Threats to masculinity spell danger for relationships

  • Date

    Tue 13 Oct 20

couple sitting on bench

Threats to a man’s masculinity could spell danger for the future of their romantic relationships, a new study has revealed.

Psychologists have discovered that when men feel their masculinity is under threat rather than draw closer to their partner, they are more likely to pull away in a vain attempt to restore their masculinity.

Ironically, however, their actions are likely to be futile, as the study also showed that men who show less commitment in a relationship, are not viewed as being more masculine by others.

The study was led by relationships expert Dr Veronica Lamarche, from our Department of Psychology, who said:  “When we feel threatened, our relationships are typically strengthened as we seek security from the one we love.

“But it seems that when men’s masculinity feels precarious, they may attempt to restore it by withdrawing from a relationship that could otherwise provide care and support.

“Not only could this harm the well-being of their relationship and directly affect their romantic partner, but our studies also suggest this tactic may not be an effective strategy to restore masculinity in the eyes of others.”

In the first part of the study, Dr Lamarche and her colleagues, Ciara Atkinson and Alyssa Croft, from the University of Arizona in the US, tested what effect threats to masculinity had on relationship interdependence - the extent to which partners mutually depend on and influence one another.

To do this they gave nearly 200 men a fake ‘masculinity score’ ostensibly based on their responses to general knowledge questions – each was told how they had allegedly performed compared with other men in the UK.

They then asked them questions about their relationships, including how close and committed they felt to their partner and how important their relationship was to them compared with other aspects of their lives, such as work, friends and religion.

They found those who had been given the lowest masculinity score also showed the least commitment to their relationship.

They then asked nearly 600 participants to make evaluations about others – how confident, likeable, masculine or feminine they were, how committed they were to relationships and the likelihood of their marriage succeeding – based on limited information.

“The more interdependent people are, the closer they feel, the more important their partners are to them, and the more committed they are to the relationship persisting.  Interdependence therefore signals the health and viability of a relationship.

“In our studies, men compensated for feedback that undermined their masculinity by espousing less interdependence and commitment in their relationships, even though this did not help restore their masculinity in the eyes of others after a public masculinity threat,“  added Dr Lamarche.

The study has been published in Social Psychology and Personality Science.