- Gender and Relationships
Men and Resistance to Counseling
Our culture tends to discourage men from getting professional counseling. Despite all of our alleged enlightenment, we men still very much hold on to old, pervasive attitudes when it comes to seeking out help to deal with our relationships. Most of us have a set of complex beliefs about counseling that we take for granted and have no clear understanding of where we gained the bits and pieces from. Understanding the aspects of mistaken beliefs about counseling, as well as reframing why it is an important tool for relationship success can teach some of us old dogs some new tricks.
Most of us would agree that there is nothing more important than our relationships. Even the most rugged and career and sports dedicated among us can admit that without relationships of friends, family, children, and partners, life would be pretty shallow and bleak. Most of us get our relationship lessons mainly from our family of origin, and if our family happens to have a shaky history of healthy relationships, it means we inherit dysfunctional ways of relating. Some may then turn to friends as models for healthy relationship only to discover that it is sometimes a case of the blind leading the blind; most of our friends are in the same shape as us when it comes to healthy relationships. Lastly, and most unfortunately, some of us even get our relationship understandings from the media. Yea, carry out our love relationships as if you were on Jersey Shore, that'll work.
A key thing that keeps guys from going to a professional relationship counselor when they get stuck in relationship is the ever present attitude of machismo that is a persistent hold over from the John Wayne era. Any guy worth his salt knows that men are always in control of their feelings and relationships, right? No real man needs help in managing his emotions or understanding our partners, or working through relationship pain, right? Only sissies need help with that stuff, right?
Besides, every guy is supposed to be an expert in relationships of all types, not just his friends, but with his family, his kids, and especially with his partner...right? Most of us culturally buy into the traditional male model of not only being protector and breadwinner, but also as expert at everything having to do with relationship. It's often very hard for us to admit that we are stuck in relationships because we do have high levels of expertise in so many other things. Perhaps from our payday jobs down to how to keep a lawn mower working at peak performance., we have a good many skills in life. But when it comes to relationships, so many of us are at least stalled, and worse, over our heads and drowning. Concluding that we have tried everything we can think of to resolve our relationship issues and are out of ideas and approaches is hard pill to swallow.
And then there is the whole 'touchy-feely' phobia we have. In our culture, men are not generally as well versed in learning and comfortably using an emotional language as women are. And knowing the words to express and work through emotion and relationship difficulty is an important skill to have if we want to get happy (well, at least content) in our relationships. Professional relationship counseling sets us down in a room with someone (or
several people in our family) and a counselor who we suspect is not only going to get all 'touchy-feely' but likely can read our minds and 'psycho-analyze' us as well. We get anxious if we think we will start hearing a bunch of psychological mumbo-jumbo. But if we want to be able to get the very best and most out of our love relationships; if we really do have courage and the guts to dive deep into what relationship can be, we need to learn and use emotional language to achieve greater intimacy and satisfaction in relationship with those we love.
It is a rather odd phenomenon that we tend to reject things that we do not understand or do not feel competent in. Perhaps it is because we guys are so competitive that when we recognize another guy knows more than us or has more skill than we do, we either avoid him or discount his knowledge or skill. Or maybe it's just our huge egos that keep us from growing when we have the chance. But it is important to know that these attitudes have not always been so, and are self defeating.
Historically, men have sought counsel of other men and have been open to learning as many skills as possible. Organizations such as leagues, trade unions, secret societies, churches, and networks of community elders and leaders provided counsel for men on a variety if issues, including relationships. Many of our grandfathers remember a time during the Great Depression when men took every chance they could to learn a new skill, even if it was outside of their comfort zone, because doing so may mean the difference between feeding your family that day or not. And really, skill is skill, weather it is with a saw, a wrench, or in relating to loved ones.
Some guys willingly seek out expert advice for some things, based on the understanding of how important it is to get expert advice when needed...but only for some things. Some of us will seek out a service to do chores that while we may know how to do them, would rather hire them out, like doing routine auto maintenance. In fact, lots of guys take better routine care of their cars then they do their relationships. We don't stop to consider that just like our cars, and houses, relationships need maintenance too.
While we may have a buddy who owes us a favor and make use of a skill he has that we do not, when we sustain a compound fracture to our arm, we get ourselves to the emergency room and to a doctor or even an orthopedic specialist to set our bones the right way. We sure wouldn't go down to the local bar and ask our buddy to set our arm for us. So why do we go down to the bar and try and get advice from our buddy or the bartender on our love relationships?
Professional relationship counseling may have it's own unique language, and yes, it does deal with emotions, and we can't be expert at everything, but understanding counseling and how it can help is not exactly brain surgery. A professional relationship counselor does a job just like you do, and while there are specialized skills, the actual counseling process is pretty mechanical. Just like you had to learn your job, and your job probably has protocols and specific steps that are done in a particular order so that the job gets done efficiently and at a high quality level, so does relationship counseling.
The myths about relationship counseling are enough to give guys an excuse to avoid it. While it is true that if you have a problem with your mother the counselor might invite you to talk about it, most of the myths you may believe are just not true. You probably won't have to talk about your having been breast fed instead of bottle fed as a baby just to get help with your relationship with your partner. These days, because of how insurance companies and managed care works, counselors are encouraged to make treatment as brief as possible, and good ones really don't want you to be in counseling any longer than you have to be. Learning how relationship really works is what it's all about, and that is basically an educational process designed to help you change the way you think about relationship and also change some of the ways that you act in relationship.
If your relationships have troubles to the extent that you have tried all you know to make things better and cannot seem to achieve quality, lasting improvements, consider using your head. Gathering your courage up, and going to a professional relationship counselor to pick up some new relationship skills.