Couples experience more relationship problems when the male partner is sexist

New research provides evidence that men’s sexist attitudes are associated with relationship problems, which in turn undermines their female partner’s satisfaction and commitment. The findings have been published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“Sexist attitudes impact our lives in many ways — including how we think, feel and behave in our intimate relationships,” said study author Emily J. Cross of the University of Auckland.

“We were interested how hostile and aggressive attitudes about women might promote problems in intimate relationships and influence the types of problems couples face. We were especially interested in how men’s sexist attitudes influence female partner relationship experiences and evaluations.”

The researchers surveyed 363 heterosexual couples regarding their sexist attitudes, current relationship problems, and other factors.

Most of the couples were either married or living together, while about a third indicated they were in “serious/steady” dating relationships. The average relationship length was 6.5 years.

The researchers found that women with partners who endorsed hostile sexism tended to report a greater number of problems and rated those problems as more severe. This, in turn, was associated with women feeling less satisfied and committed to their relationship.

“Hostile sexism involves concerns that women cannot be trusted and are trying to take men’s power. These attitudes are not just problematic for men (and women) in the workplace, but could also create friction and problems at home,” Cross told PsyPost.

“Our work shows that when men hold these beliefs they themselves, and their partners, experience more severe problems across a greater number of domains, which leads both couple members to evaluate their relationship more negatively.”

“Moreover, men’s hostile sexism also impacts the types of problems couples face — jealousy, power dynamics, and gender-role conflict were rated as particularly serious problems — which makes sense considering that hostile sexism involves concerns about women being untrustworthy,” Cross said.

“In sum, this work suggests that men’s hostile beliefs about women actually bleeds over to intimate domains and influences the types of problems that couples face.”

In a similar study of 1,096 heterosexual men and women, Cross and her colleagues found that men with sexist attitudes tended to underestimate how much power they had in their relationships, which predicted increased aggression toward their female partners.

But like all research, the study has some caveats.

“The current study asked people to rate how serious problems were in their relationships. With this method we cannot determine who is more (or less) responsible for these problems and how sexist attitudes may influence this,” Cross said.

“We focused specifically on sexist attitudes towards women in this study. Although other studies investigate sexist attitudes towards men.”

The study, “Women experience more serious relationship problems when male partners endorse hostile sexism“, was authored by Emily J. Cross and Nickola C. Overall.