Men want their relationships to succeed just as much as women do. But for some men, an inability to empathize with and open up to their partner hurts their efforts.
"There's a darker aspect of masculinity, a tendency to withdraw, to be impatient and short-fused," says Los Angeles-based psychologist Herb Goldberg, PhD. "A lot of it is unconscious, not done intentionally, and it is deeply rooted and difficult to change."
Sitting in high school biology, listening to the teacher drone on about genetics, I snapped to attention when she used male pattern baldness as an example of a dominant trait. My heart started pounding with fear - with bald men on both sides of my mother's family as far as the eye could see, I was doomed to have a chrome dome.
I remained anguished about the prospect of being bald for the next 20 years as my hairline retreated and my hair steadily thinned. Bald men seemed disfigured to me. I felt...
Difficult but not impossible, Goldberg adds. To develop meaningful and lasting relationships, you need to work at opening lines of communication with your spouse or partner, and then keep them open. Here's how to start.
Join a men's group. Build your skills by talking to other guys, Goldberg recommends. "You won't talk about business, the stock market, or ball games. Instead you'll focus on your relationships, your emotions, what's going in your life." To find a group, seek out a psychologist or therapist who specializes in men's issues, or check with local churches.
Decide to listen. "What allows a man to maintain a relationship with a woman is the ability to make her feel important, to make her feel heard," Goldberg says. That doesn't mean you simply nod along as she talks. You pay attention, you ask questions, and you follow up with genuine concern.
Share decisions. Relationships often start with the man in the driver's seat, literally and figuratively. In time, he may feel guilty for taking charge, and she may feel controlled and angry, Goldberg says.
"Raise the issue that you want to plan together, and work at doing that right from the beginning. When you take a leadership role like one you may have at work, you're setting the stage for real damage in the relationship."
Q: "I'm the father of two young boys. What can I do now to start to build the best possible relationships with them?" -- Mark Peterson, 43, stay-at-home dad, Florence, MA.
A: "Be there and listen empathetically. Listen to what they say and to what they want to do. Of course, it's important to steer them in the right direction and offer suggestions, but be sure you're talking with them, not at them. Look at them, pay attention, and respond to them as if what they're saying is the most important thing. Let them know that by the questions you ask and the positive support you give. And do check your electronic equipment at the door." --William Pollack, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychology, Harvard Medical School, and author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood.
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