You've met a guy. But it seems impossible to know whether his behaviors are red flags or normal.
Is working too much a concern? What about someone who throws a tantrum when he loses his fantasy football league?
It might depend on how much he identifies with sexist ideas.
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Researchers have long known that men who relate too much with traditional masculine norms treat women poorly. But a recent study, examining 78 studies with almost 20,000 men, showed that men who cling to typically sexist attitudes also suffer from poorer mental health.
"Our study shows sexism is also harmful for the perpetrator," said Joel Wong, associate professor of psychology at the University of Indiana Bloomington, author of the study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.
Wong's study identified 11 norms associated with sexism. Important note: Simply relating to one doesn't make someone sexist.
But it can reveal a problem, especially in a relationship.
Knowing when these norms become a problem and how to cope with them can make a difference.
1. Desire to win
It’s fun to win, but when it becomes an obsession, it’s problematic. Someone driven to win makes his partner feel like being the best is the most important.
“It doesn’t mean that everybody who is a competitive person is a jerk,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and host of the Power of Different podcast. “It has to do with where your competitive drive is channeled.”
Telling your partner that you’d like to feel like a winner might alert him to his problematic behavior.
“Everybody wants to be with someone where you can both be a winner,” she said.
2. Risk taking
Risk takers often put themselves in danger, which seems selfish. On top of that, it leads to bad behaviors.
“A lot of violence and crime are connected with risk taking and thrill seeking,” said Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University.
When someone takes too many dangerous risks, asking them to consider risk-taking can help them choose better.
“Focus on the ones that are really interesting and exciting and don’t have the lethality,” he said.
In healthy relationships, people experience anger. When that turns to violence — such as getting into physical fights or punching a wall — that’s a major red flag.
“You should each be able to express anger and not be afraid of it,” said Saltz. “Violence is worrisome and it is a sign that someone hasn’t learned to deal with anger in a reasonable way.”
People should never stay in a relationship where a person is physically harming them, she said. But if a person receives treatment before it escalates too much, he might be able to learn healthy ways to express his anger.
Being able to handle something alone can help in many situations. But when a partner refuses to ask for help it can make the other person feel useless.
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“Good relationships have times when maybe one person is stronger in this issue or at this time,” said Saltz.
Often, people avoid relying on their partner because they fear codependence. If your boyfriend attempts everything alone, she recommends that you offer help by saying something like: “‘I can really help here and it would be important to me.’”
“Your partner might not even know that” you want to share responsibility, she said.
5. Need for emotional control
You’re worried about your job but your partner tells you to stop and downplays your feelings. This feels super frustrating.
“If someone is insecure and needs to use controlling you as a method of feeling they got things covered that is not going to go well,” said Saltz.
Again, people act this way because they're insecure. But allowing a person to feel emotions makes for a richer relationship.
“Taking care of someone’s emotional life is an intrusion,” Farley said. “Accept the person’s emotional life.”
6. Power over women
Some men who exert control over women often feel women simply aren’t equal to them. Others fear that women are quite powerful and worry how they might show that power. In either case, they grapple with their fears by controlling women.
“That is going to be a problem,” said Saltz. “It is probably not easy for you.”
For someone to be less controlling, he has to want to change.
“If a man sees that he keeps destroying relationships and he has regret … yes he can definitely change,” she said.
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7. Sexual promiscuity
When a person has hook up after hook up, he avoids intimacy and begins seeing people at objects.
“It is using people in a very selfish way,” said Farely. “It might commodify sexuality."
Being promiscuous also means people who do want to have relationships struggle to maintain them.
“It’s fine if you are not looking for a partner,” said Saltz. “It could make it tough for you to be content with the love of really wonderful women.”
When it comes to people becoming more monogamous it is like “asking a zebra to change its stripes,” Saltz said. Women who want monogamy might want to simply avoid these men.
8. Primacy of work
Making work a priority often can’t be avoided. But it’s a problem when it becomes the most important thing.
“If you are person who feels that it is never that you or your family comes that first that can be difficult,” said Saltz.
Asking a person to prioritize certain activities shifts the focus from work to the relationship. Saying something like “it is important to me for you to attend this event with me, but I understand you have to work these other days” can help.
“This is what couples have to do and when you have a family it is the bread and butter of familying and negotiating and working out about what is important to both of you,” she said.
9. Seeking status
When some people seek status, they do so by using others. Or, they value having high social regard more than their partners, making people feel inadequate.
“Status seeking is using others,” said Farley. “It can be benign where you don’t use people to get to the top.”
Asking people to value you over not their status can change their focus.
10. Distain for homosexuality
Being homophobic often comes from insecurities, said Saltz, and it is not because people fear they might be gay.
“It’s insecurity generally speaking around sexuality,” she said.
Understanding their own sexuality better can help people feel less homophobic as well as spending more time with LGBT people.
“If you have a presupposition about people and then you spend time around people you might find out it is not true,” she said. “Having positive experience with someone in any category could definitely change you.”
Imagine your guy insists on ordering your meal. At first it seemed sweet, but now you’re annoyed that you always have to eat shrimp. Suddenly, you realize you have no control.
“It restricts the other person’s self-expression,” said Farely. “It closes out space for the other person.”
To counter a dominant personality, be assertive. Try saying something like “I feel like you aren’t paying attention to me” or “This is not what I want.” By speaking up, the dominant person might hear what you’re saying.