Work out your sh*t like you work out your body and watch unemployment, divorce and suicide rates plummet.
I’m not sure I can count high enough to tell you just how many men I have heard say that therapy, mental health diagnoses, and the over-prescribing of psychiatric medications are what is really wrong with masculinity and society in general today. “All anyone needs is a healthy diet, sunshine, and a good, long run,” they say. In the back of my mind’s eye I sometimes envision them pounding their chests and pulling a banana down from a tree as they speak, but I digress.
Not only are these men mistaken, they are promoting a concept that is continually contributing to men’s devastation via divorce, loss of employment, and even suicide.
I recently had lunch with a financial professional who wanted to discuss how his services could benefit my clients and vice versa. The majority of his are high achieving men, many of whom he has seen “blind-sided” by sudden requests to divorce by their wives, which have left them reeling both emotionally and financially.
As I explained that women initiate divorce somewhere between 75-90% of the time, his jaw dropped. I added that not only are the wives more often the ones to ask for a divorce, they usually do so only after at least 1-2 years of serious consideration and research. The questions that followed were why this is so, how a can man know if his wife is already thinking it over, and what, if anything, he can do to turn things around if she is.
My answers all come down to one basic suggestion. Seek therapy.
The misconception of divorce that irks me most is the urban legend that people give up on marriage too easily. This is just not true. The individuals and couples I meet with have typically put valiant effort into making their marriages work, more often making that effort for longer than was healthy than the other way around.
What has invariably failed in these efforts is that one spouse, more often than not the husband, has refused to the other spouse’s repeated requests that either they both go to couple’s counseling, they both go to individual therapy or all of the above.
I find myself saddened by the stories of men who recognized too late they have behaved in ways they have no awareness of to due to previously undiagnosed mental health issues, and by the stories of their wives who recognize that something is terribly “off” and have begged their husbands to seek help only to have their pleas not only denied, but used against them in angry outbursts of frustration.
The common denominator is that these men grew up with damaging misconceptions about mental health and mental health treatments. They may assert any of the following clichéd phrases when we speak:
- Therapy is for the weak.
- Psychiatrists and the pharmacology companies are just running a racket.
- Psychiatric meds are the same as any other drug.
- ADD and ADHD are terms made up to squelch the natural playfulness and curiosity of boys.
- Depression is a lazy man’s excuse.
- If we need therapy, we should just end it anyway.
The most extreme circumstance I personally encountered of this kind was a divorce mediation in which the husband had been a high-powered senior executive in the entertainment industry. He had been laid off a few years prior and was struggling to make his way back into the game.
This man had tremendous energy, drive and creativity. He could stay up for nights inventing, crafting and creating, then drive himself for months through the process of selling his concepts to others until he crashed.
Sometimes he was charming, engaging and fun to spend time chatting with. Alternately, he could be downright nasty, lashing out suddenly, then slamming to a halt with sincere apologies for his outbursts.
I am not a psychiatrist and in no way qualified to make a diagnosis, but over the course of just a week of dealing with him I could easily have checked off all of the boxes for indicators of bipolar disorder.
His wife tried often over the years to convince him that they needed couples therapy, to no avail. I checked in with him several times regarding his interest in a referral to a psychiatrist. He thanked me for the offer but had neither time nor money to spend on such an indulgence.
In the meantime, he kept spinning his wheels in a fruitless search for work combined with an impulsive inability to stop spending the way he did when he was earning millions of dollars each year.
We had all of the details but one worked out in their divorce settlement when I received word that he had killed himself.
As I listened to the many eulogizers representing different points in his life during his memorial service, I learned that his father was institutionalized and his brother had also committed suicide several years prior. I heard stories about his fantastic imagination and night after sleepless night of creative output spanning from his childhood through college and beyond.
Why had no one helped the men in this family see that there are options for help? I wish someone could have shaken them and explained that there is help available through which you can absolutely harness that fire and brilliance without later plummeting into burnout, mind-numbing depression and self-loathing.
A local psychiatrist once said to me in passing that she thinks there is not a single person in the world who couldn’t benefit from some form of therapy. Not necessarily once a week or even once a month, but a check in from time to time with an unbiased expert with whom you can self-reflect in order to both maximize the good in your life and find distinctions through which you can redirect what isn’t working.
Not everyone would meet the classifications of a mental health diagnosis while those who would, could find access to the care they need as early as possible. We know that early intervention is the key predicting factor in the long-term well-being of a child with special needs. An early intervention model would hold true for any potentially devastating life issue: mental health, loss of employment, and divorce in particular.
If you are a man who has been resistant to seeking therapy at the request of a loved one, I urge you to reconsider your perspective on what therapy “means.” You are unlikely to look down on a man who works out regularly.
Therapy is a workout for your mind, your marriage, and your soul. No one is saying you are crazy. No one is saying you are to blame. In fact, if someone is urging you to therapy so that you can “see” that she is right and everything is your fault, a good therapist can help you understand why you are allowing yourself to tolerate such treatment.
Therapy is a science experiment. It is invention. It is the ultimate Ultimate Fighting Championship that exists. There is no worthier challenger than yourself.
What could be more masculine and attractive to a potential love interest or employer than a man who is willing to stand up to and for himself?
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