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Are men supposed to love blindly and fall head over heels in love with women? Should they provide closeness and support or should they dominate in the relationship? Do women expect sound judgement or romanticism from men? Love between two people includes expectations of both partners, says Dr. Bartosz Zalewski from SWPS University. The expectations comprise the conscious and unconscious needs, which influence not only the way we love, but also the way we feel loved.

If women are emotional and men are rational, then only women should be able to truly love. Meantime in literature, men are often portrayed as the embodiment of romantic love. Similar logic seems to govern the kitchen. It is assumed that the kitchen is the domain of women, because real men do not even touch pots and pans, while the best chefs in the world are presumed to be men. So how does the love of men for women really looks like: are they sensible or romantic?

Mammoth’s love

Psychologists have been debating how many intergender differences between men and women stem from their biological natures and how many from the current and changing culture.. Some scientists, a minority, attribute the dominant role the biological factors, mostly the evolution. According to this group, the goal of male love for a female is procreation or, in the newer version of this theory, procreation and the responsibility to ensure the offspring’s survival. Evolutionists are not surprised by women’s complaints about men’s insufficient engagement in the relationship. After all, men love the best they can by attempting to stay with one partner, despite many temptations in the form of other women (they are aided in this struggle by religion). This type of love is somewhat coy - showing affection and attachment may be treated by men as a servile sacrifice of all their desires and passions on the altar of one woman. This version of love is experienced as suffering and the woman is seen as a sadist, who derives satisfaction from watching how the man gives up his desires and, as her slave, recites love clichés. Perhaps there are men who love in this way, but they are not a dominant part of the population.

The evolutionists emphasize that regardless of the duration of the relationship, be it forever or just for a while, the love of men for women is mostly erotic. Paying homage to female beauty is one of the main responsibilities of men, which is ruthlessly enforced by the female population. According to this theory, to be recognized as a man and to feel like one, the man must be an updated version of a sexual predator ‒ he must admire and desire a woman and he must fall head over heals in love with her. Luckily today, women are also allowed to desire and to feel uninhibited erotic pleasure, which allows everyone to be free of biological gender stereotypes and of the priority to ensure the survival of the species. Increasingly often, men have other reasons, not just procreation, to fall in love with women.

Regulated love

However, psychology is dominated by theories that emphasize the role of socialization in shaping of individuals. Supposedly in Western culture, socialization directs men towards hiding their feelings, but it does not mean that men do not have feelings. According to these theories, women are undoubtedly loved, truly and deeply, although men have difficulties with expressing their feelings. So women should be satisfied with detecting the covert expressions of love and, to make their partners show their feelings more openly, women should just push the men a little, for example on the occasion of their anniversaries. Luckily, nowadays this stereotype is challenged by the knowledge that men have many feelings and it is possible to develop relationships with them, which are based on complex feelings, grow and are exciting. Nowadays, men also have numerous social conversation tools at their disposal to express different aspects of their love, including a desire to be physically attractive to women, taking genuine interest in women and everything that is important to them, including their thoughts and feelings.

There are also theories, which form the foundation of the main and proven methods of psychotherapy, such as psychoanalytical, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and the systemic therapy. They indicate that men, just like women, love in various ways, which may take on a healthy or an excessive form. For example, the excessive form of love may turn support, closeness and attention into domination, in which case a caring man changes into a restrictive man. Love can be possessive in a varying degree, from imposing the way of life on a woman, the choice of hobbies or entertainment, a choice of career, and demanding the traditional division of roles in the family to extreme cases involving violence. In the book In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and Its Victims, Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, a renowned researcher in the field of psychology of emotions, and Ruhama Goussinsky attempt to explain why men murder women ‘out of love’. They show that the extreme possessiveness comprises numerous elements, such as: understanding love as the ultimate goal in life; oversensitivity to the smallest signals of female independence; demands that the woman immediately alleviates the man’s suffering, which stems from the love itself; the inability to merge with the other person into one as well as the belief that love forgives all transgressions and moves mountains, which becomes the basis for demanding that the woman intuitively, without words, understands and meets the needs of her partner.

 

Men love in various ways, which may take on a healthy or an excessive form. For example, excessive love may turn support, closeness and attention into domination, in which case a man becomes possessive, i.e. he imposes the way of life or a choice of career on a woman or he promotes the so-called traditional division of roles in the family.

