Healthy relationships – do brownie points really add up?

Healthy relationships – do brownie points really add up? Men need to take personal responsibility for connection with themselves and in their relationships.

Healthy relationships – do brownie points really add up?

As a young married man, many years ago I was introduced to the concept of ‘Brownie Points’ by my work colleagues. This seemed like a new concept to me in the context of my relationship.

The theory went like this: for example, you might do some long overdue home or garden maintenance, prepare a meal for the family, buy your partner some flowers, take her to dinner or look after the children while she worked. Each of these activities would earn you brownie points that you would accumulate, an imaginary form of ‘good deed’ currency. You would then cash in some of these points to go to the football with mates, have drinks after work with colleagues, be rewarded with sex, lounge around and watch TV, or play golf etc. This sounded like the best advice for men that I had ever encountered and the way to a healthy relationship!

The only problem with this system was that I was the only one adhering to it. My partner had absolutely no investment in the system but I was totally unaware of this fact until years later. This made me wonder how many other men in relationships are caught living in this pattern.

The whole basis of this arrangement was that I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I received something in exchange – a quid pro quo.

There was always a high degree of expectation attached to the process which meant there was regular disappointment when the exchange was not honoured by my partner. This resulted in relationship problems with me reacting by either withdrawing completely or punishing my partner by refusing to engage in required day-to-day responsibilities, which could be the reason why research confirms women are still taking responsibility for most of the household tasks.

This pattern of endless expectations of how my partner should respond resulted in a cyclical process that played out for decades and undermined the whole basis of what should have been a healthy relationship. This resulted in a disconnection, arguments, resentment and a lack of trust and support for each other, which plays out in many relationships.

Something needed to change…

This change came when I finally got sick of the cycle and became more willing to be honest about what was the reason I so quickly adopted the brownie points system in the first place.

Like many men of my era, I had been brought up in a household where the man was the provider and the woman was responsible for everything else including caring for the children, even if she also happened to work outside the home (which my mother did). So, when I heard about the brownie points system it was easy to embrace as I had already taken on ingrained beliefs about women that had been handed down from my father and his father and previous generations of men. The next discovery was that my choice to do something, to get something in return, was my way of seeking my partner's approval and love that I was unable to feel for myself. Although this mainly backfired as my partner could sniff out approval-seeking a mile off, I was persistent in this pattern despite it not working as I didn’t know how to connect to my own approval and love for myself.

When I accepted the fact that I had a personal responsibility that was not dependant on approval or seeking love from my wife and getting something for my efforts, things began to change. I was able to complete the home maintenance as it was my home too. I bought the flowers because I understood the colour and vibrancy that they brought to our home environment. I prepared the meal for the family because we all had to eat. I looked after the children because I was their parent and not a baby-sitter. I made space to connect with my partner to share what was going on for each other.

In the words of Serge Benhayon:

“Be the man that you are and not the man society has told you to be”

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings and Revelations, Volume 1, ed 1, page 553

Without doubt men are living in a way that is all about what society expects from them, as like me they feel insecure and frightened of changing behaviours, even if they are not working for them.

The way of living I've described above allowed me to feel safe and secure and not feel the love I had for myself and sought through my patterns.

Committing to these activities changed how I felt about myself as a man, as I no longer needed to play a role to get anything. Instead I began to live from what I felt was needed to honour my commitments.

Interestingly, I found – and perhaps other men in relationships may discover – that when I responded to what I felt was needed I had less attachment to the other activities that I had been so invested in. This resulted in less football, no alcohol no golf, less television and more loving interactions with my partner which provided the foundation to re-establish the connection and healthy relationship that we had lost under the brownie points regime.

Simply, the missing piece of relationship advice for men is to understand that not lacing our lives with expectation and the need for approval allows our relationships to evolve in a way that honours the love we have for each other.

Make no mistake though, changing this pattern can take time, but with increased awareness around embracing our own responsibility comes a foundation to build our connection with ourselves and in development of healthy relationships.

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AccountabilityCommunicationIntimacyMarriageRejectionHealthy relationships

  • By Mark Gavioli, Finance Director

    Married with seven adult children, enjoys the simple things in life such as cooking a lovely meal for family and friends. Committed to exploring better ways to live as a man in all my relationships as a husband, father and friend.

  • Photography: Rebecca UK, Photographer

    I am a tender and sensitive woman who is inspired by the playfulness of children and the beauty of nature. I love photographing people and capturing magical and joyful moments on my camera.