Statistics show more and more divorces are being initiated by wives instead of husbands. This is a new but growing trend. “Today Americans want not only a spouse who is reliable and reasonable, but also someone who is their best friend, and a great lover, and someone who pays the bills … but is also really fun,” said Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld in an article in the Washington Post.1
According to research that Rosenfeld presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, women’s heightened expectations can leave them feeling worse off in marriage than men. In a survey of 2,262 adults in heterosexual partnerships over the course of five years, Rosenfeld found that 69% of divorces are initiated by women. On the whole, women also reported less satisfaction with their marriages than men. The reasons vary, but a common thread is wives being unhappy with their husbands’ refusal to change.
As Executive Director of a non-profit called Men in BalanceTM, I have seen first-hand the wrecked relationships and damaged trust men are finding in their marriages and their lives. This is caused in many cases by hanging onto old ideas about manhood, marriage, and their role in a marriage or an intimate relationship. Counselors tell me that many times, wives have tried to drag husbands into therapy before eventually issuing an ultimatum: Change or the marriage is over.
These women feel their men “just don’t get it.” They can’t understand why men won’t allow themselves to be more fully human, to show heartfelt empathy, and, yes, vulnerability. They are no longer content to have someone who provides a good living and a comfortable lifestyle. They want connection–deep and soulful relating–and they believe they are entitled to it. It makes no sense to them that their man is singularly focused on career and accumulation of toys and trinkets at the expense of a rewarding family life and a true and equal partnership. (To be fair, there are a lot of men who DO get it, who have natures more compatible with what women are seeking. Some of them got that awareness after failing at one or more marriages.)
As for men, they may feel they are in an impossible Catch 22. They feel pressured to support an increasingly more costly standard of living (which they see as their main job description) but feel they are expected to do so without taking additional time from the family.
This book is about our relationships as men, the lessons we can learn, and how our partners can help us to become more human and relate more deeply. I believe you will find my observations and recommendations intriguing, whether you are the male or female in an intimate relationship. I hope to offer practical, hands-on ideas and soul-searching questions intended to bring about enduring improvements in relationships–and indeed, in the lives of men and their partners generally.
In a decade of working with men of all ages in small groups, dozens of personal coaching/counseling sessions, interviews, and years of coaching executives, I have learned there are lots of men who see themselves as clueless about relationships, especially intimate relationships. While they would “take a bullet” to protect their partner or loved one, they seem mystified about what else to do to maintain and grow the relationship–and equally in the dark about how or where to learn that.
How did this happen?
It’s not all their fault. As men, we are conditioned (even rewarded) for placing minimal emphasis on relationships. But what’s interesting is how women become unwitting accomplices–frequently giving us a free pass when we get it wrong, while at the same time demanding more substantive connection with us. A second Catch 22.
The cost to men for this “relationship clumsiness” is staggering, ranging from broken marriages and damaged children to derailed careers and unsuccessful business partnerships. I believe fixing this problem must be a joint enterprise between men and their partners.
This book is not just for men. If you are a woman, I hope you will use this book as an opportunity to empathically and lovingly nudge your man toward growth and personal development (vs. criticizing him). Each section ends with specific suggested actions for men and women.
Will Men Change?
While there are many men who are happy with their lives and for whom things are going well, there are many others who have real issues in their lives and don’t know how to fix them. Here are some of the symptoms of unhappiness I hear mentioned often by men:
- Loss of zest for life–life is not turning out as he had envisioned it.
- Career disillusionment–realizing he likely will not be the CEO nor will he become a millionaire.
- A sense of isolation and spiritual emptiness, even though he may be attending worship services.
- In some cases, he may have become addicted to pornography, womanizing, alcohol, or drugs.
- Relationships are suffering. Because of the number of demands on his life, he has not paid attention to relationships and some are in poor repair.
- Work is crowding out most other things. While men pride themselves on their career, in many cases demands of work leave little room for other interests or personal growth.
- Demands of daily life can seem overwhelming and continuing to mount up. Feeling as though he is on a treadmill, he is chasing an ever-higher standard of living for his family. But the cruel irony is that the work required to provide it takes him away from his family even more.
- His marriage is less satisfying, or he perceives that it is. He does not know how to fix it. And sex has become routine, boring, nonexistent, or illicit.
- There’s a sense of fatalism. He doesn’t see things getting better any time soon.
I have a lot of empathy for men and the pressures they feel. In session after session of our small group discussions, I feel I have heard it all.
Here are some of the main topics a man might bring up in these sessions:
- History of a bad relationship with his father
- Marriage difficulties that seem intractable, hard for him to understand
- Children who don’t appreciate the standard of living being provided them
- A partner who doesn’t understand the pressures he is feeling
- A wife who is critical instead of supportive of his efforts, especially in his career
- An inability to successfully manage conflict or a tendency to avoid conflict altogether
- Lack of close male friends with whom he can be open and honest
- A wife who asks him to be open but who cannot handle the honesty of his feelings, or so he feels
- A sense of not having the tools necessary to navigate the requirements of marriage and relationships
While some of these problems may seem to be of men’s own making, they are nonetheless real. For example, a man may neglect relationships, then suddenly realize he has no close friends to confide in. Or he may avoid talking with his partner about how he truly feels, then wonder why she is not more sensitive to the pressures he is feeling.
