A good man’s job is simple: all he has to do is make sure everything turns out right—and I do mean everything. If there is a problem, it is up to him to fix it. People mistake this for being controlling, but all he is trying to do is prevent a disaster on his watch. If the man cannot make everything turn out right, he will lose respect, which to a man is equivalent to being a waste of air.
This male mandate is most evident in the military, where making things turn out right has life or death results. Self-sacrifice is honored as the highest form of bravery because a good man’s central goal is not personal survival, but making sure things turn out right.
Another part of a man’s job is to be certain. Not just about things he knows, but about everything. In the male world, certainty is strength, and uncertainty is weakness. This explains why guys seem determined to poke their noses into situations they can only make worse. If the man does not offer his opinion on a problem, he fears looking weak. But then others get mad at him for taking over. No wonder he seems a little tense.
When a man refuses to seek help (ask for directions, go to therapy, etc.), it is not his big ego talking. The man is just fulfilling his role to be the one who is always certain. In the male mind, a man who genuinely and humbly asks for help is one step away from turning in his testosterone card.
In his feral heart, a man fears that other males could read his uncertainty as an invitation to take his life and everything he has. Of course, women wonder how asking for directions could be tantamount to risking everything. All I can say is that brains are very old in their design and boil most things down to survival. Clearly the male brain equates uncertainty with giving the world a chance to do him in.
A man’s job is to keep trying. Where would the human race be without this trait? But it also means he won’t give up even if his partner thinks it’s time for him to back off an issue. Repeatedly addressing the problem and pressing his point is the kind of insistent, directed energy that moved us out of the Dark Ages, but it can be a little hard to live with.
A good man always feels under the gun to take action before it is too late. Under stress, the male default code is that any action is better than inaction. Women think that men jump into action because they are out of touch with their feelings. The opposite is true. Men are very in touch with their feelings, but their feelings are yelling at them to do something now.
In family life, resisting the impulse to fix things is especially hard on the man. A classic challenge would be to sit and listen to his wife’s problem without trying to solve it for her. The stress on a male of biting his tongue when he wants to tell someone what to do is like holding back a locomotive with a rubber band; it is always about to snap.
You will think I am being dramatic here, exaggerating the male reaction to an extreme. But if you have ever faced a male who is about to have his helplessness exposed, you have seen the pressured, assertive behavior designed to regain authority at all costs.
The trouble is that the assertiveness of a man who is actually uncertain only makes situations worse. Things escalate, and there is more upset than there was to begin with. While he believes his sole mission is to make the situation turn out right, others may secretly pray he stays out of it. But staying out of it makes it impossible for him to be sure things will be all right, so his only choice is to jump in.
Given that a man is going to try to fix things no matter what, the woman can try not to take it personally when he attempts to take over. When he acts like everyone else is incompetent, all he is really trying to establish is that he is competent. It is really a very simple motive, designed to quell anxieties about how he will be judged if things go wrong.
It helps when the woman in his life understands his job as a male and does not hold it against him when he keeps trying to take charge, even if she doesn’t let him. Odd as it may seem, that man huffing and puffing with authority needs reassurance that everything will turn out all right. Getting mad at him for being bullheaded and interfering will just makes him more nervous, and he will dig in further.
When the woman feels exasperated, it might help her to remember the dating phase with that good man, how safe and protected she felt when he was so confident and always stepped in to help. (Not to mention the unmistakable allure of that one-track mind.) There was a good reason why these qualities were so attractive back then. If he is basically a good guy, nothing has changed. Even if some of his efforts to help may cause a little friction, he is still the same guy—just trying to do his job.
Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist. For info., call 757-490-7811.