I’ve conducted a lot of research regarding women’s friendships and the ways that people can most effectively maintain healthy connections over the long-term. In a recent study, however, we explored what women, from 18 to 75, need from the men in their lives. Not surprisingly, the qualities women seek in heterosexual romantic partners, male friends, and men in general, are not all that different from what they seek in a friend. This makes sense: Any good relationship is built on some basic, down-to-earth qualities.
Specific to Romantic Partners
Women don’t need partners who invest all their energy in trying to prove how strong, manly, masculine, macho, or heroic they are. They just want men who are willing to meet them where they are and treat them fairly and equitably — and are able to make sure that the romantic spark keeps burning.
There’s no reliable assessment that can predict whether someone is going to be a good match for you or not; no dating-site algorithm can accurately predict the human heart. Even when a potential partner brings all of the following qualities to a relationship, that’s no guarantee that the two of you will have good “chemistry” or meet up at the right time for each of you to enter a new relationship. However, recognizing what we know that we need from the important people in our lives increases our “relationship quotient” so that we can at least be aware of areas worthy of enrichment prior to establishing a new romantic connection.
The traits that women tend to value and need most from the men in their lives can be categorized in three discrete areas: moral integrity (from all men); relational sensitivity (from friends and partners); and satisfying intimacy (from romantic partners).
Traits of Moral Integrity
Mutual respect is an all-or-nothing proposition: Once a person loses respect for a partner, all bets are off. Women should be given the same respect that men offer other men. When a person is made to feel disrespected or patronized, the relationship is likely to end sooner rather than later. In terms of romantic relationships, even when you’re angry or disappointed by a partner, respect should be maintained.
- Open communication that occurs regularly and tactfully is essential. A healthy relationship flourishes when communication is clear.
- Honesty is another “make or break” trait: Don’t give someone any reasons to doubt you.
- Trust and trustworthiness allow relationships to deepen.
- Taking responsibility for actions and behavior. Long-term healthy relationships require a high level of maturity. Without it, disagreements and conflict worsen as couples engage in the “blame game.” Communication fails and emotional damage can be done that cannot be easily repaired.
Traits of Relational Sensitivity
- Women need men to show kindness, patience, understanding, empathy, and compassion. Regardless of the type of relationship, men and women should be considerate of each other’s feelings. Recognize that a partner’s trials and tribulations matter to her and that partners’ roles are to cherish and care for and about one another.
- Friendship between men and women is also desired. Being a friend to your partner means treating her in the patient, accepting manner in which you treat other close friends.
- Emotional maturity is essential. It’s okay to have some childish fun when it’s appropriate, but it’s important for women and men to behave like grown-ups when it’s time to do so, too. Being aware that brute strength does not equal intelligence is also helpful in maintaining healthy communication and connection. Sometimes it’s better to sit back and think through problems before trying to manhandle your partner into a forced solution.
- Being supportive to the women in your life can do a world of good. Supporting your partner is a primary role. Whether your partner or a friend needs emotional or practical support, be there to assist in small and big ways. Whether it’s taking time to listen, or more active involvement in major decisions, child rearing, finances, etc., make your presence a positive and supportive one.
- and 6. Sensitivity coupled with validation of your partner’s experiences are essential. The cultural experiences of adults vary greatly based on gender identity. Recognize your own biases in how you view other women and imagine how your partner might be negatively affected by a world that sees women as less than. Don’t assume she is making things up when she shares stories of prejudice, discrimination, or unfair treatment. Gender roles constrain behavior; playing a part in breaking down harmful gender roles at home and in the workplace benefits both men and women. Don’t make women jump a higher bar to prove themselves – women and men should be afforded the same rewards for the same investment. Gender shouldn’t be a disadvantage in a relationship or a work place.
Types of Satisfying Intimacy with Romantic Partners
- Bring adventure and excitement into the relationship, in safe and welcome ways. Challenge your partner’s perspectives and allow your own to be challenged as well. Open yourself up to new experiences and ways of thinking as you make it safe and inviting for your partner to do the same. Intellectual stimulation keeps relationships dynamic.
- Companionship and partnership go along with friendship and create the glue that keeps most long-term relationships moving forward. No one realizes how little energy they might have for sexual activities once kids arrive, or jobs demand longer hours, or illness or disability occur; there will be times when loyal companionship is what both of you need most from each other.
- Saying “I love you” may not be easy; these words can be highly charged. Sadly, some people believe that saying them makes them vulnerable and more likely to be hurt. Your partner, though, deserves to be made aware of your love. If saying those three words just isn’t going to happen, make sure you show your partner love in ways that matter most to her. We all need to feel loved.
- As for sex, women ask that men don’t make everything about sex – i.e., don’t do favors that you assume will result in sexual favors being done for you. Your good behavior should not be viewed simply as a means towards a particular end. Good sex can’t be bought, and by expecting sex as a payoff for doing something that pleases your partner, you turn a potentially romantic encounter into more of a business deal. Few and far between are the women who want to feel that they owe sex to a partner.
- Sexual activities that are geared to pleasing your partner, not just yourself, are what your partners need you to provide. Sex should be a fun adventure that allows partners to explore and expand their sexual connection, not just a repetition of the same old, same old. As one participant shared, “Men need to ditch the myth of female sexual purity once and for all: With the right partner, women enjoy sex every bit as much as a man.”
What Everyone Deserves
Women need the men in their lives to be feminist allies who want to see the women in their lives succeed every bit as much as they want to enjoy their own success. Men should take time to recognize and acknowledge a woman’s strengths and respect her for all that she brings to their relationship. And when it comes to romantic connection, women want the same things men want; they might just want them in a different order.