I love men. I love working with men in therapy because they tend to be really receptive and engaged. They take in new ideas and - if the ideas seem reasonable, they integrate them. And then, they're so relieved to learn that their struggles make sense to someone! There's a lot of uncharted interior territory for these guys and they tend to readily express their appreciation for the guidance and perspective they receive in therapy.
So many of these guys have significant trouble with their primary relationships. They often seem clueless and hopeless, as though they are the victim of their wives'/partners' disappointment and disapproval. They take the defensive positions of either anger or of shutting down - of seeking distance and quiet, just hoping for a reprieve or for some relief. These guys are fundamentally kind, and plenty smart, and they really do want to feel connected with their partners, but they're often resigned to a crummy status quo, lacking the confidence or clarity to change things. They feel devalued. They know their partners are disappointed, and it's crushing. And they feel stuck.
Why is this so common?
Men are taught very little about intimacy in our culture. Intimacy is the fabric of meaningful relationships and it requires honesty, receptivity, empathy, self-awareness and vulnerability. These qualities have been deemed to be feminine, and therefore undesirable. For men in patriarchal cultures, being feminine equals being unsafe, being targeted, left out, and sometimes physically injured. Traditional masculinity abhors vulnerability and all its emotional cousins, discounting those feminine qualities as weak and contemptible. The men I know have all been victims of patriarchal abuse, handed down between males, beginning in their relationships with fathers who were forbidden to feel, and reverberating out onto the playground where boys could never be "sissies"or God forbid, gay. Emotions and the language of intimacy get bottled up and shoved way back on the shelf, so that boys and young men can survive in an unforgiving, brutal environment. Then, in adulthood, those males pair up with someone special and get married and all of a sudden the qualities that were bottled and shelved are critically necessary for bonding and building trust. All the aliveness that could infuse a soulful, evolving sexual connection gets choked back by the same bottling mechanisms and keep men's eroticism bound up in lonely, unmet ways. When one has little access to vulnerability and cannot find words to speak the language of seeing, sensing and feeling, huge holes appear in the connective fabric between partners.
Men are forced to exile their vulnerability. The intensity of human feelings become shameful and get pushed out of awareness. While it's the norm, contempt for vulnerability is not healthy and it doesn't work in close relationships. All of these individual men who are struggling relationally are victims who really had no choice in the matter. They exiled vulnerability to survive.
The good news is, men are inspired by their partners and their children to grow and to reconnect with their hearts. Partnership and fatherhood create relational tension like nothing else, and guys are motivated to dig into their own unfinished business and unmet needs, to do the hard work of learning about intimacy. Feeling disconnected, feeling like a disappointment, feeling angry and misunderstood by the people who matter most pushes many men into therapy, where they can find welcoming, understanding and support. In therapy we start pulling the bottled up feelings off the shelf, taking off tight lids and spilling out the contents so that all those innocent, super-charged emotions can finally be seen, understood, organized and invited back in energetically. When men reconnect with their vulnerability, they reconnect with vitality and with life itself. When men know their emotional selves, families thrive and patriarchy is no longer perpetuated.
I love working with men. When men heal, the world heals. At Family Tree Wellness, we are offering a new 2 day workshop just for men - an opportunity to dig into this intimacy material in a powerful and productive way, opening up wondrous possibilities with new insights and skills. It's called Communication Compass for Men: New Tools for Better Relationships. Please send all the guys.
Written by Jessica Sorci, LMFT, PMH-C