For hundreds of years, men ruled the roost and women had to toe the line, but the last few decades have brought about a rapid change in gender equality. Women have taken back rightful ground in a multitude of areas in society and men have had to refigure their place in a changing world too. While traditional opposing notions of masculinity and femininity pit male qualities as strong and independent and female qualities as softer and more emotional, any woman who’s spent time with a man knows that often this isn’t the case. While women are socialised into certain ways of acting, so too men are constantly defined from birth as needing to put on a tough front. The masculine ideal men to which feel they have to live up is in its own way as much of a trap. They hear “toughen up” and “act like a man” since they’re toddlers. The idea of failing to be manly can crush a guy’s confidence.
It’s one of the great contradictions of life -- that masculinity is, in fact, an incredibly fragile thing capable of being shattered by a word or a look. It’s still so socially unacceptable for men to show emotion about little things that sometimes you might not even realise you’re boyfriend is upset by something you’ve said, or that that the man underneath the mask may actually have a much softer and more vulnerable side. It may be hard to get through the exterior, but being sensitive to your man’s feelings in the little things is just another way that you can embrace equality in your relationship.
15 Comparing him to your friends boyfriend
Growing up female in society, we know that competition between fellow girls can be one of the toughest things about being a woman. As women, we are so used to being valued by our appearance that comparing our bodies, hair and facial features is only natural. It may surprise you to know that your male partner probably feels the same way sometimes. While it’s not as socially acceptable for guys to chat about their chest or thighs, men still compare themselves to one another constantly and have their own yardstick for measuring. Your friend's boyfriend might be taller, more buff or better at making charismatic conversation, but thoughtlessly blurting this out to your partner might really mess with their confidence. Before exclaiming “Did you see Nick’s shoulders? They’re huge!” stop for a second to think about how you’d feel if your partner commented on your best friend’s rack.
14 Talking about the hot bodies of celebrities
While celebrities (for the large majority of us) occupy the realm of fantasy and the chances of meeting our dream celeb are pretty slim, it can still niggle at your partner’s confidence if they come up in conversation too often. Every relationship will find a comfortable level -- if you’re watching a movie, you might not be able to resist a little hel-lo in the love scene -- but proclaiming you’d like to rock that hot body all night long with your beau on the couch beside you can really kill a guys self-esteem -- and not to mention it -- his mojo. Most of us will never have the money or free time to pluck and polish ourselves to film star perfection, so make sure that while floating in fantasy land, you come down and reassure your partner that you’re happy with what he’s got, and he’s more than enough.
13 Suggesting he change his clothes or hair
Dating somebody with lesser (or different) style sense than you can be tricky. Usually it comes into play in the attraction process, but sometimes you fall in love with somebody who wears something you just can’t stand once in a while, or really lets his hair get in a bad way. As women so much pressure is put on our presentation, we assume that some men just have no clue how to style themselves and would be grateful for our help and assistance in improving their choices. Some guys really are cool with you having input into their attire or hairstyle, but these days, men are definitely encouraged to embrace their aesthetic side themselves. If your partner is content with his current look and you’re just not digging it, don’t assume he doesn't have any pride or sensitivity in this area. If you must suggest changes, do it tactfully. Don’t bulldoze, laugh or put him down. Though the law of masculinity will indicate he’ll probably brush it off, he might not feel that way on the inside.
12 Saying he needs your help to organize things
So he’s a clutter bunny and you’re a neat freak? Whether he’s got a large pile of comic books from high school you’re dying to oust, or a floordrobe you’re itching to resurrect, make sure you’re respectful with his possessions. It’s a hard lesson to learn that everybody lives differently and has their own mess comfort level. If your man is more on the slovenly side, that’s not an open invitation to start organizing his life for him. Think about how you frame comments about clutter or mess in his apartment or bedroom. Don’t zoom in and tell him that he needs your help to get his act together. Unfortunately, this just plays into stereotypes. After all, at the end of the day, we want both parties washing the dishes equally. Putting down your partner's domestic skills will only make him feel incapable and set everybody back.
