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Section 5
Male Dependence and Masculinity Ideology

Question 5 | Test | Table of Contents

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In heterosexual relationships, many males wage a constant battle between attaching and detaching themselves from their partner. Men engage in what Lynch describes as the classic masculine dilemma, "not too close, not too far away."

Here are some examples of the masculine dilemma of independence which hides their dependence on women. A man hits a woman whom he loves. Or a man who is viewed as strong and successful wants to commit suicide when his wife leaves him.

The Masculine Dilemma: "Not too Close, Not too Far Away"
As you know, boys struggle between attaching to their mothers and avoiding what is feminine. This struggle carries over to their adult relationships with women. David, a 35-year-old accountant, was struggling in his relationship with Amy. After many sessions with David, I saw that on one hand, he was afraid that giving in or becoming overattached to Amy would result in engulfment, or loss of his masculine identity. But on the other hand, he feared she would abandon him.

♦ Partner or Adversary?
David and Amy were having a hard time making decisions. They were constantly bargaining and trading, trying to "win" little battles of power. I have found this struggle relates to the idea that most depressed men must always feel superior and independent in each aspect of their life. In one session, David told me, "If I don't feel independent or if I'm not deciding everything, I feel like a failure." I asked David, "Do you see Amy as your partner, or merely an adversary?"

David admitted, "Lately, we really just seem like adversaries. One of us always has to give into the other." David refused to acknowledge that he had any degree of dependence on Amy. The two had virtually no trust in their relationship. Imagine your male client. Would it be beneficial to ask him if he views his significant other as a partner or an adversary?

Like David, many men who are insecure about their dependence become counterdependent, or oppositional. As you know, counterdependence means behaving so as to prove the absence of any dependence. For example, David would often go against Amy's wishes merely to maintain an appearance of power.

David might as well have been saying, "I won't let you tell me what to do. Whatever I choose will have nothing to do with depending on you." Whereas healthy, independent men make decisions based on important goals or convictions that may occasionally go against their partner's wishes, David, a counterdependent man, was doing the opposite of what Amy wanted.

This counterdependence is very damaging to intimate relationships. David failed to acknowledge Amy's emotions and constantly tried to minimize her influence. Amy often got frustrated, unable to exert any control over matters that were important to her as they were to David. Amy, like many women, was able to recognize some level of dependence in their relationship as necessary and good. She saw that a partner should be able to depend on the other to be faithful and supportive. David was able to see that if he did not have this emotional reassurance, the lack of trust would cause his relationship to fail.

What role does counterdependence and the masculine dilemma of, not too close, not too far away, play with a client you are currently treating? The next section will deal with emotional awareness to create self-empathy.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Overall, N. C., Hammond, M. D., McNulty, J. K., & Finkel, E. J. (2016). When power shapes interpersonal behavior: Low relationship power predicts men’s aggressive responses to low situational power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(2), 195–217.

Swartout, K. M., Parrott, D. J., Cohn, A. M., Hagman, B. T., & Gallagher, K. E. (2015). Development of the Abbreviated Masculine Gender Role Stress Scale. Psychological Assessment, 27(2), 489–500. 

Wade, J. C., & Coughlin, P. (2012). Male reference group identity dependence, masculinity ideology, and relationship satisfaction in men's heterosexual romantic relationships. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 13(4), 325–339. 

How may your client exhibit counterdependence?
To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 6
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