Men are stereotyped as being more likely to feel hesitant and drag their feet when it comes to the idea of getting married and taking their commitment to the next level. Center for Family and Marital Studies co-director Scott Stanley hypothesized that in heterosexual relationships in which one partner desires more commitment than the other, the female partner is the one wanting more commitment around two-thirds of the time. However, studies show that both genders benefit from marriage and that men seem to benefit from it even more than women.
Married men are healthier and happier than unmarried men, and they also live longer and earn more money. This is the case even for men in mediocre marriages, whereas for women, marital benefits are tied more strongly to marital quality. Research conducted in the early 2000s also showed that men are more likely to say that they would prefer to be married. So why, then, do we hear so much about men hesitating when faced with the prospect of marriage? There are many things a man may fear in marriage–both prior to marriage and during the marriage. We’re going to break down the most common marital fears among men and discuss how they can be addressed.
Fear of being changed
Some men fear that their partners will try to change them after they get married. This is especially relevant in cases where the female partner has already subtly applied pressure to change earlier in the relationship. For example, if the female partner has tried to change the man’s eating habits, his wardrobe, how he spends his free time, his furniture or home decor, or anything else, he may be concerned that pressure to change could be amped up further after marriage when his life becomes even more entwined with his partner’s.
The antidote here is to keep an eye on whether this dynamic exists prior to marriage and address it if so. Females: if your guy has some annoying habits you don’t like such as leaving his dirty socks next to the bed), ask yourself which ones are worth fighting for and which annoying habits you can accept. Trying to do away with every annoying habit is a.) unrealistic and b.) a good way to alienate someone or make them feel they have to walk on eggshells. Renowned relationship psychologist John Gottman explains that in every relationship, partners inherit a set of unsolvable problems. In other words, no matter who you get together with, there are going to be things that get under your skin and that will never be “solved.” Choosing a partner means choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’re ok with navigating for the rest of your life.
Of course, it isn’t only women who try to get their male partners to change. Men sometimes exhibit the same behavior. No matter your gender, make sure you don’t exert too much pressure on your partner to change habits you don’t like. It’s ok to have non-negotiables, but the list cannot be endless.
Fear of losing freedom and independence
We’ve all heard jokes about nagging wives. We’ve seen movies in which married women turn into mother figures who control the lives of their husbands. We’re familiar with the old trope of married men having to ask permission to do things like spend a night out with their friends, watch their sports matches, or spend money. What all this amounts to is a feeling of domestication and subservience. Whether or not this stereotype is fair or grounded in reality is a different topic (it may well not be), but the fact is that because of the stereotype, many men fear losing their freedom and independence after getting married.
If you’re the female, you can reduce his fears by letting your partner know that it’s important to you that you both retain a healthy degree of independence after getting married. You might also initiate a discussion about what that will look like. Is there anything either of you expects to be different after marriage? Will you still spend the same amount of time with your separate friend groups? What decisions (financial, social, and otherwise) can be made separately, and which ones require checking in first?
After all, marriage is about collaboration. In a healthy relationship, both partners have their own lives outside of the marriage, and both partners enjoy a roughly equal degree of power and agency within the relationship.
Fear that their wives will get sick of them
Many men fear that their wives may perceive them as not pulling their weight in the relationship and that, as a result, their wives will get tired of them. Even men who appear apathetic may secretly have this fear, especially if (despite the best of intentions) they’re just not very good at things like remembering to make the bed or washing their dishes after eating.
This one is easily solved by regular check-ins, which are beneficial to the health of a relationship for a wide array of reasons. Set a time once every week in which you sit down and briefly chat with each other about the state of the relationship. You might bring up anything you’ve really appreciated in the past week (“I didn’t get a chance to say thank you for this, but it was so kind of you to pick up my dry cleaning when I was frazzled and stressed over my deadline last Tuesday”) or things that are bothering you (“I wasn’t really sure when the right moment to bring this up would be, but it really gets to me when you do laundry and then leave it in the dryer and forget about it. It makes me feel like I have to be the sole ‘responsible adult’ in the relationship.”)
A weekly check-in is also a good time to raise the topic of fears. A man who fears that his wife is secretly growing tired of him might raise this topic during a check-in; this way, he can get reassurance about the strength of the relationship and feedback about anything that’s not going well.
Fear of being on the back burner
Some men fear that after getting married, their wives will take them for granted. After all, why try to woo and impress someone when you’ve already got them? And who has time for that amidst the stressors of daily life, like work, bills, children, and other family members, and trying to maintain some semblance of social life?
Contrary to popular belief, however, courtship does not (or rather, should not) end when the relationship is solidified through cohabitation, marriage, or another symbol of commitment. In a healthy relationship, courtship continues as a routine aspect of the couple’s dynamic long after the wedding. It’s important to continually nurture the relationship, even after it is well-established. Psychotherapist Julie Orlov suggests allocating 30 minutes every day to quality time together as a couple, in which no one is allowed to talk about money, kids, or in-laws. This way, both partners can feel appreciated daily and be reminded of how important they are to each other.