11 Telling him you don’t need help with anything
Being female affects women differently. You may be feeling like you were always protected, held back and never allowed to go out and do the things you wanted to do that the boys were doing. Or it might be the opposite, that you had to help mom do everything for the males in your family all the time and never got to think about your own needs. Either way, independence is an incredibly important thing to have. To feel powerful and capable as a woman on your own in the world is just about the best thing a girl can have. If you’re putting a partner in the equation, there can sometimes be a clash between wanting to retain your independence and doing things as a team. He should know that you’re capable and respect your smarts and skills, but that doesn’t mean you’ve gotta do everything alone. If you’re constantly knocking back your partner's efforts to help you out, he may also be feeling the blow of rejection. It’s all about give-and-take and ensuring that you both do things for one another in a balanced way.
10 Talking about how handy your Dad is
Maybe you grew up with a Dad, brother or other family members that ticked all of the masculine boxes. They were strong, outdoorsy, liked to build things and could fix anything that broke around the house. These kind of traits are deeply ingrained in our social construct of being a man, so men who don’t have these skills on tap can feel seriously emasculated if that’s pointed out. While more and more women are getting into non-traditional jobs like engineering and this means the world is changing, it also means that younger men don’t have to have all the skills that our dad has -- and it doesn’t make them any less manly. Of course, it probably didn’t even occur to you to think that way because you couldn’t care less if your guy can or can’t change a light bulb either, but these are the kinds of things that can kill a guys confidence with the flick of a switch. Equality means refusing to let that stuff be emasculating, so, letting him know that all handyman expectations are off may be a bigger relief than you realize.
9 Not taking his aspirations seriously
He wants to do life drawing? He’s building miniature modelling characters? He wants to open a bar? He’s thinking about joining a tin can band? The possibilities are endless --especially if you live in a big city -- and the saying “there’s something for everybody” couldn’t be truer. If your man is an aspiring artist, musician, amusement park operator,etc., it’s important to support his hobbies and professional goals, regardless of what you think deep down. Having the freedom to explore new things is a great gift, but having the guts to actually try something is essential to liftoff. If you have a giggle at something your guy is trying, that fragile masculine wall may crumble and he just might not try again. While he may seem like the most confident guy in the world, a lot of it’s bravado, and he probably really cares and respects what you think of him. Use that power wisely and expect him to encourage your pursuits too.
8 Mocking his attempts at romance
Whether his neck kisses are tickling like hell, his massage is far from sensual or the date he plans is not your ideal, it’s the thought that counts. Laughing at or putting down your guy’s attempt at being romantic can be a real confidence killer for any guy who’s trying to be more thoughtful in the bedroom or heat up romantic side of your relationship. Often guys just aren’t taught these things the way we are, and while a little subtle direction can go a long way, make sure your partner knows you appreciate their effort. If you leave him hanging after a romantic gesture or look down your nose at his attempts to be silly and sweet, you might find his confidence takes a dive and you don’t see that side of him for a while. Every relationship is a journey and things don’t always tick all of your boxes, but learning together about what works and what doesn’t is all part of the fun.
7 Instructing him what to say to your parents
Meeting the parents -- ugh. The ultimate nerve-wracking test for a budding relationship and one that both of you want to be a success. You’ve known your parents your whole life and he’s meeting them for the first time, so naturally you’ve got more of an idea of things that they’ll like and dislike and what will win your new beau brownie points. However, if your man is taking the plunge to meet your family, overloading him with do’s and don’t can hinder instead of help. Even if he’s not expressing it aloud, he’s probably already feeling at least a little nervous, so packing on the pressure with instructions is only going to make him second-guess his natural way of relating. Encourage your partner to be himself and those qualities you love about him will be sure to shine. Remember that it will take time for him to feel comfortable with your family. Being a little quiet is okay -- it’s much better that he feels relaxed and grows more confident than having him secretly stressed out that he’s expected to perform perfectly.
6 Talking about the way your ex did something differently
The topic of exes is definitely a touchy one and some men feel the sting of jealousy more keenly than others. Your may have been able to have some long honest conversations about the good and bad of your previous relationships and they’ve gone over smoothly, which is great, but in a moment of frustration, be careful not to slip to a comparison with an ex-partner. Maybe you're in a blackout desperately trying to reset the trip switch and you find yourself saying, “Matt always reset that one first,” or arguing about which type of gas to use and it slips out: “Well he always put premium in!” Though sometimes helpful to illustrate your point, in the long run, comparisons to exes are a cheap shot that you’d hate if the situation was reversed. Your strong silent type might shrug it off and never show it, but he might be feeling crappy deep down.
