Are men experiencing higher rates of loneliness due to lagging relational skills? Couples' Psychologist Greg Matos, PsyD. thinks so.
"I hear recurring dating themes from women between the ages of 25 and 45: They prefer men who are emotionally available, who are good communicators, and who share their values... For men, this means a relationship skills gap that, if not addressed, will likely lead to fewer dating opportunities and longer periods of being single. There's less patience for poor communication skills today." (Psychology Today)
Now I want to stress that being in a romantic relationship is not the litmus test for emotional maturity or relational health. There are enough long-running toxic partnerships to dispel that idea. But it is true that our whole relational life and our happiness in general can be negatively impacted by a lack of self-awareness, a narrow emotional skillset, and unresolved issues.
Leaving core parts of ourselves untended not only reduces the likelihood of attaining a satisfying romance we may be dreaming of, it can also turn friendships flat, make our career path directionless, and just leave us unhappy.
What's Wrong with Men?
In a word: nothing. But the stories we've been told about what men are, how we should feel, and what's expected of us deserve a look. When we pull them up for inspection it's easy to say "I don't think that" and agree that it's unhealthy. Yet our choices and patterns often tell a different story.
Here are some of the top harmful narratives about men and manliness that I see as still pervasive in our lives today.
I have to do it on my own. You might not think this is you, but stop and ask when was the last time you asked someone for help? Or reached out to a friend for support or just to (really) talk? How many people actually know what's going on with you? Notice what responses arise in you as you imagine yourself actually being connected. Many of us have absorbed the lie that if we don't 'get there' entirely on our own steam, it doesn't count. This leaves us tired and lonely, and at the mercy of our own self-deception.
My past doesn't affect me. We all want to know we are strong, that we are growing and overcoming the obstacles that have been part of our story. But what I find that often looks like is guys pretending they "just got over" the tremendous hurts that've helped shape them, or even just refusing to acknowledge they're there. But when we look at our moods, habits, or the cycles of our relationships, the subtext of unhealed pain is unmistakable. That doesn't make us weak; it makes us human.
My partner will fix me. Sure, say it bluntly like that and almost everybody will say that won't work. Still so many of us are quietly telling ourselves that when the right woman or man comes along our struggles--and ourselves--will be transformed. We are not mindful of the burden of expectation we are building up for whatever partner we choose. It's also an often-denied but commonly-held misconception that the right relationship will take care of all your emotional and relational needs. Fact is, a lack of genuine, quality connections outside of romance is a huge strain on the romantic partnership.
Upping Your Game
Even focusing on Men's Issues as I do, a large share of my client load is still women (who I love working with, too). Men are just not as likely to consider counseling as a resource--a fact I'm passionate about changing. And the reason is because it breaks these cardinal rules of Counterfeit Masculinity: it acknowledges our need for others, it doesn't lie about the past we still carry, and it's a relationship that isn't The One we thought would be our everything.
But over and over I've watched men who choose to try counseling and engage with the work it entails discover there is much to gain--and they are capable of so much more than they thought.
Seeing a counselor relieves stress. Just having a confidential space in which you can unpack what you're really thinking and feeling, knowing it isn't going to complicate your life to let it out, removes the burden of feeling all alone in whatever's going on. It gets you out of the thought patterns that are so hard to shift when we're stuck in our heads.
Seeing a counselor improves health. Therapy isn't just talking--it's connecting. You are opening up with a real person, a person trained to make the connection beneficial to you. Not only that, but our brains physically change for the better in the counseling session. Scientists have observed neurochemical changes that happen in the brain during therapy that are similar to those achieved through medication. (Learn more about this here). Specialized treatments like EMDR also improve the functioning of the nervous system in its interplay with our thoughts, emotions, and urges.
Counseling catalyzes change. It's a truthful cliche that if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. People who get regular counseling to address addiction, relationship patterns, or simply for support through transitions are more likely to see better outcomes. The changes they make in their lives are more lasting.
Getting counseling will improve your relationships. How our relationships go is an outgrowth of our inner lives. In counseling you address the relationship that underpins them all: the one with yourself, and all the parts that make you up. Nobody you meet, mingle with, or marry can heal the story you tell about yourself. The counseling relationship, which is uniquely centered on you, serves the healing of that story. When you genuinely know, care for, and like who you are, relationships just feel different.
The world is expecting more from us.
The good news is, we have so much more to offer.
Mike Ensley, LPC is a professional counselor and founder of Comeback Story Counseling in Loveland, Colorado.
Want to speak with Mike? To schedule a free consultation in-person in Loveland or online anywhere in Colorado, click here.
Mountain Photo by Zakhar Vozhdaienko