Motivated love

We could create a catalogue of male types and their romantic feelings towards women. The catalogue would include: Peter Pans, domestic dictators, perennial romantics, improvement enthusiasts, etc. However, psychologists claim that love and its dynamics, includes various motivations and expectations of both partners, which comprise conscious and unconscious needs and patterns related to what is possible, moral or valuable. These patterns influence the way we love and the way we feel loved.

This approach suggests a deferent perspective: the way a woman feels loved does not always depend on her partner. The way the woman interprets her partner’s behavior, i.e. how she attributes meaning to his behavior and his motivations, is very important. Narrative psychology studies how human beings deal with experience by observing stories and listening to the stories of others. It is a perspective within cognitive psychology, which for decades has been showing with increasing detail that we understand the world through our desires and not by the way the world really is. Arie W. Kruglanski, social psychologist best known for the so-called motivated cognition theory, says that the way we interpret behaviors of others is influenced by our current feelings towards them. In other words: we see, what we (unconsciously) want to see. Therefore, students of psychology are advised: do not give any personality tests to your girlfriend or boyfriend, because the results will only show you, what you currently feel towards this person. If you are in love, you will see an ideal partner, if you are disappointed, you will see the personification of evil. According to this theory, the way a woman feels loved by a man, to a large degree, depends on the way she experiences his love.

How does she experience his love

Let’s look at the example of two women. Thanks to a serious of happy events in her life, Ms A is able to experience a variety of feelings, she tolerates ambiguity, uncertainty and frustration quite well and a set of her attitudes allows her to believe that people are generally good and that one can expect mainly good experiences in a relationship. Therefore she is trustful and copes well with disappointment. Most likely, Ms A will experience the behaviors of her partner as a sign of good feelings. She will know that she can trust him, that she is a separate and an independent person and that her partner sees her in this way. She will often understand his words and gestures as affection, need for closeness and his desire for her as an attractive woman. What happens when reality does not meet these expectations? The above-noted example illustrates someone with the so-called secure attachment style. Research shows that people with secure attachment style enter into relationships with people who have the same attachment pattern. In other words, there is very little chance that Ms A will choose a man, whose behaviors exclude the above-noted interpretations - this chance can be called a coincidence.

Ms B may feel worthless on her own, but the partner whom she met is wonderful. He is an added value to herself, he gives her strength to overcome weaknesses and he will provide support for her in difficult times. However, Ms B does not know that, for example, her need of cognitive closure is very high, but her competencies to achieve such closure is rather low, her tolerance of frustration is low and she is equipped with a highly-reactive nervous system with an impulsive arousal and slow calming capability. These characteristics coupled with her life experience may influence the way she interprets her partner’s behavior, which is based on idealization and disappointment. Because her partner’s behavior does not meet her needs, related to the frequency and type of support, she feels that he disappoints her all the time. She also experiences her partner’s individuality as a betrayal, because the standard of behavior in romantic relationships that has been imprinted in her, dictates that a loving man spends every minute with “his woman”. If it is otherwise, it means that he does not love her and does not need her. And she is worthless without him. Over time, the partner’s behavior interpreted in this way brings Ms B to the only possible conclusion: her partner does not appreciate her and does not love her, while he was supposed to confirm her value. Therefore, Ms B feels that this love is destructive, dominating, disappointing and, in effect, rejecting. Unfortunately, research shows that Ms B will find a man, whose behaviors could most likely be interpreted in this way.

Hence, the question whether a man loves sensibly or romantically should be rephrased. Over time, the author of the most famous theory of love, Robert Sternberg, came to the conclusion that people engage in love according to one of the 21 narrative patterns, such as romantic love, companionate love and many others. Perhaps there are even more patterns, perhaps men love in many different ways and women experience their love in many different ways - in some degree it depends on what men do and in another degree on the way women experience their love.

 

The article was first published in the Polish edition of "Newsweek Psychologia Extra 1/17”
Magazine available here »

258 bartosz zalewski

About the Author

Bartosz Zalewski, Ph.D. - psychologist, psychotherapist specializing in couples therapy at Kontrakt - Ośrodek Terapeutyczno-Szkoleniowy (Kontrakt Therapy and Training Center). His research focuses on effective methods of education for clinical psychologists. At SWPS University, he teaches psychology of close relationships, methods of psychotherapy and psychological assessment.

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