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Men's Issues

by Dr. Lynn Margolies

 

There are aspects of men's experiences that are particular to being male. In working with men, it is important for a psychologist to understand the differences in men's experiences, what men need, and how to best help them achieve their goals. For men, psychotherapy can promote success in careers and relationships by teaching better communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. Therapy can improve men's relationships in general, at home and at work, by fostering greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and empowerment. Therapy can also help men with issues of midlife crisis, affairs, anger management, fear of entrapment in relationships, sex addiction, performance anxiety, social anxiety, and difficulties in relationships with women, e.g., understanding what women want from them.

Men often experience common dilemmas in their relationships with women. In relationships, men frequently overestimate their ability to sacrifice themselves for their partner, often trying very hard to please their women and accommodate them to make them happy and to keep the peace. These efforts may seem to go unrecognized or unappreciated, and they may experience confusing complaints from their partner in spite of their efforts. This pattern typically leads to a build-up of resentment and hurt, which the man may not even be aware of, except through his partner's persistent accusations, of which he may feel innocent. These feelings may take a disguised form, for example, forgetting, being late or unreliable, not following through on his word, tuning out, working late, becoming impotent or losing sexual desire, having an affair. Men can be helped with this issue in a number of ways. Through psychotherapy men can learn to better recognize and identify what they need and feel, which may be foreign to them since boys usually grow up in this society trained to suppress or be ashamed of most feelings (other than anger). Once they become more self-aware, they can learn ways to be more direct, but non-combative, in expressing their opinions, even opposing ones. As men learn to express themselves more directly with words, versus actions, passive-aggressive expression of anger or resentment through actions, is no longer necessary. This change often leads men to feel stronger and more effective. Also, therapy can teach men how to decipher the language of women, so that they can more easily understand why they get upset and how to more easily satisfy them without sacrificing themselves.

Another issue particular to men, and often misunderstood by women, is the importance of sex. For a man, sex is often at the core of how he feels loved, and loved as a man. Though women may need to feel close or loved in order to have sex, men experience the reverse: they need to have sex in order to feel loved. This difference can create conflict and misunderstanding in relationships especially during times of conflict when their partners do not want sex. At these times whatever conflict already exists now becomes compounded by the man feeling more rejected, unloved, and angry, even suspect that his partner is using sex (or the withholding of it) as a weapon. When these patterns develop, men often retreat in hurt and anger or escape the relationship by acting out. Therapy can help by increasing self-awareness, developing more effective ways to communicate, and providing an experience of being understood.

 

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Psychologist, Newton Centre, MA.
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