Aaron Anderson describes how overcoming the stereotype of the silent stoic could help men take responsibility for their relationships.
As a Marriage Counselor in Denver, CO I see a lot of couples on my couch for a lot of different reasons: affairs, frequent arguing, alcoholism that’s destroying the marriage, etc. Most of the time, it’s a lot of the same problems just with different couples. People often ask me how I can listen to people’s problems all day without going postal. The truth is, it’s not the listening to other people’s problems that’s hard. The hardest part for me is when my job gets routine.
The same as any job, when you do the same thing over and over again you get pretty bored of it. One common problem I see over and over again is so common that it’s almost mundane to me. And the worst part is, it’s usually men that have this problem. And what’s even worse is that if men could learn to overcome this problem there would be a lot more saved marriages. The problem usually goes something like this:
A: Hello, this is The Marriage and Family Clinic.
Wife: Hi, my husband and I need marriage counseling. We argue all the time and we just need to get this fixed before we put ourselves through even more years of torment. But I have sort of a special question for you, first.
A: Okay. What’s that?
Wife: Well, my husband doesn’t want to come to marriage counseling. Is there a way to still do marriage counseling if he’s not there?
When I hear this, it’s all I can do not to groan out loud. I groan because it’s so cliché’ that men are too tough to see a counselor. I also groan because it’s another man making the rest of us look bad by not taking care of problems in his relationship. And the worst part of it all is that by challenging this cliché’ a lot of men could fix the problems in their relationship before they even become problems.
“Men Don’t Like To Talk About Their Feelings” and other Stigma’s
When I was in grad school, all my text books said how each gender plays different roles in the relationship. And the text books taught that one of the gender roles women play is that of the “kin keepers”. In other words, they are the ones who assume the majority of the responsibility in nurturing relationships and keeping the family together. And this is usually because women are more ‘feelings’ oriented while men are more ‘action’ oriented.
When I would read this in my text books I was shocked. I thought this was a gross overgeneralization of an antiquated stereotype. “Sure”, I thought sarcastically “And all men do is sit around drinking beer and watching football, too. After all, I’m a man and I’m becoming a counselor to help others talk about their feelings”. But then again, I was also the only male out of the 12 other students in my program. Maybe I had some learning to do.
When I started practicing, I was amazed at how true this “gross overgeneralization” really was. The majority of phone calls I got wanting to setup an appointment seemed to be from women. I had a lot more women come alone to counseling for relationship problems than men did. And I usually got a lot more resistance from men when they finally got there. They really didn’t want to talk about their feelings and thought the solution to the problem was simple: just stop talking about it.
Fast forward five years later, and I am still seeing a lot of the same things (evidenced by the all too common phone call above). I get it, there’s a lot of stigma associated with going to see a counselor. If you see a counselor, it’s almost like you’re admitting defeat. You’re admitting you can’t handle certain problems on your own and you need outside help. And for men, this might be even more stigmatizing. After all, men are supposed to be strong and able to take on any feat without blinking. They’re also supposed to drink a lot of beer and watch a lot of football.
The worst part about men not going to counseling is that men often feel ashamed and embarrassed to go to a counselor when really, the opposite should be true. Instead of being ashamed, men who seek out marriage counseling should get a T-shirt. If they have the cahoneys to see a counselor to help fix their marriage they should have some kind of badge of honor to show it. When a veteran goes to battle and gets shot, he gets a purple heart to show everyone his courage and his willingness to stand in harm’s way for the good of the country. And when a man goes to marriage counseling, he should get a badge of honor as well. After all, he’s doing what he has to do in order to fix his relationship.
Not only should he get a badge of honor for going to counseling, but he should get another badge of honor for standing up against the cliché’ that men don’t talk about their feelings. This badge of honor would also show that he is willing to do what it takes to save his relationship. And there’s nothing more manly than a man doing what a man’s got to do in order to be a man. Even if that means talking about his feelings.
Image: Renato Ganoza/Flickr