There is some logic to how this happens, though it may be of little comfort to a man who has just hit a “speed bump” in his life, leaving him feeling very shaken up.
Here are some of the contributors to the suffering men feel:
- Men are typically not conditioned to nurture, so many of them do not maintain relationships well. They may feel relationship work “should not be so hard.”
- Men are told by the culture that advancement in their career is supremely important, but if they focus too much on it, they get pushback at home.
- Many men identify with their career so totally that if they lose their job, they “lose” their identity, or so they think.
- Many men see themselves as less proficient in expressing themselves verbally, so they feel unable to hold their own with their partner in a sensitive or difficult conversation
- Because of their clumsiness or difficulty in expressing their feelings, many may feel they are not measuring up to their partner’s expectations (and are told so)
- If they have unresolved issues with their fathers, they may feel insecure as men. But since it is not acceptable to show their insecurity, they mask it with false bravado or exterior toughness, alcohol, womanizing, or other bad habits.
Surprise! Men Want to Talk!
When I began working with men’s groups, I was warned repeatedly that men will not talk in a group setting. They will not let themselves open up. They will not allow themselves to be vulnerable–especially with other men they may not know.
To my pleasant surprise, they DO want to talk! In all the sessions I have led, I have never experienced the uncomfortable silence of un-engaged men. Once they agree to confidentiality and learn other men are facing similar issues, they are all too ready to talk. It’s as if they’ve been waiting for the right environment. And while the groups do not typically give advice, they do push each other to own up to their role in the difficulties they are facing.
Men do it differently
Some interesting things I have noticed about how men deal with each other that is different from women:
- Men seem to interrupt each other less often and don’t finish each other’s sentences as frequently. This may sometimes be unwillingness to confront.
- Men talk in shorthand. They may open with a cryptic statement, then elaborate, perhaps clumsily, as the words come to them. Additionally, they speak in slogan-like/cliché phrases using words sparsely.
- There’s a heavy dose of logic in their talk, usually edging out much of the emotional content.
- Colorful detail and tangents are rare. Barebones narratives may be hard to follow, in fact. The details do come later as the picture unfolds.
- Emotions other than anger may be missing (men’s anger is typically approved in our culture; other emotions less so).
- Men need a reason why something is happening–logic. The assumption is that once you know the reason something is happening, you can fix it. Men want results.
- Comments to others in a group can seem pretty “bare knuckles direct” at times, even brash. Respect may be there, but there may be little attempt to moderate the tone.
- They are reluctant to offer unsolicited advice, referring to “other men they have known” as examples to learn from instead of saying, “Here’s what I think you should do.”
So what does all this mean?
- Contrary to what wives/partners may feel, men will open up and share their frustrations and concerns. They do it differently to be sure. But if the environment is safe, they will talk.
- Men are very concerned about their relationships and the communication that surrounds them, but may feel incapable of talking straightforwardly with women about their feelings.
- The lack of success in having this kind of open conversation cripples close relationships and likely deprives men of connection with others (and themselves), producing an emotional and spiritual vacuum leading to more of the same.
My hope is that this book will
- help men find their spiritual bearings, openly dealing with issues in their own relationships
- offer hope for more robust and vibrant relationships with partners, families, and other men
- offer men a variation of the male model they may have embraced since childhood
Together, we will look at the societal factors which have contributed to the status quo. We will examine options to becoming “career addicts.” We will dig deeper into the key ingredients which “make a man a man” or at least have traditionally defined men. And finally, we will attempt to re-map men’s perception of themselves, allowing more acceptance of what it can mean to be a fully functioning man.
The 10 Lessons
The book is designed around 10 lessons which will help men be more fully human, more sensitive to the needs of their partners and other loved ones, and more willing to engage fully with these loved ones. It is also important to note the full title which includes the phrase “…..and how our partners can help,” because women have a lot to gain from this book by working with and encouraging their man. I suggest you read this as a couple, discussing the concepts as you go, making this a mutual effort.
We will talk about important issues affecting men negatively including our own narrow view of masculinity, which constricts our engagement with others. We will explore our obsession with competition and independence and the accompanying costs to relationships. Of course, the costs of out-of-balance focus on career are covered as well.
As you might surmise, there is also a very real spiritual element to this, but you need not focus on your spiritual side to profit from this book. The ways spirituality might factor into the equation will be noted as we move along.
I welcome your feedback about the concepts in this book. You need not agree with my observations. My hope is that these ideas will stimulate further discussion in your marriage or close relationship as well as groups you participate in. Copies are available for group study.
I want to hear about your experiences. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.