As a psychologist, I am privy to the inner thoughts and feelings of my male clients. I hear firsthand the pressures and worries that they have, many of which they don't share with others. One thing I've consistently heard is that men feel a great deal of responsibility for their wives and girlfriends. Regardless of who earns the most money or if you have a dual-income household, some men tend to place the burden on themselves to care of their wives and partners. It's an implicit responsibility that they feel to look out for you and make sure you're provided for, both financially and emotionally.
What does this type of pressure do to these men? How does it affect the relationship your husband or partner is able to have with you?
With all the pressure that he's placing on himself to care for you, men often end up feeling that they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. But it's not a share of the financial or household duties that he needs from you. What he really needs and craves is emotional support.
Men won't always tell you. They don't even always know they want it. But it's a universal need that many men have. He wants to know you're looking out for him, too. He wants to know that he's not in this alone and that you are concerned about his needs getting met, too. He wants to see and feel that you have his back.
Emotional support is the idea that your spouse cares what happens to you in your day. Emotional support is knowing that you have someone one on your side, cheering you on through the difficult moments. It's celebrating with you in your triumphs. It's being there with you in the quiet moments, sharing in life together.
Sometimes in relationships, it ends up feeling like there isn't enough emotional support to go around. The kids need to eat and get their bath, the house is a mess, and you have three urgent work emails you need to send before bedtime. The last thing you might feel you have energy to do is give your partner emotional support. With all you do, shouldn't he be giving you emotional support?
Yes, and no.
Yes, he should be giving you emotional support, but no, he can't do it without having your support, as well. The magic combination is having both of you be there for one another. Some days he'll need you more, and other days you'll need him to be there for you. When both of you are giving one another support regularly, it doesn't feel like a game of "who's doing more work" or "I can't really hear about your day after the atrocious week I've had." Instead, it becomes a matter of feeding a relationship that nourishes you, without feeling like it drains you.
There are several ways you can begin to show you're looking out for your partner. As with most things in life, it's more about how you are together than what you do together.
To start, ask him if he feels you're looking out for him; can he tell how much you're there for him? Then, ask him what are the best ways you can show him your support. Listen to his answer. Make an effort that very moment to respond to what he says.
Here's what emotional support can look like:
1. He wants more physical affection and touch from you -- and not just sex. Men tell me all the time how they want their significant other to show more affection. So cuddle up to him while you watch a show, give him a big hug and kiss hello, or give him a five-minute should rub while you're laying in bed together, getting ready to go to sleep. Make an effort to show some physical affection towards him consistently.
2. Every once in a while, he wants you to join him in his hobby. Maybe it's going with him for that round of golf, or sitting with him in the basement while he plays guitar. What's important is that you're doing some things that he cares about so you can be with him.
3. He wants you to be on his side. Find a way to let your partner know that you're in his corner. You might show your loyalty by standing up for your guy when he feels the world is against him. Let him know you support what he's passionate about. Show him that you value what he values. This adds a sense of teamwork, security, and intimacy to your relationship.
4. He might even like a love note or two. Men respond to these gestures, even if they don't tell you how much they love getting them; trust me, they do. Whether it's a cute note in his wallet saying you miss him or a quick email telling him you're thinking about him, your guy will feel loved when he knows you took the extra effort to tell him he's on your mind.
5. He wants to share the burden. If he's stressed about a work project or an upcoming presentation, ask him what you can do to make his life a little easier. Small gestures that will make his responsibilities feel a little lighter that day will make a world of difference.
Your guy adores you and wants to take care of you, but he also wants to be cared for by you. It can be hard for some men to talk about their needs but when you ask, he will appreciate the gesture, knowing you're there to support him.
Your relationship will be stronger for it.
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice providing couples and individual therapy. Dr. Kolakowski is the author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship: How to Regain Intimacy and Reconnect with Your Partner When You're Depressed. Her second book, Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious will be available Fall 2014. She has contributed to publications such as Redbook, Scientific American MIND, Men's Health Magazine, Shape.com, Salon, About.com, eHarmony Advice and Parent Map. She lives in Seattle, WA with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @DrShannonK or visit her website to stay connected.
A version of this post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.