Marriage For Men
Articles by: Henry Sawatzky
MA; RCC and Director
Marriage for Men Introduction
Some years ago I was unwinding over a coffee with a friend. Our conversation meandered over a wide array of topics as we simply enjoyed one another’s company. Eventually, we came to discuss relationships.
Arriving at this topic tends to be a bit of an occupational hazard for me. I’m not sure whether I bring conversations to this place simply by virtue of the fact that my mind spends a lot of time there, or if others turn the discussion in this direction because they see it as something that interests me. I suspect it’s probably a little of both.
In any case, I remember him making a statement along the lines of:
“I think relationships would be a lot better if men could just get their act together. It seems to me that when a marriage is in trouble, it always comes down to the man.”
Whether you believe in that sentiment or not, (I don’t) it’s a pretty common idea. In most marriage manuals, if it isn’t openly stated, and it often is, it’s pretty clearly implied.
Men are instructed to be less angry, talk more, work less and be less demanding around sex. The tricky part is that all of those directives are actually pretty good advice. But somehow, men end up becoming the villains of marriage. And the effects of this actually have the catastrophic consequences of driving couples further apart.
I routinely see simple evidence of this in the emotional state that most men are in when they first arrive in my office for couples therapy. Many of them have read the books, heard the sermons and podcasts about what they are doing wrong and how they need to improve. Some of them have been to couple’s therapy already where they have experienced correction on how to be more empathetic and less defensive.
This kind of male villainization is an uncomfortable experience for wives as well.
While she may be agreeing with what she’s hearing, it’s awkward to sit and listen to her husband, whom she loves and longs for, being dressed down. It’s no wonder that men are all too often threatened and on the defence. I would be too.
The most important lesson I learned from my first day of counseling school is to simply listen to people. Sounds simple right? It is. But it’s also surprising how easily even a skilled therapist can be deterred from that objective. So, on the heels of that Tim Horton’s coffee conversation all those years ago, I determined to apply all my learning and all my skills to really listen to men.
What I found astounded me. I heard men tell me they’re emotionally shut down, not because they don’t care, but rather because they’re terrified to say the wrong thing and blowing things up. Saying nothing seems like the safest play. They demand sex because they’re dying under the crushing burden of loneliness, and sex is the only way they know how to create some sense of connection and closeness.
I heard men tell me they’d prefer to put in an extra 4 hours at work not because they want to avoid their family, but because providing is the one thing they can do well. And when given a chance to talk about their anger in a safe environment, I heard them tell a story of disappointed hopes and undaunted strength in the face of feeling misunderstood and lonely. I’m not talking about something I heard from just one man.
I kept hearing it over and over again and watching as men’s eyes filled with tears.
For many men, they got to talk about their secret inner life while someone was listening for the first time in their adult life. And then I watched something else happen. I saw wide-eyed, somewhat bewildered wives wondering who this man is that she had begun to believe existed only in romance novels, and where had he been her whole marriage? I started to make some conclusions.
- Men are not the villains of marriage. In fact, there are almost never any villains in a marriage.
- When a marriage starts to come off the rails, it’s more about two people who have lost their connection to each other and are, each as best they can, trying desperately to find their way back.
- When it comes to relationships, my Tim Horton’s friend is not alone in having badly misunderstood men. We are desperate to have our relationships work. But we often feel alone and isolated, like we’re falling short, and that the pressure of getting it right is crushing us.
If you can identify with anything I’ve said in this forum, Marriage For Men is meant for you. I intend it to be a place where men can be men without estranging their partners while still being honest and true to themselves. It’s a place where I want to talk about who we are as men and how we can engage honestly and vulnerably with the people we love. I hope to see you here again!