5 Telling him you’re going out with your friends on your own
Having time apart from your man to catch up with your friends is important for a healthy and balanced relationship. You don’t want your partner feeling he has to come everywhere and attend every social function, nor do you want your pals to secretly feel that wherever you go, your boyfriend follows. Your girlfriends will still want exclusive you-time every now and again and that’s understandable. Just make sure that when negotiating friend time, you’re tactful and sensitive to your partner’s feelings. For example, scheduling a weekend for girl-time and letting your guy know in advance is better than springing it on him after a crappy day at work when he thought it was going to be just the two of you. Likewise, if your guy wants to spend the weekend at home in front of the TV and knocks back any suggestion to go out, it can be easy to feel the urge to make party plans and take off. If your guy wants to stay home and you decide to go partying without him, make sure you convey that you get he needs down time -- don’t make him feel like he’s boring or a loser for choosing home comforts over the club.
4 Commenting on his manners
The slurp of a string of spaghetti, flicking tomato sauce on the white tablecloth. The crack of his jaw when he munches on rocky road. Drinking soup straight from the bowl when the spoon is right in front of him. Burping without apologizing. We can all get a little too comfortable with our lovers and drop some of our social niceties from time to time. If your guy is a little slovenly in the manners department now that you’re spending more time together, it probably means he feels really comfortable around you and doesn’t feel you’re going to judge his behavior. While that’s good sign, sometimes personal manners and hygiene can be real buzz killers in a relationship. If something your boyfriend is doing in the manners department is really driving you nuts, tact is everything. Gently suggesting “Hey babe, there’s a spoon there” is a lot less confidence-crushing than “OMG, Ew! Can you not slurp like that?”
3 Giggling about something he said or did with a friend while he’s there
Teasing and joking have their place, but sometimes we can take it too far and not realize our partner isn’t finding things as funny. If there is a little truth in your jest, or some barbs in your joking comments to your friends about the hilarious (read: stupid) thing your guy did the other day, stop for a second to read his energy in the situation. If he’s gone quiet or isn’t saying much, his ego might have taken a bruising from being embarrassed in the presence of your friends. If he’s laughing and joking along you’re probably okay, but just be sensitive to his self-esteem around others. You want to mutually support each other in social situations and this is all part of being in a respectful and loving equal relationship. In general, when you're in the presence of your friends of his, the best approach is to always pay compliments to your partner, not embarrass him.
2 Telling him to chill out if he’s emotional about something
Our society has told men for centuries that showing emotion is a feminine trait or that it’s a sign of weakness. When you’ve had a crappy day and it all gets too much, bursting into tears in the privacy of your own home or on the phone to a friend is an okay thing to do as a female and can feel really cathartic. There’s nothing like a good cry. Men, however, are encouraged to turn their hurt feelings into rage and take it out physically (hopefully by working out rather than getting violent) - so it can come as a surprise when we actually come across a guy who expresses sadness or disappointment with emotion or tears. Though we might not be used to it, it’s far healthier than bottling it up, so giving your male partner freedom to have a freak out without telling him to calm down or chill out is really the best possible reaction. It will help him feel confident to express himself constructively rather than crushing his masculine ego, a win-win.
1 Telling him to leave something to you after he botches it up
While women’s self-worth is so often based on looks, so much of men’s self-worth focuses on what they can do. Whether this takes the form of bench-pressing, building stuff or making money, men are taught to display their worth to other men and the rest of the world by succeeding in the practical realm. This is really a raw deal for both sexes, as women so often stay back from these spheres (when there’s no reason why we can’t rock them too), and men feel the pressure of proving themselves in an unhealthy way. If your partner fails at whatever task -- forgetting to save a computer project, miscalculating your travel expenses, over-watering your new herb garden -- remember this innate element of his ego and do your best not to crush their confidence. Being hustled out of the way when you get something wrong can be belittling and doesn’t help build an equal partnership. Approach every situation confidently as your partner’s equal and offer your help without putting him down.