I get to hear a lot of stories about men and marriage counseling—most not very good.
This is because a lot men of kind of suck at the counseling process.
They are way too passive and simply follow the lead of the counselor and their wife. They actually believe that the best solution is to passively become a cog in the wheel of a “healing process” created by someone else.
They simply “show up” with no agenda other than to cooperate and not make anyone madder than they already are. But, here’s the truth:
Nothing destroys your masculine confidence and optimism more than when you leave your leadership role to someone else.
That’s exactly what Brian was doing for months, until last week. He was mad at himself for how he had been showing up.
Brian decided it was time for a change. It was time to take the lead – no matter what happened next.
When men contact me looking for help it’s usually right around this time.
They’re done with wishy-washy. No more walking on eggshells.
It’s time to go big or go home.
It Was Time for Real Feelings and Real Truth.
Brian told me he was sick and tired of the “wheel spinning” going on in his counseling sessions. The exercises started out interesting, but he and his wife, Marcy, always ended up back in the same spot.
They were given tools to use at home that involved proactive efforts at appreciation and listening. They tried keeping a schedule of times meant for emotional connection and sharing their feelings. And Brian was getting really good a using “I feel…” statements to diffuse any unintended feelings of blame.
But to Brian it all felt mechanized and contrived. His efforts to connect felt devoid of real feelings and real truth. It wasn’t authentic. And he was just now becoming clear that authenticity is what mattered most to him. It was the one thing he was starved for in his 15-year marriage.
He was ready to open up the flood gates even if she wasn’t. He was going to lead the way even if she wouldn’t follow him.
I asked him to tell me what he would say if he could be 100% authentic.
What would be his most raw and vulnerable thoughts?
What would he yell from the rooftops if he could bust through his fears and the constraints of the counseling process he felt were tying his tongue?
He started slowly. Then, with a little help he gained some serious momentum.
Brian Speaks His Bold Truth for the First Time.
Brian told me, “I don’t know, exactly. I’ve been on my heels so long trying to figure her out and make her happy, I’m not used to saying what I think and what I want. I’m getting a whole lot clearer now, but I’m afraid to say it. I’m afraid to tell her my expectations for the kind of loving, respectful, supportive, intimate and passionate marriage I really want – for both of us!”
I wanted to clarify his fears and asked, “So, you’re afraid to admit you desire love, respect, support, intimacy and passion?”
He said, “Yes!”
I clarified again, “And you’re afraid to say this in front of the only human being currently in your life who is qualified to share that with you?”
“I know. But what if she leaves me? Sounds stupid, right?” he replied.
“Pretty much.” I confirmed. “You’re afraid she’ll leave you because you want a normal, healthy marriage with her. Makes no sense.”
“You’re afraid to ask for what you want because she may react badly to it. But, from my experience with men, one of the leading causes of divorce is their FEAR of divorce. It makes you play small. It keeps you from taking the lead and saying what you want to say and being who you want to be. It happened to me too. I get it.”
Then he really got fired up.
“Well, dammit, I’m not scared anymore. I want to tell Marcy that I’ve loved her since day I saw her. I should tell her that I’ve always been in love with her beautiful face, her fiery mind and bossy-pants attitude. I’m in love with all of that at this moment, but I’ve allowed her to push me back into being a man I never wanted to be.
Somehow I’ve lost the confident guy she fell in love with. But, I’m finding him again. I’m going to tell Marcy I’m not perfect and never will be. But I’m working on being better every day. And I’m starting with grabbing my balls back! She won’t intimidate me anymore because I respect myself too much. I want her badly but I don’t need her to have the life I want.
And I know I have to respect her feelings. Marcy can’t make herself want to be with me. All I can do is tell her what she can expect if she makes that choice. I will learn from my mistakes – but I will not dwell on them. We both need to let go of past hurts in order to move forward with more love.
One thing is not negotiable for me. I will be with a woman who wants to make the choice every day to co-create love, respect, trust, support, intimacy and passion.
I want that with Marcy so much – it’s always been her. And I want all that for her as well. If she makes it clear she doesn’t want that with me, I love her enough to let her go find it somewhere else. She shouldn’t fear what other people think. I will defend her choice and not blame her for the pain we’ve both endured. It doesn’t make either of us a bad person and I will defend her right to have the life she wants.”
I asked Brian, “What’s one good reason you won’t say it just like that next week at counseling?”
He paused and said, “There is none.”
Later Next Week
Brian sent me an email after his counseling session was over to let me know how things went.
His message was brief.
“Hey. It was awesome. I felt so clear. I was just me – the way I want to be. I was on the edge of the couch and more engaged than ever before. When the time was right I just spit it out. It was authentic. I felt strong. For the first time ever the counselor was speechless. He looked kind of shocked. He looked at Marcy and she just stared at me – no words. I actually felt bad for her and just wanted to hug her. We’re home now. All she has said since counseling, “Wow. Where has that guy been for the last ten years.” I know what she means and it sucks. But I’m okay and plan to stay strong. I have no regrets for what I said. I guess we’ll find out how this all turns out before long. I love this woman. Thanks.”
I try to help men understand one important thing about their relationship:
There is no such thing as “saving” it. You can only create new stuff from this point forward.
You can only speak your truth. Be crystal clear about what you want and what you expect of yourself.
You can only hold yourself accountable to the mindset and the non-negotiable values that will drive you as a man each day. Show up like this every day – everywhere – even in counseling sessions.
It is this guy who gets to create the life and relationships he wants.
It is only this guy who stands a chance of reinventing his marriage.
All you can do is invite others to join you on your journey and lose all attachment to their choices. You do this by learning stuff nobody ever told you about the power of masculine confidence, clarity and optimism!
You will be good either way. That’s the whole point. When you do this work you discover that your happiness is guaranteed no matter what other people choose to do with their lives.
Will there be sadness? Yes. Lots of it. There will be lots of joy too.
Both are needed to keep your journey authentic, assuming that’s what you want.
P.S. This story was created from a multitude of true client conversations and experiences. The names are fictitious and dialogue is only slightly modified. And, yes, the message applies much the same way if Brian’s wife did this.
Earth, Water, Sky: YESSSSSSSS!!!! 3 Men, 3 Adventures, 3 Stories. Now on The Good Men Project
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