05/11/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sandra Bullock and Jesse James: We Thought it was a Model of the New Relationship

Recently, I've read a number of articles about the alpha woman/beta man relationship. As more women become breadwinners in their households, there seems to be a new stereotype forming around the label, the beta male.

Apparently, if a woman makes more money, has more ambition, and often, is better educated than her husband, then he must be non-aggressive, domestic, and a bit dependent. If one sex rises in power, the other loses their clout.

Although this type of relationship exists, there are many healthy relationships with female breadwinners where the men have their own ambitions and drive. I wouldn't call these men alpha or beta. I believe there is a new type of male/female relationship forming in our culture not defined by who is more dominant and successful.

I first noticed this shift in the balance of power in relationships when doing my doctoral research. I found that as the earning muscle of a woman strengthens, her need for a man to take care of her financially subsides. Now, many high-achieving women are looking for emotional support instead.

These women want a man who will share the responsibilities at home and won't get his ego tied up in a knot over it. They want a man who gives his partner space to go after the success she desires. When she comes home, he is her cheerleader and "knight" who loves her and protects her, and doesn't tell her he wants her to quit traveling or change her workload for him. This man shows emotional depth and strength. Money was not the major criteria for partner-picking. Emotional compatibility rated higher.

This man often has his own career or business. Yet he doesn't require the family to circle around him. He stands by the side of his partner, not in front of her or behind her.

I believe Sandra Bullock described this type of relationship when she explained her marriage to Jesse James Sunday on the last Oscar edition of The Barbara Walters Special. When Barbara asked her, "How does he protect you?" Sandra answered, "Not once asking me to be anything other than what I am." Sandra went on to say that her work got better because she could be both fearful and braver knowing she had him to go home to. When Sandra won the Best Actress award, you could see the love Jesse has for her in his teary eyes. Is Jesse a beta male? Hardly -- he is a strong, successful, independent man who is okay being with a strong, successful, independent woman. There is emotional stability in this relationship based on mutual respect. Shouldn't this be the new model of a healthy relationship?

I was talking about this phenomenon to Ali, age 30, and about the concept of women dating and marrying men below their economic status when she interrupted me by saying, "The whole 'dating down' idea is a dumb '50s concept. It's about the person we are looking for, not their checkbook." She convinced me that there is a cultural revolution going on that is redefining what goes into a healthy relationship whether the man or the woman is the breadwinner.

I'm not talking about role reversals, though that exists. I'm not talking about women supporting men, though that exists as well. I'm talking about men who are comfortable allowing women to be whole, which includes being powerful, emotional, passionate, discouraged, loving, tired, perfect, imperfect, grateful and sometimes rude. In return, women wholeheartedly accept their powerful, emotional, discouraged, loving, tired, grateful and sometimes rude men. Am I dreaming? I don't think so -- I am in one of these relationships.

After two long-term relationships with degreed, professional men, I am happily partnered with a man where I make more money, have more degrees, and I travel all over the world while he takes care of the home and cat (he travels with me sometimes). He loves me when I'm jet-lagged, honors my work and dreams, challenges me to be more, plays with me and buys me flowers. He is my knight. And, he has his own successful business that he is passionate about. The relationship is wonderful.

I would never call my partner a beta male. He sees the term as an insult. It's time our society redefines what a solid, loving relationship that supports both men and women looks like and makes this model more the norm than an oddity. And we should quit labeling each other as well.