A lot of men view women’s success as some kind of zero-sum game: The more we take, the more you lose. But what if evening the score between us actually meant men could enjoy healthier, more relaxed lives — and, more importantly, longer ones? It’s possible: All you have to do is become more like women in nearly every way. Or at least in your personal relationships.
Research suggests men are already closing the lifespan gap: Not only have scientists discovered that the human lifespan in general has yet to reach its maximum, they’ve also discovered that by 2032, it might be equal, closing the roughly five-year difference that currently exists in women’s favor. That’s in part because men smoke and drink less than they used to, but also because we’re moving toward a service economy made up of fewer risky, heavy-labor jobs that kill men sooner.
Generally speaking, men still take more risks, have more heart troubles, higher suicide rates and poorer coping skills to soothe the terror and loneliness. But when men and women live similar lives, they have similar lifespans. When researchers Marc Luy and Michaela Grimm compared the lives of nearly 12,000 monks and nuns (over four centuries, across 12 countries) who lived in similar conditions, they found that “gender-specific differences in life expectancy can be reduced from six years to one or less when lifestyles are harmonized. In the end, biological factors seem to account for no more than a year in life expectancy between men and women.”
Of course, most men aren’t going to hang up their cargo shorts for a robe and swear off sex for God, and we’ve yet to completely sidestep biology. But such research suggests there is something men could do to balance the scales a little bit.
Have an Intimate, Equal Relationship
There are numerous benefits to more egalitarian relationships. One net positive is that people who divide household chores and childcare more evenly have more sex, and better sex. And that’s an important metric in quality of life.
“One of the biggest predictors in health and quality of life is the relational health of those in your life,” says Chris Donaghue, a psychologist in Los Angeles whose work focuses on couples and their sex lives. “Having a partnership full of happiness is just a better quality of life.”
So how do we pull this off?
Be Emotionally Available
The key to having a happy relationship is being more emotionally available and taking on more of the work in personal relationships. “That happiness often comes from shouldering more responsibility at home, and not offloading the emotional and relational work to your partner,” Donaghue says.
This means not leaving all the work of talking, resolving conflict and keeping the good stuff going to your partner — especially if you have kids. Once more, for the bleacher seats: Don’t make your wife the administrative assistant of your home.
Donaghue’s latest book, Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture, aims to lead men and women away from the sexist stereotypes and traditions that prevent this sort of growth and connection. Most of the couples he sees in his practice involve overworked men who want greater connection and intimacy with their partners but who are overly focused on earning as the main value-add they bring to the table. This is not just older men, he says: It affects men in their 20s through their 70s.
The good news, he says, is that younger men are an easier sell on this equality idea than they used to be. “A lot more of the men are more willing and more comfortable doing emotional labor,” Donaghue says. “There’s less toxic masculinity and less phobia of taking on those kinds of roles.”
Be Available During the Day
What’s harder is helping guys understand that emotional intimacy requires a lot of little things all the time, including checking in on relationships throughout the day and maintaining the rapport that makes home life continue to spark. This, he says, is hugely important in sex.
“The more they open up, find more emotional expression, more emotional availability,” he says, “the better able they will be to ask for any needs they might have, and get the eroticism they want.”
Of course, men focused on getting ahead at the office don’t have time to check in throughout the day. And often they think that talking to a partner over their laptop while working at home counts as intimacy. It doesn’t.
“Most of my clients commute or work many hours, and come in telling me, ‘My relationship is suffering; how do I make it better?’” he says. That answer is simple: work less. “You can no longer over-prioritize work to the detriment of the people in your life,” Donaghue says. “Work less or work differently.” He realizes this isn’t a simple fix, especially in the capitalistic, product-obsessed culture of Los Angeles, much less the country at large, but it’s critical to changing relationship dynamics.
“As men, we tend to see value only in that which generates income,” he says. “But there’s a buy-in for the wives too. One of my clients works 16 hours a day to buy his wife the bathroom of her dreams. They have to unpack what they really want, and let go of that bathroom.”
Invest in Fatherhood
While research suggests that parents generally live longer, Donaghue says that men who understand the important of their relationships with their children will also experience greater life quality. This includes pushing for paternity leave to forge the critical bonding with children that improves their life quality, too. Donaghue says this is easier said than done. Many of his patients in their 30s — including one stay-at-home dad — don’t feel confident focusing on their home and children, he says.
“Conceptually, these guys are ‘woke,’” Donaghue says. “But they still struggle with it. They cognitively know that there is nothing wrong with what they do, they value being at home and in the child’s life in theory and in real time. But they still wonder if they are being productive enough, or contributing in the ‘right’ ways. They still think they need to generate income somehow.”
But Donaghue says he’s noticed another interesting shift in this dynamic. In the couples where men stay home or take more care of the children, their wives are the main earners. When the wives come home, they feel burned out but want to spend time with their children. It can leave the couple confused about when their alone time begins.
In many ways, though, this mirrors what’s happening to women’s lifespans, too. As soon as women started acting more like men — working harder and longer, facing similar pressures by invading military life and previously male-dominated professions, and learning to stuff their feelings and quell them with booze and drugs — a curious thing happened: They started facing the same physical and mental health problems men do.
In other words, men could soon live as long as women do because more women are dying sooner. Women have caught up to men in heart disease and now die from it in greater numbers. Women now drink just as much as dudes do, and possibly more — a combination of marketing, lower prices, and their participation in more male activities that require them to booze up to fit in. Women now smoke as much as men, and young women take it up more often than their male counterparts. While depression itself is more common in women, more women are committing suicide in higher numbers. New research also finds that working long hours puts women at a greater risk for diabetes, too.
Of course, these are all general shifts, and Donaghue admits it will be a long time before men adopt women’s attitudes toward interpersonal relationships. It won’t happen overnight and won’t be easy at first either. “It will add more layers of stress initially,” he says. “It’s a new skill set for a lot of men. But once they do it consistently, they will see immediate emotional benefits.”
And to be clear, the goal here is not for men to become women and women to become men, or for men to advance in happiness and longevity at women’s expense. Ideally, if we could share the burden of family and work, we could make a good life for everyone. Most women would probably shave off a few years for that.