We men are not raised to pay attention to our relationships.
This may be slowly changing but in general boys are raised to be achievers and are in training to be bread winners.
We are brought face to face with our lack of relational skills when we partner or marry in our adult years. Then it becomes glaringly obvious to ourselves and our loved ones that we don’t have much in our toolkit.
Men often show up in my office relating the complaints from their spouses. Most often these are about how they are missing the mark in relating to the wants, needs and feelings of others. Especially the loved ones in their immediate family. These same concerns show up in work relationships and other places, as well.
One of the first tools I refer them to is the book, “The Man’s Guide to Women,” by Julie and John Gottman. It is an excellent starting point to begin to understand what the women in their lives want and need.
One of the topics it addresses are women’s need to be “attuned to.” This means to attune ( be aware of) the emotions and moods of their significant others. It requires a leap as men are not raised to notice or connect to their own feelings, except anger. They are often shamed for emoting in any way that involves tears. It can be dumbfounding for men to encounter women’s tears and find out that they can be conveying anger, sadness, frustration, hurt and many other emotions.
A starting point with attunement is to notice that another person is having feelings and make inquiry. Men need to be able to “embody themselves.” That means to tune in to emotions they are having by noticing the sensations in their bodies. Those sensations mean that emotions are present. Feeling warmth in your face, or notice that your heart is racing, there is tingling in your limbs are important signals. If men can connect to those cues and then know what they are feeling that can attune to the woman’s feelings too. They can then work toward responding with curiosity and then hopefully empathy. The empathy comes from knowing what those emotions feel like in themselves.
And with knowing their own emotions and attuning they can ask what this important woman in their life needs. This is a good time to be curious and to respond non-defensively to what they have been missing. Non-defensive listening means the ability to listen and not make excuses and be responsible for your actions or oversights. It is amazing how much closeness is created by listening with empathy and openness.
Lastly it is important to address what the other person wants and make changes. The wants could be simple tasks needing to be done around the house or wanting more affection and appreciation.
The main thing is to have an open and willing heart. It is more than OK to ask for more information and own up to being unfamiliar or uncomfortable with what is being asked for. That could be the launching point for a rich conversation.
Counseling for Men can help bring greater joy and harmony in their home life. It can be a stretch to gain the relational skills needed but the benefits far outweigh the effort involved.
Men can benefit from working with their therapist individually or by being in a group, either co-ed or a men’s group. Having others to give honest and objective feedback can be a great help in fine tuning the skills needed to be an effective communicator and a better spouse.