While much in the way of traditional gender roles has shifted in modern times, most women I know still want a man who can be the rock in the relationship. But just what does being the rock entail?

1. Be a haven of safety.
Sometimes a woman wants to cry on your shoulder. When she does, you don’t look at her strangely and say, “Geez, what’s the matter with you?” You don’t tell her you’ll cuddle after you’re done with that level on the video game. You’re immediately available to hold her and comfort her. You should be a bastion of calmness, strength, and understanding. When she’s in your arms, she should feel safe, like nothing in the world can harm or hurt her. Let your woman know that letting out her feelings is okay and give her your undivided attention. The same goes for your kids; when they’re hurt, and they need you, you’re immediately available.

2. Unravel the problem.
Frequently a woman feels overwhelmed because of a problem she’s having. Her feelings are knotted up in a great ball. Your job is to take the problem apart slowly. Don’t give an off the cuff solution at first. Instead, ask her questions about exactly why she’s feeling down or overwhelmed. Be interested and attentive to what she has to say. She wants someone to talk through the problem with and vent to. Ask follow-up questions and have her explain her concerns.

3. Formulate a plan….or not.
It’s become a popular cliché to say that when a woman vents her problems to you, you shouldn’t offer a solution. And sometimes, that assumption is correct, but certainly not always.

Indeed, you shouldn’t offer a solution right off the bat; as I mentioned, you want to unravel the problem first and allow your wife or girlfriend to talk through everything that is bothering her. At that point, you should ask her directly, “Is this is a problem that you want help solving? Or do you just want to vent?”

If it’s the former, then here is where you, as a man, can shine. Come up with a specific action plan to help your wife tackle the problem. When appropriate, put her mind at ease and take on some of the responsibility for making things right.
For example, let’s say your girlfriend comes to you in tears because she has a big research paper due but a hundred other things she needs to take care of as well. You would say, “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. I’ll take your dog to the vet, take those packages to the post office, and change your oil. All you need to worry about it working on that paper. You focus on that; I’ll take care of the rest.”

4. Never say: “Don’t worry about it.”
She’s already worried about it, and so to her, it is something worth worrying about. Telling her not to worry only dismisses her feelings as invalid and thus is prone to make her angry. Instead, I always say, “I’ll take care of it.”

5. Delay your grief.
When something tragic happens, that affects your family, be a pillar of strength during the crisis. Take care of the business that needs taking care of. If your wife or girlfriend doesn’t feel like getting out of bed and cooking or cleaning or talking to people and returning phone calls, you do it for her.

6. Express your emotions maturely and healthily.
Being the rock doesn’t mean being stoic and suppressing your emotions. Keeping your feelings bottled up might seem to make you more of “the rock,” but instead of adding stability to a relationship, it will create subtle cracks that will eventually open into real rifts.

A woman has many fears about having a relationship with a man. Will he be abusive? Will he be faithful? Will he provide for the family? Will he regress into a boy-man who spurns responsibility? Instead of placating these fears, keeping your feelings from your wife or girlfriend will only exacerbate them. So being the rock means expressing your emotions and concerns healthily and maturely. Doing so will solidify and strengthen your relationship.
This is especially important to remember when you and your partner are dealing with problems in the relationship. At such times it’s tempting to shut down and engage in stonewalling (not the right kind of rock to be). But an argument is the most vulnerable time in a relationship, and therefore it’s the best time to show her that she has nothing to fear from you. You can take whatever she throws out you without losing control or threatening to leave her. You can let her know your feelings like a man, not a boy.

7. Take care of business.
Being the rock is not just something we should do when a woman is venting to us; you should be working to solidify your partner’s confidence in you every day. I often find it much easier to rise to the occasion when a big crisis hits than when following through on the mundane, everyday tasks that your wife expects of you. But a woman wants to know she can count on you in the big things and the small things. It’s by doing the little things that she knows she can trust you when the big things come around.

Taking care of business means doing all the things that help inspire confidence in your partner. Being ambitious at work, keeping a budget, staying on top of appointments, and “honey-do’s,” staying physically healthy, and so on. It means being reliable; if you say you will do it, you do it. You can always be counted on to follow-through.