My men’s group meets again on Wednesday. It’s hard to believe that the group has been together now for 37 years. Over that time, two men have left, two new men have been added (our newest member joined twenty years ago) and one man died. There are six of us, now, and we have developed bonds of love and connection that are like nothing else in this world. We began meeting once a week for seven or eight years. Now that we’re more spread out, we meet four times a year for a five day retreat.
My wife, Carlin, says she believes that a lot of the success of our 36 year-marriage can be traced back to the things I’ve learned during the 37 years I’ve been in the men’s group. Recently our group viewed an exciting new film by my friend and colleague Joseph Culp who wrote, produced, and acted in the film. It’s called Welcome to the Men’s Group. It’s the first, feature-length film that takes you inside the hearts and souls of men who have made a commitment to each other to become better fathers, better husbands, and better men.
I’m often asked, “What really goes on inside your men’s group?” Now I can say, watch the film. During an entertaining two hours, you will get a unique glimpse into the lives of men and what men really want and need today. Women will be particularly moved by what guys say and do when there aren’t any females around. You can help get the film shown widely by supporting the Indie-Go-Go Fundraiser, and receive some fabulous perks, including copies of my new book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still To Come. And here’s my new online course.
The film touches on many important themes. Here are the five most important things I learned during the last 37 years in my men’s group:
We’ve all been wounded.
When our men’s group first started we did an exercise in which we each shared the wounds and betrayals we had experienced as men. Most all of us had wounds from our family relationships growing up, particularly ones from our fathers. Many of our fathers were absent or distant. My own father become increasingly depressed, suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder and tried to take his own life when I was five years old. Other fathers were angry and abusive. Some had lived long lives. Other fathers had died young.
The men’s group helped us accept the fact that we were wounded and these early wounds still impacted our adult lives. Being together in the group allowed us to open up to other men who had similar experiences. As we told our stories, we all felt a freedom and lightness that we had never felt before.
We care deeply about women.
I’ve had many women tell me that they’re afraid that when men get together they make sexist jokes and put down women. That has not been my experience. More than anything we talk about how we can become better fathers, husbands, and friends. In our group there are guys who are married, guys who are single, guys who are gay, and guys who are heterosexual.
We have wives, mothers, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, and friends who we love and care about. Of course, like all humans, dealing with relationships can be a challenge. We’ve had our share of frustrations, pain, and misunderstandings as we have dealt with the women in our lives. But we have great love and respect for women and we know those feelings are reciprocated.
We reveal our secrets slowly as we learn to trust.
Some of the most difficult things we’ve talked about involve sexuality. We’ve had to confront our own homophobia and our own sexual desires. As we’ve gotten older we’ve had to confront our flagging libido, loss of erections, and shifting desires. Like the character in Joseph’s film, I talked about my own history of sexual addiction, which I wrote about in my book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions.
It’s never easy developing a level of trust that allows us to talk about anything and everything. At one stage of the group, after we had been together more than twenty years, we decided to go even deeper and reveal what may be hidden at “the very bottom of the well.” What we found and shared brought us even closer.
Getting naked with each other has more to do with emotional honesty than removing our clothes.
There’s a hilarious scene in the movie about getting naked. We never did anything quite like that, but we did reveal our bodies to each other in a very interesting way. When the group began there was a hot tub we all got into at the end of the evening. Taking our clothes off in that context was not too threatening. But years later we did an exercise where we took turns taking our clothes off in front of the other men. Each of the men told us things they appreciated about our bodies.
It was very scary and very liberating. Like most humans, there were a host of things I didn’t like about my body. Revealing my naked self to men who didn’t judge me was very liberating. As a heterosexual male I had women tell me what they liked about my body, but men telling me what they liked was a totally different experience.
Getting physically naked was really just a part of revealing our true selves to each other, which was a lot more difficult.
Staying together until “death do we part” can transform our lives.
When the group began, we thought of it more as a support group that would help improve our lives outside the group. We all assumed that we would leave the group once we had learned what we needed to learn. But at some point someone suggested that we make a commitment to staying in the group forever.
Just thinking about being together “forever” was a revelation. Many of us had been married and made a commitment to our spouse, but none of us had ever considered making a commitment like that to a group of men. But something changed when we each considered it and each of us made a commitment to remain in the group until death do we part.
That meant if we didn’t like things, we had to stay and work it out. That wasn’t easy. One of the guys and I had a conflict that went on for years until it was resolved. But committing to each other also gave us a bond that has allowed us to try new things, to go places within us that we had never been before. It has even allowed us to accommodate moving away from each other. When we started the group we all lived close together in California. Over the years we’ve moved farther apart and one guy moved to Seattle. Rather than break up the group we now fly to Washington once a year and he flies down to California for the other three yearly meetings.
One of the most profound experiences for us occurred when the first man died. It took us a number of years to fully grieve his passing and we’ll likely continue our grieving forever. At some point each of us will die, but while we’re here, we’re living fully and open our hearts and souls to each other. Welcome to the men’s group. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and your own experiences.
Originally posted on Men Alive, reprinted with permission.
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