Men’s Self Esteem Decreases When Wife Is More Successful? Should Women “Lean In”?

The Boston Globe called upon my expertise as a marriage therapist to discuss my reaction to a new study that suggests the self esteem of men is impacted by the success of their partner. Does a man’s self esteem decrease when the wife is more successful then them? In addition, Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” philosophy was discussed.

Men’s Self Esteem Suffers When A Partner Is More Successful?

From my perspective the answer is not a clear cut yes or no. To say “all men . . . ” is never so, about any topic. We must consider the context. Specifically, it is truly dependent on the male himself, his self worth coming into the relationship, his personality, his philosophical belief system regarding the role of male and the role of female. Also, a man’s expectations of what marriage should look like and gender roles within marriage plays a role. I believe a man’s self esteem commonly has more to do with his life journey into adulthood, as well as in adulthood what he himself is or is not achieving in his life. If he is not feeling whole, and his wife by comparison is, it is more about what he is not experiencing himself then it is about what she is experiencing – which is affecting his self esteem. Although, there are some men that are jealous, competitive, and/or have a pre-existing view of what “provider” means. When those feelings and/or pre-existing belief is poked at, their self esteem suffers.

The wife’s interaction with her partner can also certainly exacerbate her mate’s pre-existing thoughts.  For an example, a man with low self esteem and low self identity prior to marriage, who through his marriage and life journey loses his job, and has a wife who is extremely successful professionally  – may indeed suffer emotionally. In addition, if the wife becomes consistently over time inattentive emotionally, physically, and sexually to where he is not only 2nd or 3rd on her list, he is no longer of significance, indeed his self esteem may decrease. In yet another scenario, if the wife is attentive, but if a man feels all he has is his wife’s interactions with him that makes him feel special, valued, significant, important – and the wife is juggling many balls to where he does not receive her attention as often as he feels he needs (the intensity in both quality and quantity) then he may suffer from low self esteem and may believe it is due to the wife’s success. When really the significant piece of the puzzle is not her success in and of itself, and rather it is about the attention he is not getting enough of – in his mind’s eye. Whereas if he was busy with his own success, then the amount of attentiveness she provides might feel just right. I have met with couples who experience the theme as aforementioned. They discuss the challenge of differing views about attention. It is always interesting to hear their description of what is occurring and need expectation.

To suggest that men’s self esteem decreases when their wife is more successful as a statement of fact, for all men, this would be inaccurate. Case by case indeed.

Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg

Considering this concept discussed above of a man’s self esteem decreasing when the wife is more successful, and then consider the philosophy of the much talked about “lean in” concept of Sheryl Sandberg – this can really put a damper on successful married women. Specifically the “lean in” philosophy is about women striving and achieving. This is a philosophy all about the importance of women accomplishing their goals.

So, what’s a married woman who desires to achieve and is on the track to become more successful than her husband professionally to do? Not strive for more? What’s a married woman to do who has drive, passion, and motivation who is highly successful professionally to do? Stop, drop and roll? Of course these women must continue to achieve. And of course consider her husband’s feelings as well. I am not suggesting the balance of marriage, parenting, professional success, personal health, friendships, family, and extra-curricular activities is easy. I am rather suggesting it is a journey all with relevance and significance.

The Boston Globe’s Interview With Marriage Therapist Dr. Karen Ruskin

Check out my interview in Boston Globe’s The Daily Dose – an article written by Deborah Kotz, where I share my insight and tips: Men’s Self Esteem May Suffer When Their Female Partner Succeeds – Study Suggests.

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