Why Do Men Have Low Self-Esteem when Their Partner Succeeds?
There are several reasons why men suffer from a diminished self-esteem when their romantic partner succeeds, according to a study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study also reveals why women do not have the same reaction when the situation is reversed.
Researchers concluded that men automatically interpreted a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they were not competing for the same thing, which is a by-product of men’s competitiveness.
“There is an idea that women are allowed to bask in the reflected glory of her male partner and to be the ‘woman behind the successful man,’ but the reverse is not true for men,” wrote lead author of the study Kate Ratliff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
A Man’s Implicit Self-Esteem
“From a very young age, boys’ playtime interaction tends to be marked by dominance-striving,” the study’s authors wrote. “Young girls also pursue individual goals within social groups, but tend to do so while simultaneously striving to maintain group harmony.”
A man’s implicit self-esteem, also known as his subconscious, is hurt by a romantic partner’s success, the authors propose, because her success challenges the gender stereotype that he should be relatively more competent, strong, and intelligent than his female partner. A third explanation offered is that the man’s thoughts about his partner’s success trigger a fear that he is not good enough for her.
Men Feel Threatened If Outperformed
Men often portray themselves as being more competent than they actually are, the authors of the study said, citing a different research project. When they are told of a time that their partner was successful, it can pose a threat to their own view of themselves, they said. The authors also suggested that men may feel threatened if they think they have been outperformed.
“Having a partner who experiences a success might hurt men’s implicit self-esteem because ambition and success are qualities that are generally important to women when selecting a mate,” the authors wrote. “So thinking of themselves as unsuccessful might trigger men’s fear that their partner will ultimately leave them.”
Problem-Solving Tests Support Findings
The researchers conducted five experiments with 896 people in heterosexual relationships. In one, 32 couples took a “test of problem-solving and social intelligence” and then were told by the researcher whether their partner had scored in the top or bottom 12 percent.
Hearing how their partner scored did not affect how men said they felt, but being shown the scores on a test to see how their implicit self-esteem was affected revealed a different picture. Men who believed their partner scored in the top 12 percent had a significantly lower implicit self-esteem than men who believed their partner scored in the bottom 12 percent.
So even if a man’s romantic partner achieves success in a completely different arena from his own area of success, his implicit self-esteem takes a blow without him even realizing it.