Feeling Competent

What’s the worst thing a woman can do to her husband? Does she ignore him? Does she withhold marital relations? Does she hide the remote? According to a really important marriage counselor I heard on the radio (whose name I didn’t catch), if a wife wants to hurt her husband, the worst attack she has in her arsenal is the dreaded Eye Roll. (Please note, this is the worst thing a woman can LEGALLY do to her man. Lorena Bobbit’s ideas don’t count).

This is not the Eye Roll Plus Groan With Smirk that usually follows a really funny joke. This eye roll comes either after a bad suggestion he has offered or a mistake he has made. This eye roll sends the message, “You are an idiot. You are incompetent.”

The marriage counselor (who was speaking on a nationally syndicated talk show so he must be an expert) said that, in his experience, when a wife rolled her eyes during a therapy session, the couple was more likely to fail in counseling and choose divorce. Why is that? How does one unattractive facial gesture carry so much power?

It’s because men need to feel competent. Feeling competent is part of what makes us whole. It gives us a sense of power. When a wife rolls her eyes, she takes away his feeling of being competent in the marriage, the most important project in his life.

Have you every tried to feed a bowl of peas to a baby? Not the mushed paste that looks like poop, but actual whole vegetables. It does not take long for Baby to realize that she can move her hand and hit the spoon. When she does that, the funny green things will fly around and fall to the floor. Then Daddy will make a grumpy face and put more on the spoon to play again. She has discovered that she has some control over her environment. She also discovered that she has some control over Daddy.

This need to have power over something matures through adulthood. It evolves into a need to not only do something, but do it well. Some men have to be the best at what they do, but most men just have to be good—to be proficient. Feeling incompetent is an unhappy and unhealthy feeling. For the most part, it doesn’t matter what we feel skilled in, just that we feel skilled in something.

It is important to note that men don’t need to BE competent. We just need to feel like we know what we are doing. The first car I bought was a ‘87 Chevy Celebrity. I had no more money after buying it, so if it broke—which it often did—I had to rely on myself to fix it. I spent hours under that car, holding it together with—literally—duct tape and wire coat hangers. Was I an expert mechanic? Hell, no. Did I feel like one? Absolutely. And that’s what counted.

To feel like a man is to feel capable. When we get the eye rolls of life and begin doubting our competence, we need to find something we are good at and do it until our confidence returns. Then, when we remember that we do have skills and are qualified, we can get back to doing our jobs: getting under the table to clean up all those peas.

©2008, Mark Phillips

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 Women, it's true, make human beings, but only men can make men. - Margaret Mead

Mark Phillips is a Stay-At-Home-Dad and freelance writer. Along with raising his four children, he is developing a franchise called “The Vacuum IS a Power Tool.” It is designed to help SAHDs maintain that which makes us men, instead of hairy Mom-substitutes. He earned a B.S. in Communication/Theatre Arts and teaching certificates in English, public speaking, and psychology from Eastern Michigan University. After six years as a high school English teacher and Director of Dramatic Arts at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan, he changed careers and became a Stay-At-Home-Dad. or E-Mail

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