The Issues Men Talk About With Each Other
As a psychologist and expert on men’s issues, I have facilitated men’s groups and gatherings for over two decades (not to mention participating in my own men’s groups as well), and I can tell you that men really value the company of other men. Why? Because they can say things to each other that they cannot say to their wives, things the other men readily understand.
Once trust, friendship and comfort are achieved in a men’s group, a man often needs to talk about…
• His wife’s greater emotionality and how difficult it is for him to stay calm when she’s expressing intense – and often critical – feelings.
• His wife’s need to talk about all manner of emotional complaints that sometimes seem inconsequential to him but highly consequential to her, leaving him feeling confused, wrong, angry and defeated.
• Perceptions of his wife’s views and behaviors that typically evoke defensive anger and judgment from her. As a result, he feels it’s impossible to give her the same kind of feedback without escalating the conflict – a no-win situation.
You see, men are rather easily defeated by a woman’s emotions and then face the difficult choice of suppressing their feelings or blowing up. Complicating matters further, men often lack the verbal ability to skillfully express emotions. As they try to explain their point of view, they quickly feel out-argued. This why men retreat into their “man cave” where, for a time, they get to make up the rules. So in men’s groups, there is often a tangible sigh of relief at finally being able to share these struggles with others who completely understand, not to denigrate their wives, but to feel less powerless, abnormal or dismissed.
This kind of gender conflict has been well described by writers like John Gray in Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, Carol Gilligan’s In A Different Voice, and Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand. It arises because we are psychologically differently. Men strive by nature and conditioning to be independent, tough, logical, stoical, action-oriented and in control. They are warriors that don’t like to have their feelings read or interpreted – indeed they often don’t know what their feelings are. They love, but in a different way than women. When there is a problem, they love by wanting to fix things. Women, more attuned to the subtleties of relationship, often feel that they are the relationship, so when their feelings are not mirrored in their mate, they strive mightily to get them to understand because the discrepancy is itself so painful. They don’t want to be fixed, they want to be understood and resonated with, completely baffling their husband.
I could go on for pages describing and exploring these differences. What’s most important, however, is for both men and women to admit the reality of these different emotional styles. Neither can change the other, but understanding can change the way they both manage the relationship. Men blossom in men’s groups because they feel it is safe to be who they are. With time, support and understanding, they also find the courage and the words to stay in the marital conflict without exploding or retreating. Of course women have the same kinds of legitimate complaints about their husbands. Specifically, they don’t like being told that they are too emotional or instructed on now to fix their problems – such criticism makes them feel inadequate, misunderstood and even more angry. No one wins when this gender argument deteriorates into blaming; both win when the pattern is recognized and each takes responsibly for responding more constructively.