“My wish for men is for them to pursue actively being
We are losing the involvement and self-development race to women.
Recent statistics show for the first time in history that more women than men are graduating from college.1 And while they are in college, women are getting higher grades than men. And as for the “glass ceiling,” women are getting promotions in corporations at a pace that outclasses men. Add to that the fact that more women than men are signing up for lifelong learning classes, exercise programs, volunteer work, church leadership roles (including pastor) and you can see that there is a substantial feminine influence taking place in our society. This is not a bad thing. For example, corporation boards are learning that the feminine input may avert decisions made on the basis of ego or thoughtless aggressiveness or insensitivity.2 There is even research that suggests that female-dominated societies are more likely to thrive.
Churches have begun acknowledging that most of the volunteers and lay people are women and have geared services, even decor, to a more feminine appeal. This has been noted by David Murrow. In his book Why Men Hate Going to Church, he specifically considers ways in which men might be re-engaged in church life: through giving men opportunities to discover and better use their gifts; letting men play a role in pastoral care; giving men big projects that capture their imaginations; and giving men adventure and risk in those projects.3
Who is involved?
Men in some areas seem to have faded into the background. I see a tendency toward less participation generally by men in family decision-making and sometimes less involvement in social issues at large (i.e. politics, civic affairs). I’m at a loss to explain this, and it is just my observation, but it seems to me that men are less often demonstrating curiosity about learning about their environment and are less often bothering to explore areas of self-development (based on what I hear in sessions with them). Most of the political meetings or change-oriented efforts I have attended recently are dominated by women. Why is that? (Do your own research on this: Next time you are at a school or political or neighborhood meeting, count the number of men vs. women.)
None of this is to diminish the amazing contributions men make in the workplace and society every day. But using indicators that are measurable such as college registrations, academic achievement, volunteer involvement and others, men seem to be falling behind women more often than not.
As men, we definitely lead women in stress and heart disease, although they are catching up. (That’s not an area in which we particularly want to excel.) We have long known that men don’t take care of their health as they should. Even excluding pregnancy-related doctor visits, women were 33% more likely than men to visit a doctor, although the difference decreases with age. These statistics were compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The study also found that the rate of doctor visits for such reasons as annual examinations and preventive services was 100 percent higher for women than for men.4
What gets our attention?
In the conversations I have with men, I hear a frustration with expectations surrounding their new role and a confusion about what is expected. It appears that in the absence of a clearer direction, many men have defaulted to hanging back, waiting for further instructions from headquarters–wherever that is. It troubles me that this may lead to an atrophy of some of the skills and talents men are most known for and which can contribute most to families and society. For example, if men are deferring more to their spouses on household matters and family decisions, there will be some repercussions from that, one being that our input may ultimately be seen as unnecessary.
I think part of the reason we hang back is our reluctance to enter into conversations that might result in conflict, but some of it may also be due to the disorientation men are feeling about their role in today’s marriage and family life. We seem to be unsure when to speak up and when to challenge, especially where our partners are involved.
By contrast, we have not given up our attention to work and career. We continue to pursue vocation vigorously and statistics bear that out. But as for self-development, I have concerns that we are not doing our best. Some examples:
- Men are much less likely to go to counseling, believing that they should be able to “fix” their problems themselves. When they do go, it is typically the female partner’s suggestion.
- By deferring to their wives more frequently, many men seem to be giving up their proxy on key family decisions and goals. So, as a result, the wife is becoming the key decision maker in the family and the spiritual leader as well, where that exists. This might be all right if we are OK with her decisions, but if we are doing this just to keep peace in the family and steer clear of conflict, that can’t be good. Typically, that will build accumulated resentment, which will surface eventually.
My wish for men is that they actively pursue being all that they can be in their personal and spiritual lives. Signing up for courses, pursuing volunteer opportunities, developing new close relationships, seeking opportunities to help – – these are things known to make us less one-dimensional, make us more complete, and give us a greater satisfaction in life. If we choose to sit on the sidelines and let events take their course without our input, we do this at our own peril. Co-incidentally, I find a sizeable number of men dread retirement because they have failed to develop other abiding interests outside of career.
Can you fix this?
