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14 May 2012
Living up to traditional male stereotypes is taking a toll on how many men experience their relationships, a Deakin University study suggests.
Preliminary findings of a study by Deakin psychology researchers show that some men are identifying less with traditional male qualities of power and dominance but still view work and independence as important to their sense of masculinity. Reconciling these changing views of ‘what it means to be a man’ is creating problems for their relationship satisfaction.
Doctoral student Felicity Toop and Professor Marita McCabe, with Deakin’s School of Psychology, have been asking Australian men what aspects of traditional masculinity are important to them and how this relates to their relationship satisfaction.
“Through this study we want to understand what it means to be masculine in today’s age,” Ms Toop said.
“Men are increasingly presented with changing cultural expectations of what it means to be male, but these messages often contradict and challenge traditional masculine qualities. For example, there is an increasing emphasis on the need for men to be emotionally expressive and more nurturing in their relationships, traits that have previously been seen to be part of the female role.
“These changing male roles need to be understood so that both men and women can better incorporate these new expectations into their lives, and so improve their relationships.”
Initial study results reveal that some men are identifying less with the stereotypical male driven by power and dominance but if they thought their partner saw them in this light they experienced less relationship satisfaction.
“Our findings suggest that for some men equality is important and they want to be perceived as being on equal footing with their partner rather than being viewed as ‘the boss’,” Ms Toop said.
When looking at specific age groups, the researchers found that men aged between 20 and 29 who considered work as central to their identity tended to experience poorer relationship satisfaction.
“Men are socialised to prioritise work and individual accomplishment over emotional connectedness and intimacy, which in turn, can be detrimental to their relationships,” Ms Toop explained.
“But for men aged between 30 and 39 who are in more settled long term relationships, it is not so much work that is related to poorer relationship quality but rather if they saw themselves as self-reliant, and not engaged with their partner.
“Men at this stage of life may be starting families. Therefore, these results may partly reflect their partner being more focused on the children and to a lesser degree on them, so in this context these men need to be more self-reliant. This self-reliance is likely to detract from the couple’s engagement with one another, and so reduce levels of relationship satisfaction.”
The researchers are now calling on men aged 18 to 65 who are currently in a heterosexual relationship of 6 months or longer to share their experiences through an anonymous online survey - http://www.masculinitystudy.com
“We now need more men across a broader age range to complete the study so that we can better understand the role of masculinity in men’s lives at different life stages, and which aspects of masculinity are more salient to their relationships,” Ms Toop said.
“Their insights will help to clarify which aspects of masculinity may contribute to poorer relationship outcomes, so that appropriate interventions can be developed to assist men and women in improving their intimate relationships.”
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