Fear that their wives will talk behind their backs
Women are more likely than men to talk with their friends about marital issues. There’s nothing wrong with using friends as a sounding board on which to bounce ideas; in fact, it can be a healthy way to gain an outside perspective on conflicts and even become aware of some blind spots. However, there’s a difference between occasionally sharing with friends in order to gain perspective and frequently sharing in order to gain confirmation that one’s own viewpoint is correct. Similarly, there’s also a difference between trash talk versus sharing an honest and well-rounded account of what happened. It’s also not healthy to run to friends after every marital argument. A person’s friends are likely to back them up, especially if the argument is presented in a heavily biased way. This is an issue because it reinforces what a ‘bad’ guy the other person in the relationship is–without them having a chance to defend themselves or share their viewpoint.
If this is happening in your relationship, focus instead on raising issues directly with your spouse and being open to hearing their viewpoint. You can solve problems more effectively and learn more about each other by getting curious about one another’s feelings and experiences. Running to friends specifically looking for backup reinforces the adversarial mindset brought about by the conflict. It escalates rather than de-escalates. As a repeated habit, over time, it wears away at trust and marital satisfaction.
If one partner is running to their friends because they feel they hit a wall when they try to talk with their spouse, it might help to try couples therapy.
Fear that intimacy will stop
Just as discussed earlier regarding loss of freedom and independence, there are plenty of jokes about couples no longer having sex after they get married. Although jokes and stereotypes are usually exaggerated, this one is sometimes grounded in reality, although references to it are often hyperbolic. Getting married can bolster security, trust, and deep connection within a relationship, but it can also lead to laziness. Many couples keep this aspect of their relationships thriving by actually scheduling intimacy. Although that may sound super lame at first, bear with us.
Taking intimacy seriously enough to schedule it is a good way for both spouses to show each other their ongoing sense of commitment, as well as to almost guarantee quality time and improve communication. Also, if you schedule intimacy time, you’re actually likely to have more spontaneous sex as a result.
Fear that you won’t nurture your shared interests anymore
You and your partner probably bonded over some shared interest that brought you closer together early on in the courtship, right? Another common male fear is that their wife will neglect shared interests and that it will begin to feel like they don’t have anything in common anymore. After all, hobbies shift and change with the years, and habits come and go. Many couples bring extra focus to their shared interests early in a relationship in order to use them as an avenue for building a connection. This is great, but the downside is that if one partner was disproportionately amplifying their interest in that hobby for the sake of the relationship, they would be less likely to keep it going in the long term. Again, people get lazy.
After marriage, that strong sense of “now we did it, now we’re really committed” can also lead to neglecting shared interests out of a misplaced sense that the connection is so strong that it no longer needs to be actively fostered. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you’re the female partner and your husband or fiance signals that he misses a shared hobby you used to do together more often, listen to him. Make time for that activity. Better yet, do so proactively without waiting for a signal. And if you’re the male partner and this is indeed a concern of yours, communicate it. She can’t read your mind. This advice goes both ways.
Many fears are also financial. Some men fear that their wives will spitefully try to take more than their fair share of hard-earned wealth in the event of a divorce. Another common fear is that a wife will become too financially dependent on her husband, putting strain on the marriage and disempowering the female partner in the process. Additionally, the fear of becoming accountable for a spouse’s debt is also real and a legitimate thing to be concerned about. Luckily, there is a way to put the kibosh on finance-based fears by formally addressing them once and for all–keep scrolling to find out how.
Getting a prenup prior to getting married can address both financial and lifestyle-based fears. Written skillfully, it can create a sense of safety around a lot of difficult or sensitive topics. It can give rise to a sense of safety financially because it allows the couple to decide upfront what financial rules and expectations they want to govern their marriage, as well as how their assets will be divided if they ever decide to go their separate ways.
Although all the fears listed above are indeed common for men, they can be experienced by either spouse. Take him to nurture your relationship by checking in with each other about whether you’re getting what you need from your partner. If you’re the female partner, ask your man outright if he fears any of these things–or make your question open-ended and ask him what his main fears are pertaining to your relationship or marriage. Normalize talking about your fears–no matter your gender. When couples approach marital fears together, they can tackle them as a team and improve their ability to collaborate and problem-solve. Finally, don’t underestimate the power of the prenup in shedding light on and addressing both spouses’ fears.
It’s never too early to start talking about your prenup. If you and your partner are planning on getting married, check out HelloPrenup. Our interactive online platform helps you draft and personalize your own prenup without ever standing up from the sofa (until it’s time to notarize the prenup). Our blog also has lots of helpful articles about prenups, wedding planning, communication, finances, and more.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]