Men love to “fix things.” But today’s problems, especially relationship problems, don’t lend themselves to an owner’s manual fix-it approach. They involve much more nuanced communication skills and interpersonal agility to navigate unfamiliar terrain. They demand a
committed, “all-in” attitude. Men need to excel at these behaviors. I believe if men are not seriously willing to pay attention to and learn these new required skills, they will be more and more unhappy in their marriages and perhaps see their roles as family leaders diminished.
As we have noted elsewhere, your relationships will never be at their best unless you have dealt with your own issues, some of which you have carried around since childhood. We must engage and stay engaged with our wife and family and make serious efforts to overcome whatever barriers or deficiencies inhibit our total involvement. We need to be energetically participating and make it clear that we are on board. This is going to mean still more time demands as we try to crowd new personal explorations into our schedules. But, like failing to exercise, ignoring this important need in ourselves can only lead to trouble. An example: Spending an hour a week proactively offering to help someone, or reading a self-help book, taking an online or physical course can produce rewards without overcrowding the schedule. The psychological reward of developing ourselves can trump any excuses we make. (See the Chapter How Our Preoccupation with Toys Keeps Us from Connecting)
What’s on your To Do List?
So maybe it is time to create a different kind of To Do List. This one is purely about self-development and should include whatever things you have always wanted to do but did not pursue for lack of time or energy. Taking that yoga or cooking class. Signing up to tutor kids. Learning photography or how to play a guitar. Committing to chair a church committee. Reading a self-help book. Paying attention to your spiritual self. In short, expanding your horizons beyond your current work and family obligations. In the process, you will find yourself becoming less one-dimensional and a lot more interesting and exciting to your partner. That seems like a pretty good payoff.
How counseling can help
Counseling comes in many forms: It can be a suggestion from a friend, a conversation with a pastor, or long-term therapy. My experience is that men tend to avoid going to counseling, which is like putting off that knocking noise in your car’s engine until it fails. It’s like they are feeling “if I don’t think about it, maybe it will go away.” It won’t. To ease your fears a little, counseling does not have to be a “bare-all, spill your guts” kind of event. Just as you don’t need a complete physical from your doctor when you’re experiencing a rash, a counseling session can be minimally invasive to your psyche and tailored to your stated need. You might think of it as a personal inner journey to learn about yourself. The purpose can be simply to explore alternatives or brainstorm new options to what you are now doing, which likely isn’t working. I strongly encourage you to schedule a session alone or with your wife to get help solving problems. You might start with a visit to your pastor or just doing some research. See page 203 for options.
Define the problem as best you can
Counselor Philip Loydpierson encourages men to go to a counseling session with a clear objective, even if the idea of going wasn’t his. Examples might be:
- Improve communication with my children
- Overcoming or managing anger
- Solving a specific problem with my partner
- Become less defensive
- Resolve a marital standoff
“Getting my wife to read my mind and give me what I want” is not a
valid topic. Ask around for the names of some good counselors or go to goodtherapy.com for suggestions. Interview them by phone before you decide. If the one you choose doesn’t seem to be compatible, try another.
One more thing: I’m convinced that many relationships and marriages end needlessly and that skilled counseling could have prevented the breakup. It also can re-unite couples who have gone separate ways. Even if there are NO known problems at the moment, counseling can help you set a vision for the relationship that will serve you well in terms of ongoing maintenance. Schedule a psychological checkup just like you do your physical checkup.
I think some people avoid counseling because they worry it may bring up some divisive issues or make matters worse. Think about this: Would you like to know that your relationship can withstand the tension and discomfort of solving a thorny problem? The only way to know is to plow ahead and tackle it. Not doing so means you will always be uncertain. And likely carry around a lot of needless resentment as well.
This is fascinating: Dr. John Gottman set up a “Love Lab” to observe couples in ordinary conversation and interaction. He says he can tell within 5 minutes with 91% accuracy which couples will still be married in three years, just by observing how they treat each other3. That is a good argument for treating each other with love and respect at all times.
As for men and church involvement, here are a few church statistics from Why Men Hate Going to Church:
- On any given Sunday, the audience in most churches is about 60 percent female (up from 53% in the 50’s). Nationally, that’s well over 13 million men AWOL from church.
- About one-fourth of married women worship without their husbands.
- Less than 10 percent of churches are able to maintain a thriving men’s ministry.
