5 Surprising Ways Men Can Be More Confident in Relationships
Steve Errey advises men to drop the pretense you know everything and start acknowledging your imperfections and vulnerability.
By Steve Errey
Geez, relationships are hard.
You’d think they’d teach this stuff in school but. instead, I spent my time learning what neutrons get up to and what the French word for “commitment-phobe” is.
The direction our relationships turn is the product of our intention and how unknowingly fucked-up we are, and nowhere is that more evident than when we’re trying to be all “I know what I’m doing here” when it’s our insecurities, doubts, and fears that are calling the shots.
The unknown, the uncertain and the uncomfortable hang out on every street corner in relationship-ville, and the temptation is just to duck into the nearest bar where you can safely ignore them and flirt with the waitress until closing time.
So in the interests of shining a light on how insecurities, doubts, and fears drive even enlightened men to screw things up, here are five ways you can be more confident in your relationships.
1. You don’t need to fix everything.
Fixing things doesn’t make you a man. Nor does it make you a great boyfriend or husband.
It makes you the repair guy. Someone who does a job. Someone who has a clear role.
I hate to break it to you, but you’re not the Equalizer or Dr. Sam Beckett.
It’s not your job to go around trying to fix everything or put things right, and this can be more about trying to make up for your insecurity in the face of uncertainty than any good intentions. When your partner’s having a tough time at work, for example, it’s great that you want to help because you hate to see them stressed out, of course, it is, but there’s also the urge to fix it because that’s what you think you ought to do to get things back to how they were.
The safety and control offered by being the repair guy is just an illusion. You can’t control what time the sun comes up or how many toes your partner has, any more than you can control everything that happens in your relationship.
Confidence isn’t about control or certainty. It’s about letting go and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.
2. Your role isn’t to provide.
That old male stereotype of being the provider still has a lot to answer for. Things have changed since the days when the wife stayed home and vacuumed while the man of the house went out and won all the bread, but those days aren’t quite dead. Not yet.
A lot of men are brought up with the expectation that they need to take the role of provider or they’re less of a man, an expectation that’s absorbed through the skin rather than any explicit teachings.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for your partner, your home and your life together and working hard to get to the good stuff, but you don’t have to conquer the mountain, kill the bear and bring it home for your cavewife to grill over the open fire.
You’re in this together. Confidence is about making choices that matter rather than playing roles, following unchallenged assumptions or people-pleasing.
3. There’s more to life than strength.
Shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown tells the story of one guy who came up to her after a book signing and told her how “convenient” it was that she hadn’t done any research on male vulnerability. When Brene asked him what he meant, he said, “Those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters? They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads, because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”
The perceived need to be strong above all else is perhaps the most pernicious and damaging pressure facing men today.
I get it. I go out of my way to deal with things myself rather than ask for help. I run myself ragged trying to “be strong” rather than admit I could use a hand. Sometimes I’d rather quit than admit that I can’t do it by myself.
Strength can be an admirable quality. It really can. But sometimes it what’s men go to in place of allowing themselves to be vulnerable, and it’s in vulnerability that sharing, learning, and growing take place.
Try it. You might like it.
4. Know the difference between right and happy.
Admit it, there are times you’ve been in a fight or a “healthy debate” and stuck to your guns rather than concede to an alternate point of view, right?
A little banter and rib-digging can be healthy and fun, but there’s a point where it turns you into more of a Trump-sized asshole than a popular winner of debate class. That tipping point is exactly the spot where you’d stick rather stick dogmatically to a point of view for no other reason that it’s yours, rather than shift your position.
Confidence has nothing to do with getting your own way or proving yourself right at all costs. It’s knowing what really matters to you and knowing you can let go of the rest without being less than.
Take a good look at the cost of needing to be right, or the cost of proving someone else wrong, and you’ll see how many wedges have been driven into so many relationships for a rigid, pointless purpose.
5. Stop compartmentalizing.
Compartmentalizing is useful if you’re a toolbox or zoo, but separating work, home, finances, friends, family, and everything else into neat boxes isn’t a great strategy for living life to the full.
As something of a control freak myself, I know there’s sense in having systems. It’s OK to not bring work problems home with you, to not bring relationship troubles to work with you, to know the difference between true friends and acquaintances or to live within your means, but the sense of control this offers can lead to creating walls and filtering, censoring or even repressing parts of your life and parts of yourself.
But life isn’t like that. Life is all kinds of stuff all smooshed up together. It overlaps. It spills. It seeps.
A confident life is one that’s integrated, warts and all, not separated. And isn’t a great relationship one where the same thing happens?
Isn’t a great relationship one where you can feel confident in your best, your flaws, your failings, and your possibilities?
What do you think? What role do you think real confidence has in your relationship?
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.