Why Are Men So Bad at Relationships?

Both men and women can be equally bad at relationships. Women have been historically trained to nurture relationships while men have been socialised to ignore their feelings, such as with the “big boys don’t cry” mentality. However, much of this is changing. Psychologist and researcher John Gottman states that a person’s emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine their success and happiness in life.

What I have noticed and what Psychologist Bruce Stevens has commented on is that most of what we experience as bad behaviour from our partner is not intentional. Most people are unaware of what is a stake for their partner. They are unaware, or worse, the relationship does not matter that much to them or they not highly committed.

You many have entered into a relationship with someone who has low emotional intelligence, therefore they don’t easily put themselves in your shoes. Not everyone has an equal proportion of emotional intelligence. Their lack of empathy therefore means they are unaware of the impact of their behaviour on you.

What can you do about this? You need to ask yourself what role you have in your choice of partner and what your responsibility is. You may have misjudged your partner’s emotional commitment to the relationship. You may have way too much at stake. Your partner is likely acting based on their investment in the relationship, so they come across as cruel.

Dr Stevens asks the question, “Why are we attracted to mean people?” Examples from literature and movies abound on this point, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Pretty Woman” are just two examples that illustrate the fantasy of being attracted to the “bad boy” or distant man and tying to change him.

Years ago while at University I worked at my brother-in-laws pub and bistro washing dishes (a noble profession). I noticed that a guy newly released from prison was sitting at the front bar surrounded by women, while at the other end an accountant sat alone. The nice guys can appear too boring, but the ‘bad boys’ though exciting are often unstable and dangerous. Myths about ‘taming the beast’ perpetuate the incorrect notion that a person can be changed by their partner. Change occurs when a person is committed to changing themselves. They can do this with the aid of counselling. Though they can be supported by their partner they cannot be changed by them. 

Whether you are involved with an exciting but dangerous character or your partner does not share the same level of need for intimacy or commitment, your journey together is likely to become a storm-tossed voyage rather than a safe haven.  This can be addressed though with therapy and commitment to working on these issues.

Dr Bruce Stevens is a leading Academic and Clinical Forensic Psychologist in Canberra ACT.
The first published version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale was byGabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in La jeune américaine, et les contes marins in 1740.
John Gottman is Psychologist and Researcher with more than 30 years experience with couples. 

David Nielsen Counselling Services