Dicks or Doormats?

Posted on in Healthy Living by Christian Pedersen

How Men Use or Lose Power in Relationships

Despite feeling very confident, successful, and well compensated in his work life, a man told me he dreaded going home because he felt so powerless with his wife and kids. “I feel like a second-class citizen in my own house!”

He is not alone. Many men feel powerless in their relationships.

When men don’t feel powerful, they tend to do one of two things: become doormats or dicks. When they lack the ability to confidently and openly communicate what they want and need, and to remain emotionally present with what is happening with loved ones, relationships break down.

A man in “doormat” mode is hesitant and insecure, and has a hard time speaking up for himself and asking directly for what he wants and needs. He’s the classic people pleaser, the “nice guy,” or SNAG (sensitive New Age guy). As one man at a recent retreat said, “I just say ‘yes’ to whatever anyone in my family wants … and then I turn around and mutter curses under my breath.”

Doormat men often feel pushed around, undervalued, and disrespected. Attempts to get love, intimacy, or sex become underhanded and ineffectual. “Would you maybe like to … er, you know, perhaps maybe later tonight, I mean, it’s okay if you don’t, but maybe make love with me?” Men who approach their partners with this kind of tentativeness mean to be sensitive and anything but aggressive jerks, but instead produce reluctance and hesitation in their partners.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the “dick,” or as I sometimes call him, angry man. This is a man who is overusing his power, using too much aggression, manipulation, or coercion to get what he wants. Interestingly, the angry man often feels just as powerless as the doormat. One man articulated it this way, “I’ve already decided I won’t get what I want, so when I go to ask for something, I come in yelling!”

A picture of a young stressed man trapped in big hands over white background
A picture of a young stressed man trapped in big hands over white background

Both the “doormat” and the angry man have legitimate needs and desires that they are trying to get met: connection, affection, respect, and belonging, to name a few. But neither end up getting what they want, and in the process cause a lot of undesirable side effects.

The unconscious under- or overuse of masculine power produces not only unhappy men, but also enormous impacts on relationships and families, as well as on the world at large. Insecure “doormat” men disappear, lose their self-worth, and become weak partners and role models. Overly aggressive men lose their self-respect and inspire fear and insecurity, and even cause emotional or bodily harm to those around them.

The cure is for men to find an openhearted, conscious way to express their masculine power, to find a way of being and acting that is beyond the “dick or doormat” options.

Although men often feel they have little power in their relationships, world-renowned relationship researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman (et al.) state in their book The Man’s Guide to Women that men have the power to make or break relationships: “Data proves that a man’s actions are the key variable that determines whether a relationship succeeds or fails.”

When men find a balanced, mature, centered way to go about getting what they need, while also taking care of the concerns of their partner and family, not only do they feel more powerful and confident as men, but their relationships and families flourish as well.

What can a man do to get started? Here are a few ideas …

» Take time to notice your feelings and desires. Then share your feelings and communicate your wants and needs honestly and directly. Men have learned to keep their emotional needs to themselves. So when you think, “It’s not important, I’ll get by, never mind,” that is precisely when you need to speak up.

» Stay present and engaged, even when things get emotionally heated or intense. Don’t check out. Shutting down in the face of your partner’s or children’s emotions is a sure way to destroy intimacy.

» Keep your promises and agreements. By doing so, you build trust and respect, in your self, in your partner and in those around you. Clean it up every time you don’t keep your agreements.

Some ideas if you are a partner to a man:

» Offer ample appreciations and affirmations of his being a good man. People who feel unseen and undervalued are people who either disappear and become invisible, or try way too aggressively to be seen. A man who knows he is valued is more apt to become a safe, loving man.

» Witness his emotions and don’t take it personally when he gets mad or stressed. Men tend to condemn themselves for having any feelings at all, so if you can offer a space of acceptance and patience, you will help reverse the shame many men feel and replace that shame with love.

» Allow him time and silence to reset. Many men need space to process their experiences. Just because he’s not talking doesn’t mean he’s not committed to working things out.

» Give points for effort. Many men have a constant feeling of working harder and harder, but never being able to win. Giving points for effort helps a man relax and reminds him he’s a good man. Men who know they are in essence good are more apt to be good men.

Unhappy, unloved, and unconscious men be come dangerous or invisible. They don’t make ideal relationship partners. It’s my sincerest conviction that a good deal of the relational problems in this world can be solved by helping men find a new way of being beyond the “dick or doormat” spectrum.

As one man said after doing some work at one of my retreats: “I’ve always felt weak and wishy-washy. I discovered I that I can be a powerful man and still be soft and vulnerable. Thankfully, I know that is what my partner wants, too.”

Christian Pedersen is a relationship specialist and certified life coach, and the author of the 1 Amazon bestseller, When You Love Your Woman. Together with his wife, Sonika, he’s the co-founder of LoveWorksforYou.com. Christian and Sonika produce and lead lifealtering weekend trainings on love, marriage, sex, communication, and dating. Find more on the Dare to Love podcast on iTunes or at loveworkspodcast.podbean.com.

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