From a very young age, Black men are typically given a traditional set of roles they are expected to take on in a relationship. Perhaps two of the most emphasized of these roles are the protector and the provider.
Unfortunately, the sheer necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement is a reminder that it can be increasingly difficult for Black men today to fulfill these roles in the traditional sense.
How can one be a provider for his partner and family when he is suddenly placed in a position where it has become difficult to even protect himself?
How can he hold onto his aspirations of being a provider for his family when racially biased hiring practices and a corrupt justice system are leaving Black men even further disadvantaged economically?
All the while, Black women are making incredible strides on both a collegiate and economic level.
This is not to suggest that Black women are not also facing the disadvantages that come from years of oppression and systemic racism, but rather that there is a general perception that Black women are becoming more and more independent just as many Black men are starting to feel more vulnerable.
“Black women are beginning to feel more powerful and independent than ever before, making serious gains in higher education attainment and entering the workforce at unprecedented rates,” Clutch Magazine’s Tiffanie Drayton explains. “Black men, however, are increasingly facing the harsh realities of mass-incarceration and the sky-high unemployment rates that have disallowed them access to the typical ‘masculine’ roles — leaving then vulnerable and confused.”
This shift is one that can cause confusion and stress in a relationship, but Drayton explains that there are certain tips Black women should always remember when they find themselves in a relationship with a strong man who happens to be going through hard times.
The foundation of the advice comes from one of the golden rules to having a successful relationship — patience.
“Life isn’t easy and no one ever said it would be,” Drayton adds. “…We are battling ideals that have been ingrained and reinforced since childhood by society and tons of financial/economic/social obstacles, they will not disappear just because we think they should.”
So despite the strength that a man may have and the desire that burns within him to always protect and provide, there are times when he is not always able to be the knight in shining armor that he was taught to be. The key thing to remember is that many times that feeling alone is taking a mental toll on the noble knight.
There is no need to angrily address financial woes or cast blame on him if he is, in fact, trying his best in the relationship.
This is perhaps what makes Drayton’s tip about expectations so important.
“Today, we are dealing with a unique circumstance where we have to try to separate what we need from what we have been socialized to expect,” she writes. “Though [every woman] wants to be treated with love and respect; love and respect can look quite different than it did in the Disney movies and love stories we grew up entertaining.”
Have a conversation about what you really need your partner to provide and in what ways you truly need protection.
This is important because it lets a man know that his job is not limited by preconceived gender roles of “bringing home the bacon.”
Even in the midst of economic struggles or rigorous job hunts, he can still serve as the provider of emotional support and give the woman he loves the sense of security she has longed for.
While she also insists that boundaries and limitations are put in place, it’s important that your breaking point is based on his efforts as a partner in the relationship and not based on his current circumstances.
In our fantastical journeys to find the Jay-Z to our Beyonce or the Barack to our Michelle, it can be easy to forget that at one point even these great men faced hardships and struggles. Every person does.
It’s the effort to remove himself from troubling circumstances that is key.
After all, that’s when you may discover how much of a fighter your partner really is.
The tenacity to fight back and create an economic empire in the midst of a racially biased country takes the type of courage and strength that only the most honorable of knights may possess.
In the midst of the battle to improve his own life, as well as yours, he may just need a beautiful partner who can help him truly understand that although he’s up against an ancient beast, he can still come out victorious.
All the while, a woman must remember that the “key to a successful relationship is mutual benefit.” Even without financial stability or while dealing with personal hardships, it’s still very possible for a man to serve as a positive part of a woman’s life. If he is no longer able to provide that in the relationship, however, it may be time for both parties to move on.
Other tips from Drayton include always showing respect for your partner and being open to redefining what a “man’s role” should be.
This is by no means a call for women to lower their standards, but it’s simply a reminder that not every depiction of a genuinely happy Black family will look like the Huxtables.