November 22, 2011

Men—Stop Going to Women for All of your Emotional Support. ~ Owen Marcus

Let’s get honest: who do you go to for emotional support? If you go to anyone at all, there’s a good chance it’s your partner (assuming you have one).

Your partner should be your best supporter…but should she be your only one?

How often do your reveal personal issues to others, or ask for emotional help from others?

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be vulnerable with a man?

A man’s struggle

Many years ago I had a client, “Henry,” who had a great marriage and job. So much of his life was going well, but what wasn’t going well was getting to him. Henry began feeling mildly depressed. His desire to do things waned, his sex drive was almost non-existent, and his social life was nil. Henry would come home from work…and veg out, watching TV.

At first, his wife, Sally, just let him be. After a couple of months of Henry’s hibernation, she began asking if there was anything wrong. The usually-talkative Henry would say, “No, I’m just tired.” Sally bought that for a while, until she started seeing other symptoms. Their good sex was not happening, their walks where they would just talk weren’t happening, and their cuddling in bed was perfunctory.

After a few month of “giving him his space,” then a few more of gently asking what was up, Sally started asking for specific things—little things, like taking out the garbage. Even these little things felt like a burden for Henry. Sally started getting mad. Six months ago she had a partner; now she had a lazy teenager for a husband.

One Saturday night after a boring day of doing nothing, Sally mentioned the T word: therapy. That got a response from Henry. He emphatically said no: “I don’t need someone telling me I’m screwed up. I’m just tired from work.”

The discussion evolved into an argument over Henry’s behavior, or lack of behavior. Sally insisted he get off his ass and do something.

Digging yourself out

This is when Henry began seeing me. If I’d had a men’s group at the time, I would have sent him to it.

Henry began describing how he was tired all the time, and as he spoke, he drew a picture of a man who had done all he wanted to do. He had the perfect family, job and life…but it wasn’t enough.

Henry probably said more to me in an hour than he had said to Sally in months.

His best confidant was now a nag. It made him feel bad that he felt that way toward Sally—and he couldn’t tell her that, which put him in a double bind. He wanted to keep communicating, but doing so meant hurting Sally, so Henry continued to keep his mouth shut.

The more he revealed to me, the lighter Henry became. His color returned. He even cracked a small joke about being a punk toward Sally.

Henry continued to open up with me, which I leveraged as a way to reopen his communication with Sally. To do that I explained to Henry that his “depression” was the grief of ending a part of his life, and all his wins set him up to be a new man.

In the past, Henry learned to rely on women to be the midwives for his transitions. As with all of us, at first it was his mother. It began with birthing him into this world. Then it was comforting him through all his mishaps. Next it was his girlfriends telling him he could do that thing he needed to do. For years it was Sally at his side, whispering in his ear that she was proud of him for being such a good husband and father.

Now that Henry was looking at reinventing himself—which might have meant changing jobs, moving, and who knows what else–how could he confide in Sally? His changes could mean less income, the stress of a move and a future she didn’t sign up for.

Henry learned to treat women well, to give them what they need. Making such a change would mean being selfish. Such a change didn’t fit his job description of being the provider and protector. He couldn’t do that. He was trapped—and his best friend was his biggest hurdle.

I assured Henry that what he was going through is common for men. His first purpose and how it manifested was complete. Now a new one was attempting to be born. Men live for their purpose. As magnificent as women are, because they aren’t men they may not fully appreciate the importance of a man’s purpose. Because most of our upbringing was done by women, many men don’t understand the importance of purpose. I didn’t until it hit me over the head.

Immediately, Henry saw that his new purpose had no room to play out in his current life, and that was causing him to retreat from life. Avoidance and denial are powerful coping mechanisms. As we spoke, Henry began to express what he wanted. Our emotional state as men is integrally tied to how we are expressing our purpose and our wants. For a woman to be vibrant she needs to be expressing her emotions. That is partly true for us. But we also need to express those qualities that make us a man – the need to create from his purpose.

The power of men.

Having a male witness helped Henry to begin to get his juice back. He found his voice, his passion and his sense of where his new purpose was taking him. Henry’s courageous step to ask a man for help ignited his passion. From there not only was it easy, it became fun.

Sometimes, we may feel like it is a betrayal to step outside our primary relationship to get support. It certainly is scary to open up to a man or a group of men when you never have. Your head is saying, “I don’t need this. I can do it myself. What do those guys know that I don’t know?

I don’t trust them – if I open up they will screw me over.” All that might be true, although in more than 30 years, I have never seen it.

If we are to live a long life, let alone a happy one, we need to step beyond solely expressing to women.

I laughed when Henry told me that, after a few sessions, Sally was a different woman. As much as her unhappiness was a reflection of Henry’s melancholy, Sally’s transformation reflected Henry getting off his ass to be a man with passion and action. Sally was free once again to be a woman. She didn’t need to be the man of the house directing everything.

Being your own man

Henry started to see other benefits from opening up with a man. He was less competitive towards other men. His self-respect returned. Even though he hadn’t figured out what he would do, he knew he could figure it out. In fact, as he shared what he learned about himself and what he needed to do, his relationship with Sally went to places it had never gone before. Their emotional intimacy reached a depth neither of them had ever thought possible.

Give your woman a break… and start getting more real with men. Not all men are ready for it, but I guarantee you can find some who are. Also start interacting with your sons as men. Start modeling the imperfections of being a man on a path to being more his own man. As boys we never got to see men work at being men. I know I always thought one day I would wake up a man. When that day didn’t happen, I assumed something was wrong with me.

When you open up to other men, you are honoring them as men. Plus you are giving them a gift as you challenge them to do the same. As men we like to compete, so why not compete at expressing ourselves as men?

Who are the men you connect with?


Owen Marcus, a former Mindfulness Stress Reduction instructor, blogs about men being Remarkable at www.owenmarcus.com. He is also co-founder of Men Corps a nonprofit designed to teach men how to lead their own men’s groups.

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