What is most important to a man in a relationship — personality-wise, sexually, and otherwise — varies significantly from person to person. The best way to find out is to ask.
That said, how men want to be treated in a relationship has some common threads.
Here are 5 elements that I find come up again and again in my therapy practice as important among my clients who identify as men.
Do any of these 5 apply to you or your partner? I hope this list provides some food for thought.
A note about gender
The purpose of this article is to address a frequently Googled question (see the article title), but in truth, we believe that people who identify as men vary widely and value many different things. Plus, many of the things commonly important among men are also important to women and people of other genders. The best way to learn about someone’s values and preferences is to ask them. It makes for great conversation.
5 things men value in a relationship
Ready, partners? Here are 5 key things I’ve found from my therapy practice that men value in their relationships.
1. Time apart
He appreciates having time outside of the relationship and the freedom to use that time however he wants.
Maybe it’s spending time with his family, reading a book in the park, stopping by a friend’s place, solo traveling, or a quiet night at home with his thoughts and no schedule.
He enjoys spending time in the relationship and wants to nurture other areas of his life.
He wants to feel encouraged and supported in nurturing himself without feeling like he has to ask for permission or justify why these things are so important to him.
- It’s OK to spend time apart. Remember that spending time away from each other can be positive for you and your partner. Having interests of your own and time apart can actually help keep your relationship healthy.
- Define how much time together is “enough.” If you or your partner think that you’re spending too much time apart, talk it through. Try to identify the specific issues. Can you agree upon an approximate amount of time together and apart that would benefit both of you?
- Address other issues. Consider whether there are other issues at play. Is one person avoiding the other? If so, try to get to the root of what’s happening and address the reason why.
- Away dates. If you think it would be beneficial, make official “away” dates where you’re both doing your separate things apart from each other. When you come back together, you can share your experiences.
2. Recognition for what he’s doing well
Does this sound familiar?: Serious talks about the relationship end up sounding like a laundry list of what he is doing wrong and why you are unhappy with him.
If this happens, it can feel very defeating for him, like he’s failing in the relationship.
He doesn’t necessarily consciously believe that he needs positive feedback and words of affirmation. Still, when he only hears negative feedback or criticism (even if it’s rare), he may start to doubt whether he’s worthwhile or whether you value him.
He may even find himself wondering why you’re with him. This is a sign that you and your partner could use an honest reflection and reminder.
- Practice gratitude out loud. Don’t assume your partner picks up on your appreciation automatically. Make a point of regularly telling them out loud — when you think they look good, you appreciate something they did, you liked an idea they had. Or simply tell them why you’re glad you’re with them. Point out the big things and the little things, too.
- Talk about issues as they arise — don’t wait for problems to disappear. If you don’t feel capable of giving compliments and positive feedback right now, it may indicate you have lingering resentment or another personal issue is getting in the way. The sooner you confront these issues, the sooner you can resolve them.
3. Feeling his partner trusts him
He wants his partner to trust his judgment and choices.
On the other hand, if they falsely accuse or treat him with suspicion, it makes him feel judged and insulted. When this happens, he may feel like his character is being attacked and that you don’t accept him for who he is.
A common area where I’ve observed trust with a partner is crucial for some men is when they are away from their partner and spending time with friends.
My clients have said that when they feel their partner trusts them while they’re away, they can have total peace of mind to be present with their friends. They don’t feel the pressure to prove to their partner what they are up to, and they don’t anticipate their partner will be upset when they return.
When a guy feels trust is truly present, he often senses that you support and encourage him to spend time with his friends — which validates that his needs matter.
But if you, as his partner, were to say, “I trust you, but not your friends/not that place,” it can still feel like you’re discounting his morals and integrity.
On the other hand, when he feels trusted, he may be naturally compelled to share the details of his time away from you because you’re actively listening and holding space for his thoughts and feelings (not searching for holes in his story or evidence of wrongdoing).
