Women want more and men wonder whether they can ever live up to their expectations. Finally, it isn’t clear to men what women really want and so men stumble along trying this and that and missing the mark over and over again. Its no wonder men are becoming angrier and more depressed. Who wants to keep failing over and over again? Women are coming together in movements like #MeToo and men…well, too many men are becoming more isolated and lonely. Both men and women long for a change.
I’ve been a therapist specializing in helping men and their families for fifty years now. I see more women who hunger for a man who cares about them, wants to please them and knows what they want. Instead, they feel frustrated. “Where are all the good men?” they ask me. “Why can’t my husband….” Then there’s a whole list of what they wish he would do or be.
What women say they want is more engagement and emotional intimacy. Instead, they get men who are tentative, unsure of themselves, trying hard to please, but always getting it wrong. Men say they want to be appreciated, honored, and respected, but instead they feel judged and criticized.
The result is that men act more like hurt puppy-dogs hungry for a pat on the head and women act more like demanding school teachers who are determined to whip their unruly children into shape.
So, what can we do?
In Twelve Step recovery programs like AA, the first step says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” We might modify this for the dilemma men feel in trying to please women and say, “We admitted we were powerless over our ability to please a woman and our lives have become unmanageable.”
Most of the men I counsel are trying to please women. They try and listen when she talks. They buy her flowers on her birthday. They apologize when they forget to buy what she asked for at the store. But the problem is they aren’t acting like men. They are acting like dutiful boys.
One of the women I counsel is married with two young daughters. She tells me often that “I feel like I have three children in the house. My husband is trying…very trying.” She rolls her eyes and continues. “I mean he is trying, trying to be a better listener, trying to tell me what he’s thinking and feeling, but its like I’ve become his mother. For a while, he’s nice and caring. Then he blows up and has a tantrum. We fight, but then he gets such a hangdog look on his face and I feel guilty.”
“Well, when you act like a critical and demanding mother, you’re likely to find that your husband acts more like a dutiful or rebellious child,” I tell her. She looks shocked at what I say. “What do you mean?” she asks me. “Basically, what you’re saying to him is ‘Shape up and be a man,’ or at least be the kind of man that I want you to be. You’re creating a double-bind for both of you. If he refuses to do what you want, he becomes a bad boy. If he does do what you want, he becomes a dutiful son, a good boy.
What’s a woman to do?
Quit trying to shape him up and treating him like an unruly child.
What’s a man to do?
Quit acting like an entitled, angry, boy and learn how to be a real man and give your woman what she really needs.
If you’ve followed me and my work, you know that I was married twice before I met my present wife. I found that trying to please a woman by being a dutiful man, just make me a depressed and angry boy and caused my first marriage to end after ten years and my second marriage to hit the rocks after two.
My wife, Carlin, and I have been together for 39 years. One of the first questions she asked me when we met was “Are you in a men’s group?” I thought it was an odd question. Most women I had dated wanted to know if I liked children, made a good living, and if I was generous and kind. Carlin wanted to know if I was in a men’s group. “Yes, I am,” I told her. “I grew up without a father and being in a men’s group is helping me understand what it really means to be a man.”
Carlin tells friends that one of the main reasons our marriage has been successful for 39 years is that I’ve been in a men’s group for 40 years. During my time in the group, I’ve learned the three things that a man must do to really please a woman:
1. Live truly.
Living truly means that I have to become my authentic self. That means I have to tune into myself and ask, “How am I feeling?” To do that I have to break out of the Man Box, those beliefs and rules I grew up with that told me, Don’t express emotions, never show weakness, be strong. Living truly means working on myself in the company of men who are working on themselves. Living truly is the first thing we must do to really please a woman and ourselves.
2. Love deeply.
Its impossible to love someone else when you feel shitty about yourself. And its hard to love yourself when you’re trying so hard to please someone else, you aren’t pleasing yourself. I used to try and make Carlin happy by fixing things. Whenever she’d express unhappiness I wanted to find a quick fix. Loving deeply starts with loving ourselves and then listening deeply to another’s pain without trying to fix her or solve the problem. Loving deeply is the second thing we must do to really please a woman and ourselves.
3. Make a difference.
There’s a lot that is going wrong in our world. Most people feel overwhelmed and powerless to make things better. But each of us must find a piece of the problem and commit our lives to fix it. When my son, Jemal, was born in 1969, I made a vow that I would be actively involved with his life and do everything I could to make a difference in the world of men. We all need to find, and step up to, our calling in life. Making a positive difference in the world is the third thing we must do to really please a woman and ourselves.
When I began to practice these three things, I’ve found that I was less angry and depressed, I felt more like the man I’ve always wanted to be, and my wife saw me as wonderful, though at times she also thinks I’m a pain-in-the-ass. I’ll be offering a program for men in 2019 where we’ll learn how to put these three commitments into practice. If you’re interested in learning more, drop me an email put “Success in 2019” in the subject line.
As always, your comments are much appreciated.
Originally published on Men Alive
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