Do men really have good support for emotional issues, on a regular basis? When a man reaches a certain age and he’s depressed, he’s struggling with his place in the world, he’s going through family problems or a divorce, or financial and job worries, etc., where can he turn? Add into the mix that he’s a single dad and has no immediate family around and you have my situation, a few years ago.
When my marriage first broke up, I was blessed to find a circle of men that supported and guided me through the horrible ups and downs that followed. No, it wasn’t some beer-drinking group of women-haters, nor a drumming in Indian war paint Robert Bly-type of thing. It was regular men, with regular problems, getting together and talking about the real stuff.
I’ve stayed with this group, through various incarnations of men leaving and joining, for going on eight years now. Unlike the stereotype beliefs of men’s groups, ours completely supports parenting and a man’s relationship with his spouse and children. But, unfortunately, this is unusual, as men don’t tend to maintain their close male relationships after they marry, have children, and get further into their careers.
This is a classic case where the men and women differ greatly, since women, even if they’re working, tend to maintain their female friends which provides a regular outlet, in which to vent, to discuss, to get feedback, and to get help. It isn’t always healthy to go to your spouse with every question or concern you might have. As women tend to be influenced more by their feelings, it’s really helpful to us male slugs, that they can bounce something off their friends, before hitting us with it.
Let’s say, for instance, that one spouse has gained a considerable amount of weight. This is clearly a delicate subject and how the thinner spouse approaches this completely determines whether there’s any chance for success. Let’s face it; certain subjects always seem difficult, like talking about one’s sexual intimacy or money issues. Our communication can often be based on assumptions and things that have nothing to do with the other spouse. This is where the feedback from the men in my group often seems to save me from myself before I swallow my foot whole, in the process of making a fool of myself with my wife or boys.
As this relates to parenting, I believe it becomes equally important for men to have other men to turn to. Dads and moms are role models for their children. Study after study confirms the importance of both mothers and fathers in their children’s lives. We teach our children how to be the best men and women they can be. Support from our same-sex friends is a useful form of checks and balances that our own instincts won’t always get right.
Also, and this is key to my marriage, I have these men to talk to before I allow a feeling to erupt into saying something or taking an action that I’ll regret afterward. More often than not, the men will help me to see that whatever I think is such a big deal just as often is in my head or unrelated to me altogether. This sort of help, in which my group sees clearly what I can’t see, is invaluable. It is the classic case of being too close to the situation to be objective.
To be clear guys, I mean same-sex friends, not female friends. Women friends will tend to tell us what we want to hear, to nurture us, when what we really need is a kick in the butt and a tongue-lashing. That’s where men with men make a real difference.
It’s natural to react to our spouses and take it personally, but it’s better to talk it out with your male friends before doing something rash or impulsive. In this regard, I credit the men in my circle with saving my dating relationship, during the rocky times, with ShortRib (my wife), getting me to the altar before she completely blew me off, and improving my relationship with my boys.
So, this column is a call to men out there to seek more male friendships, apart from male friends within other couples, foursomes at golf, other sporting associations, or via your work. How many of those men really open up to you or vice versa?
I know in my previous work-life, within the corporate and cutthroat world of showbiz, that reacting off-the-cuff was usually suicidal. Waiting another day and reflecting, seeking outside counsel, became essential to making good decisions and taking the right action. I equally believe that we need to look at our personal relationships in the same light.
If you men don’t have men friends that you can really talk to about your life, then get out there and find them. Start your own group at a local coffee house, away from the women, or through your church or synagogue. Make the topics of discussion personal and don’t talk just business, which is the fallback talk position, after sports, for most men. The men in my life support me, but they don’t coddle me or tell me what I want to hear; they tell me what I need to hear. We all need that.