Gender Roles and How They Limit Us
Gender roles are forces that tend to separate men and women. We hear phrases like, “he is just a boy,” or, “girls are fragile.” We assign these roles to children who grow up to be adults who have limited tools to understand, let alone deal with, these perceived differences between each gender.
People usually come together in relationship. A relationship is a partnership or the merging of two roles into a special connection between 2 people. Increased differences between the roles means there is less overlap, and therefore, less common ground, which may result in less overall happiness.
Many couples head into a relationship with defined roles in mind of what it should look like. The traditional roles of women are to cook, clean, and do the laundry. And respectively, the traditional roles of the men are, as we know, to work, earn money, and be the breadwinner. Women can also be thought of in negative stereotypical terms as the one who likes to spend the money where men can be thought of as domineering.
Those are not generally the guidelines from which healthy and meaningful relationships evolve. Those roles are biased, judgmental, and can often lead to unbalanced relationships that are rife with anxiety and in time become filled with bitterness. Women may feel unfulfilled, held back, and unappreciated. Men may feel too much pressure to perform, provide, or may feel confined by the perceived rules of the role they are assigned. The list goes on and there are reasons why these roles have started to finally change.
How Roles Limit
In the past, relationships were more guarded and the roles of both men and women were very prescribed. It was how society set up guidelines for living. Think back to the 1950’s when women barely had the right to vote. When looking back, we can see that when men play the old-school role of men, they limit themselves and their abilities to form that special bond with others. Who do you want to be in your relationship? Do you want to be the traditional style of man who lords over everything? Do you want to keep all your feelings and thoughts to yourself which will eventually come out in the form of arguments? Do you want to be a man that his female partner can’t connect with? Similarly for women, traditional roles meant staying at home, being passive, not speaking her mind, and not expressing her needs.
As the divorce rate implies, these types of limiting roles may not be the best route to happiness in your intimate partnerships. Do you want to spend time pointing fingers back and forth as we often think of as a stereotypical fight playing out? Or would you rather be doing something together that is fun, loving, and wholesome? Often traditional roles have played out in the former. The good news is that things have indeed changed a lot, but this comes with some complications; complications that can be overcome.
Our Current Dilemma
Today, the roles that men and women hold in relationships and society are starting to look very different from the roles they held in the 1950’s. Roles are taught to us by our parents and society. They are not typically genetically inherited and as such they are malleable. Within reason, today we can become whoever we want to be.
One of the problems that our society has started to deal with now is that our society is changing and redefining what our roles in relationships look like. The instructions and messages that children receive are changing but the examples around them may not have caught up yet. Some of us are stuck with those old-fashioned role models and are finding it difficult to make them work in a modern world. And, it is becoming harder for one to define themselves and know what the guidelines and general “rules” for living are.
What Can You Do?
How can you start to redefine your role in relationships? Think about these things: What do women complain about in relationships? What do men complain about in relationships? How can both people’s needs and desires for the relationship get met so that there is less complaining? When you begin a relationship where the gender roles are less defined, you find more common ground, and with good communication, you may likely find increased happy times and less anxiety.
The anxiety and depression that we feel from our relationships are exacerbated when we use limited beliefs about who we are “supposed” to be. Often in the past our limiting beliefs have defined our roles. We may feel resentment, anger, and frustration when the roles in the relationship we have do not fit the experience that we want to have.
Two Important Things:
1. The only person that you can change is yourself.
2. Good communication is the glue for any long-term relationship to be able to meet both people’s needs.
You can express your wants and needs to your partner, but it is up to them to live with those needs. At the same time, you must be willing to live with the needs that they express to you.
If those needs are outside of the comfort zone of your known role thus far in life, you have 3 choices:
• Stay the same
• Be very open minded and try to understand their perspective
• Start incorporating new ways of being and thinking into your current situation.
If you feel stuck and are resisting changes that your partner may be beginning to request, trying to talk your partner into staying the same and not acknowledging their needs is likely to lead to angst, anxiety, and even depression. It’s important to learn about each other and have both partner’s needs met over the course of the relationship. The payoff of working together as a team is an increase in productive energy to reach goals, be happier, and share an enriched life.
If you feel anxiety when you try to be more than the person you were originally taught to be, there is help. Sometimes it requires therapy or counseling as we learn how to expand the person we are. Learning to play a bigger role or even to live your life without prescribed roles is very possible. The result is that usually your relationship becomes much stronger. Happy couples thrive when there is less “that is your job” and ” this is my job.”
The journey begins by asking yourself what kind of person do you want to be.
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