Do women have to emotionally ‘carry’ relationships for them to work?

I’m aware in my blog I sometimes refer to things being worse for women in relationships. This is from my own (hetero) experience and the experience of those women around me whom I feel put up with a whole load of bullshit in order to stay in their relationships, and often have to deny themselves, sacrifice their own needs to be so. The main thing I was pretty horrified to learn (the hard way, through my particular experience) was that we have to ‘manage our men’ (as my mum puts it) in order to be in a relationship.

The main thing that I was looking for in a partner was emotional support. The main thing I ended up having to learn (through research, reading self-help books, attending couples therapy on my own without his knowledge) was how to support my partner to learn how to meet my emotional needs.

I was told men don’t learn these things usually, unless they are lucky, and that  – for some reason – its the womans role in a relationship to do this. My dad says men need support learning these things because womens emotions are much more complicated than mens (an insight which did actually help me when I was in the middle of it with my ex-partner).

This just wasn’t what I thought I had signed up for. I spent huge amounts of time, energy, self-doubt, confusion and frustration, putting my own needs and feelings aside and offering all the patience I could possibly muster, consistently, for months, for the sake of trying to help the relationship work. And reports from several of my female friends indicate that a version of this is what they have been doing, and continue to do, in order to be in their relationships – basically take emotional responsibility for them.

My assumption about relationships was that with the right person you would support eachother, not that as the woman you would somehow have to do this educating of your partner in order for them to be the partner you need them to. That you, rather than sharing the emotional load of a relationship, would (at first at least – for who knows how long?) have to carry and manage the relationship, the bulk of the emotions and manage the communication for both of you – and for this to work, your partner needs to be protected from this ‘work’, so you carry the responsibility for all of it.

I just wish – I still wish – that someone had warned me first; had told me that this is what would most likely be expected of me as a woman in a relationship.

Why isn’t it spoken about? Its never referred to. I feel like it’s the huge elephant in the room that women wont speak about for fear of offending their men, of breaking some kind of agreed silent code that women go by to keep their men OK, to keep the good work of ‘managing’ them happening.

As such, those men to whom this refers seem to be completely protected from this fact. This is something that women who experience it should be speaking about, loudly – and I still just do not understand why they don’t.

I thought – all those men, those famous men on TV, this is what their relationships are like? They look like grown, competent, well-adjusted men who could provide for their wives, give them what they need emotionally….but can they? And maybe they can now but did their partner somehow have to ‘train’ them into it?! I know, this sounds so awful – I don’t want it to be true either, but my first foray into the world of cohabitation with a serious partner has taught me this, as well as my conversations with many of my friends and family (mainly women but some men too) when seeking support for how to handle what was happening. It challenged everything I thought I knew about ultimate coupledom and what I had be brought up to expect for myself.

And it felt like just about the least feminist thing it was possible to do – to be in a relationship at all never mind marriage.  I thought about all those prominent feminist women who are married or with partners (or not so prominent, those I know too) – how much of this do they have to do? Where on the scale are they in terms of how much ‘managing’ they do? I felt cheated by them that they don’t talk about it publicly, honestly – no one talks about it – its completely fucking taboo.

In actual fact, in spite of all of this, I was prepared to do it, and I did for a year; I’m a great believer in making things work with the right effort and skill, and of learning new ways to do things. And well, I wanted to, I adored him. If he had responded in the right way we would still be together. As it turns out he didn’t, but still; if this is how its supposed to be, if this is whats expected (is it??) – well its not much of an appealing offer for a woman.

You may be reading this thinking – ‘yeah, actually, that’s just you – sorry, I have no idea what you’re on about cos Im fine and my blokes awesome’. If so, good for you (genuinely! I know they are out there) and fine – I’ll put it down to experience. But, it just didn’t seem that way when I spoke to others and certainly not for me. I realise my case was perhaps a bit extreme given its specific difficulties (that’s why it ended) but equally, I wonder;

How much of a problem is this for women out there that they are the ones who manage not only their own emotions, letting them out in ways their partner will find acceptable, but also his emotions – and of course, where relevant, the emotional lives of their children too?

I speak about it so candidly here for the very reason I’ve stated; that I just don’t hear it being spoken about elsewhere and I’d really like to hear others experiences of relationships/this dynamic, I am genuinely interested to know of others – women and mens – experience of this kind of thing.

.  .  .

I considered not posting this. I considered re-writing and re-writing it so it became more palatable to the people who read it. But I realised this would be doing exactly what I did in my relationship – protect my partner from what I really feel, from what I really see going on, and that the exact opposite aim of this blog – I really want to discuss this more and hear from others about their experiences.

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