- About 90 percent of the boys raised in church abandon it during their teens and 20s never to return.5
In a Men in BalanceTM survey of churchgoing males, only 50% say their family sees them as a strong spiritual leader.6 So, who is?
But here is some good news: When the father attends church, the chance that the entire family will attend is 93%. When a mother attends church without the father, the chances of the rest of the family attending are only about 17%. 7
This points out a lost opportunity for churches. If men are not engaging in good numbers, not only does the church lose their influence and ideas, it loses the leadership talent these men are using in their careers, not to mention the financial contribution they can make to the church mission. The fact that only 10% of churches have a viable men’s ministry is especially troubling. That means that (for all practical purposes) the male half of the congregation is not meaningfully engaged beyond attendance. When male newcomers ask for assignments in many churches, too often they are directed to the finance committee or parking attendant roles. That is a travesty. Just think what could happen if all that talent were efficiently channeled into the church mission!
I’m not just complaining about what churches are doing––I’m also making the point that men need to inject themselves into the dialogue and activities, pinpointing needs in the church community and developing solutions—a skill they have in spades! This has tremendous potential for the growth of the church but more importantly, potential for reduced problems with teens, especially boys, when both parents are actively living their values in front of their kids and discussing those values routinely.
My message to men: Your church or synagogue or mosque desperately needs you and you need it. Your spiritual life will be richer, and your family’s cohesiveness will be better. With the multitude of places of worship available in most areas, there is almost certainly one where you will find a meaningful home.
For whatever reasons, women are outpacing men in several key areas of personal development. Too many men are sitting on the sidelines and missing out on self-development options. Men can re-assert their role in the family, where needed, by learning new collaborative approaches. Developing our own skills and talents as men is rewarding and makes us happier as well as more interesting partners. It’s also good for our families. It is especially beneficial to churches to have men more involved.
The Balanced Approach
|What Are You Going To Do About Your Self Development?
List below a couple of commitments you are willing to make to further your own self development.
Developing ourselves, as men, must be an ongoing priority. Our families will benefit just as much as we do.
- If you believe that developing yourself is good for you and your marriage, what will you commit to do about it?
- What aspects of yourself and your development have you ignored? What change is needed?
- In what areas do you need to engage more at home?
- What outside interest or educational opportunity have you pursued lately or postponed?
- Do you long for the ability to talk knowledgeably about more topics instead of the few you know a lot about?
- For you, what would be the payoff of more focus on self-development?
- What dreams for yourself have you been putting off? What are two or three steps you can take in that direction?
- How might a counselor help with your growth?
- How can you become more involved in your place of worship?
Action Steps Men Can Take
- Make a list of things you have always wanted to do, but failed to initiate. Pick one to tackle.
- Start a discussion with your wife about areas for your own development. Ask her what she thinks you would be good at.
- Decide on an area where your talents can help, and sign up this week.
- Create on your smart phone a list of personal development goals with timetables.
- Read some magazines, watch some educational programs outside your normal pattern.
- Check with your place of worship about ways to serve. Make the time commitment.
- Do this for your family: Get an annual physical without fail.
- Record your commitments on the Personal Action Plan on page 194.
Action Steps Women Can Take
- Note skills or talents in your man and suggest he pursue them further. Collect information to get him started.
- Initiate a discussion about his personal dreams and goals. Gently urge action. Show support.
- Research specific opportunities in which he may be interested. Share suggestions, then stop.
- Don’t give him a free pass by making decisions without insisting on his input.
- Suggest getting involved in some meaningful volunteer efforts together.
- Remember any “dreams” he has spoken about in the past. Suggest he pursue them.
- Push for mutual spiritual growth in whatever form makes sense to you.
- If your partner already demonstrates a good model in this area, tell him directly.
Ideas for Self-Development
· Take a course on a new subject
· Volunteer at church
· Chair a committee
· Intensely study a subject of your choice
· Book travel to an unfamiliar place
· Have lunch with someone different from you
· Have an in-depth discussion with a teen about music, politics
· Mentor someone in your profession
· Find a mentor for yourself
· Mentor a teen (other than your children)
· Take/audit a course on a topic of your choice
· Set up a testing session for career, competencies
· Attend a church service of another faith
· Start a blog on a topic you are interested in
· Buy a used musical instrument and learn it
· Buy some art supplies and try to draw, paint
· Invite friends over who are from another country
· Buy a book about art or music appreciation