Male entitlement refers in general to the cultural phenomena where males feel entitled to women’s bodies, sex, or favors. This is a very widespread and dynamic issue. Here, we want to briefly discuss how male entitlement may show up in a marriage and how to combat it.
Please note, entitlement in marriage does not exclusively affect men. Both spouses are perfectly capable of feeling entitled. To learn about entitlement in general and how to stop it from hindering your marriage, check out our post on the subject.
What Male Entitlement Looks Like
Overt male entitlement in a marriage is damaging and abusive. Some men fully buy into the idea of male entitlement and use it to rule over their wives and families. If this is your case, I recommend getting professional help. Know that, as a woman, you deserve to feel like an individual who deserves respect, trust, and love.
However, male entitlement doesn’t just show up in overt ways. Sometimes, without meaning to, we subconsciously take on cultural roles. Husbands can maybe feel annoyed without realizing why. Wives can feel guilty or shamed without realizing why. What’s more, these feelings may have nothing to do with how your spouse acts and everything to do with the culture around you.
Subconscious male entitlement shows up most often in our sexual relationships. A husband sees his wife as the only “sexual outlet” he is allowed to have. The thinking goes, “I can’t look at porn, I can’t have relationships with other women, so when I feel aroused I NEED to have sex with my wife”. In these cases, entitlement changes the meaning of sex. Entitlement is about fulfilling a “need”, no longer about intimacy, closeness, and shared pleasure.
Listen to these real stories from good men who let entitlement affect their marriage without realizing it.
“I used to feel quite entitled to sex. I’d say things like, “Babe, you’re my ONLY legitimate sexual outlet. How else do you expect me to have an orgasm?”
“ Along time ago (before I knew any better), I told my wife, “You know if you have a cow, you have to milk it every day.” (implying it was her duty to “milk” him every day)”
Male Entitlement: a Cultural Construct
For centuries, Western culture portrayed wives (and women in general) more as objects than people. The ideal wife seemed to be one who had no needs of her own but existed to fulfill the needs of her husband and children. As time passed, this idea faded somewhat into the background. However, the ideal housewife is still expected (often subconsciously) to take on all the household duties, be the primary carer of her children, and please her husband. Even as more and more women join the workforce, the expectations have not changed much.
How Male Entitlement Shows Up
Now, you may be a husband reading this thinking, “hang on, I’ve never thought about my wife like that!”. And you’re right! There are so many great husbands out there that are actively battling those toxic subconscious tendencies. So why does understanding male entitlement matter in your relationship? Because women don’t just feel pressure from their husbands. Everyday, hundreds of subliminal messages could be telling your wife (or you!) that she owes her husband sex. That her husband is entitled to her time, effort, and her very body. In addition, too many women have been victims of sexual abuse. As sexual trauma expert Nicole Graf explained on our podcast, 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused in some way by the time they turn 18. (If you or a loved one is being affected by past trauma, listen to Nicole’s advice on our podcast Healing From Sexual Trauma and consider getting professional help to heal.)
These sad facts mean that women battle every day with the idea of male entitlement. This can show up in a marriage in a variety of ways. A wife may feel resentful of the perceived pressure put on her. She may feel guilty or ashamed that she is not doing enough. She may feel hopeless that she will ever live up to the standards set for her. None of this pressure may be coming from her husband, and it still could deeply affect a marriage.
Ways to Combat Entitlement
If there’s a problem in your relationship, let’s set about fixing it! The solution has to start with an open and honest conversation. Husbands, ask your wife if she feels affected by male entitlement. Come from a place of understanding. Wives, remember that your husband is not the enemy. Try to avoid blaming and focus on your feelings. The battle is you and your husband working together to fight off harmful ideas and assumptions. It is not a battle between the two of you.
Advice for Men
- Confront Cultural Biases
As an ally to your wife, stand up for her. Be the voice that says she exists for her own pleasure. That she has just as much right to define her role as anyone else. Be her support when her culture tells her she’s not doing enough.
- Be Willing to Change
As hard as we try, sometimes we develop bad habits. Realize that this doesn’t make you a bad person, but that it is your responsibility to change bad habits once you become aware of them.
- Be Willing to Hear No
Be willing to have open communication. Ask for what you want directly, and respect that your spouse has agency to choose to give it to you. Sometimes, your wife is not in a place where she can give you everything you want. No one can pour from an empty pitcher.
- Where Do You Feel Defensive?
As Melaine Studly said in our podcast, “Pay attention to the things that you get defensive over- these are most likely your blind spots and where you are feeling entitled!”. As painful as it can be to confront your own weaknesses, those blind spots could be what’s hurting your wife.
- Remember the Purpose of Sex
Is sex just about releaving your stress or pleasuring your body? If that’s how it feels, it may be time to re-evaluate. The best sexual relationships are built between two people who come together physically to form a deeper emotional and spiritual bond. Intimacy means becoming one with another person, where their pleasure is your pleasure and their experience is just as vital to you as your own.
Advice for Women
- You Are a Living Person
Get comfortable with the idea that you are a living person. You are more than the role of wife or role of mother. You have agency and autonomy over your body. No matter what the culture around you says, you are entitled to your body and your time. You get to choose how you use both, in every circumstance.
- Forgiveness and Gratitude
Realize that, in most cases, your husband is not trying to hurt you. It can be so frustrating to feel like you are expected to bend to your husband’s wants. But in most cases, he is trying. Tell him what you feel, work on the problem together. Be willing to forgive him and be grateful for the effort he puts in. You can forgive and be grateful while also acknowledging you both still have work to do,
Be willing to share what you feel. Be willing to express what things hurt you, and the ways you perceive male entitlement affecting your marriage. Don’t just list things your partner has done wrong or could do better. Instead, focus on your feelings and your subjective experience of events. (for example; “when [x] happens, it makes me feel [y]”)
- Guilt is Never Arousing
If you find yourself believing the message that you owe your husband sex, that guilt will have the opposite of the hopeful affect. Guilt triggers our anxieties and stressors that will inhibit our natural arousal. Realize that your husband wants you to feel good, pleased, and attracted to him. That guilt is not helping him just like it’s not helping you. Be mindful and try to become aware of your emotions. Purposefully remind yourself that your arousal and desire matter. Work with your husband to build your arousal, not just give into guilt-fueled sex.
In her book Come as You Are, Dr, Nagoski compares our sexual expeirence as a garden. She explains that we are all born with a patch of dirt (our feelings about sexuality) that our families and culture immediately start planting in. Male entitlement is one of those weeds that can creep its way into our gardens. Dr. Nagosi explains our job is to examine our garden and decide what to weed out and what to cultivate. We are also asked to see our spouses garden non-judgmentally and help them pull what they decide are weeds. (If you would like to read Dr. Nagoski’s fantastic book, you can buy it here)
Male entitlement is a cultural phenomena that can affect our marriages, whether overtly or in subconscious messages. Remember, we are not enemies meeting on a battlefield. We are lovers who are willing to help each other grow. If you feel like entitlement is seriously affecting your marriage and want extra help, consider signing up for one of our coaching programs!
Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!