An example: I needed to start work for the day, so I asked my partner to plate his own breakfast. I don’t usually mind doing that, but this time I needed his help. He thought it was weird. I explained that I was trying to get to work and I’d learned through past experiences that I can’t do everything myself, esp in relationships. He told me that it’s a “weird hangup”. Later that same day, I wanted my partner to take out the trash. I asked him very sweetly (it was my own defense mechanism growing up to be as nice as possible to get someone to help me). And he joked that I should’ve plated the breakfast, and my tone sounded manipulative and left without doing it. I was shocked by the whole situation and he came back when he realized I was actually pissed and took out the trash. I’ve broken up with this guy but there’s parts of me that still need some validating, I guess…That I was at least TRYING to change and doing the “right” thing and change my patterns…

    • February 10, 2022 at 5:09 pm — Reply

      Good for you for breaking up with him! Some people will only be happy with someone who doesn’t want to be cared for. That sounds like this guy. With the next, stay right from the beginning asking him to plate your breakfast!

      • Karolina
        February 11, 2022 at 11:41 pm — Reply

        Aww thanks 🙂 I will!

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