‘It’s just a girl thing, they’re like that’. An exploration into men’s experiences of difficult relationships with women: A qualitative study

Jane Ogden (J.Ogden@surrey.ac.uk)
Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey.
Annie Patterson (ampatterson34@gmail.com)
BSc from University of Surrey, UK.


This qualitative study interviewed heterosexual men (n=12) who had experienced a difficult relationship with a woman, one defined as ‘emotionally difficult, but without the presence of physical abuse’. The paper’s thematic analysis describes three main themes (the meaning of difficult relationships; the immediate impact; the longer-term impact) and two higher order themes (gendered standards and power imbalance). The men experienced controlling, shouting and blocking behaviours which had immediate and longer-term negative effects. Their relationships were underpinned by double standards of behaviour and a power imbalance. They tended to normalise these experiences, reducing their victim status and making their partner’s behaviour more acceptable. Accordingly, as the literature has been reluctant to accept men as victims, so are the men themselves.

Keywords: relationships, abuse, masculinity, shame, qualitative

Author Biographies

Jane Ogden(PhD) is a Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey. She has authored 8 books and over 220 research articles and teaches students studying psychology, nutrition, dietetics, veterinary medicine and medicine to think more psychologically about health.



Annie Patterson (BSc) completed her degree at the University of Surrey. This study formed the basis of her dissertation. She is currently working in mental health and aims to end up working within relationship psychology.




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