- Explore the root causes of anxiety. Other factors may be at play if you or your partner have trust issues. Did something happen in your past together that eroded trust? Or does one partner have anxiety or fear related to abandonment because of their own personal history or anxiety unrelated to the relationship? Finding out why there’s a lack of trust can help you work through these issues compassionately together.
- Acknowledge each partner’s needs. It’s normal to want and need to spend time with friends and away from your partner. It’s also valid to need to feel secure in your relationship. Consider how you can meet your and your partner’s needs.
- Agree upon expectations. If you live together, how late is too late to come home, or is any time OK? What communication is reasonable to ask of your partner while they’re away? Do you expect the person who was away to text once they get home? Decide on some guidelines you both agree upon and stick to them.
4. Knowing it’s safe to share honest thoughts and feelings
Have you asked your partner to communicate more? To do this freely, he needs to feel assured that his honesty is welcome, that you’re listening to him, and that it will be a fair conversation.
What makes someone feel safe in a conversation is subjective, but here are a few things that might make him feel unsafe to speak openly:
- invalidation — if he receives comments from you like, “that’s stupid” or “how does that even make sense?”
- giving the silent treatment
- trying to even the score
- threatening — like if you said, “If you ____, then I will ___”
- becoming so emotionally distraught that he is required to console and comfort you rather than finish expressing himself
On the other hand, a safe conversation where two people are disagreeing can sound like this:
- I can hear that you are really upset about this. This is really hard to hear, and I don’t fully understand or agree based on what you’ve shared so far, but I’d like to hear more.
- I feel really upset and can’t help but cry right now. Give me a moment to calm myself down because I want to be able to take in what you are saying.
- Establish an emotionally safe way of communicating. Stay supportive when talking with your partner, even when you disagree or feel upset. This means never yelling, being sarcastic, or projecting negative emotions onto your partner. They shouldn’t feel attacked, blamed, or punished. Ask them to give you the same safe space for you to express yourself.
- Express your feelings with safe language and tone. Tell your partner your feelings and what’s wrong — calmly. This can sound like, “I feel upset because it sounds like you’re rejecting me.” It’s OK to feel upset, and it’s OK to cry. Sometimes, if you feel strong emotions, it can help to sit with them and let them pass without trying to talk about them. Then, have a conversation after you’ve processed them.
- Listen and validate your partner’s feelings. Try to do this even if you disagree with him. This can sound like, “I hear that you feel upset about ___.” Ask him questions to find out more to make sure you understand where the feelings are coming from. Don’t try to provide solutions. Just listen and show you hear him.
5. To be affirmed
Everyone wants to feel their partner is attracted to them. This may be physical attraction or simply being enamored by his presence. He may feel affirmed when you engage with him in a way that feels like awe.
He may have been taught that a man should buy flowers and compliment their partner, and he may not expect these things in return. However, he also has moments of insecurity and a desire for affirmation.
But he may not be used to communicating this need. Admitting he needs reassurance and explicit signs of your admiration feels vulnerable.
- Practice gratitude out loud. This bears repeating! Telling your partner you appreciate them goes a long way. It’s essential to keep it authentic — if you think it, say it.
- Ask your partner what kinds of affirmation they appreciate most. What they tell you might surprise you.
- Ask for examples. Have specific things you’ve said made him feel good in the past? Take notes for the future!
The final word
Recognizing what might be important to a man in a relationship can help you address your partner’s needs and navigate relationship issues.
You can help by encouraging him to share his needs and creating a safe space for him to do it.
Melody Phu, MA, RP
Melody Phu (she/her) is a BIPOC Registered Psychotherapist based in Toronto, Canada, supporting adults virtually across the province. In her former life as a corporate go-getter and yoga instructor, Melody was inspired by the transformative effects of encouragement, joy, and self-care in people under the duress of hustle culture. Her mission is to remind others that they matter categorically, and that our lives can change once we accept ourselves.