1. Move beyond the “manly” stereotype
Our culture’s view of men and manhood is profoundly flawed, with its emphasis on external strength but neglect of inner strength and character. Some of the greatest men in history have been very much “in touch” with their inner life, unafraid to express emotions, both “positive” and “negative”. This is not “unmasculine”, since it enables us to connect with all kinds of people, male and female. How can you grow in your “manhood” to begin to live like that? Why not have an honest conversation with some other men you trust?
2. Begin to express your feelings
Many men find it difficult to express how they feel. They are better at relating facts than feelings: “How was your day, dear?” “Fine – did OK at work; then went to the pub; now I’m home”. But he neglects to say that he felt quite lonely and depressed, had some difficult encounters with workmates and felt like drowning his sorrows later. It takes some courage to begin to share his feelings, but he will save himself and others lots of trouble later on! His partner/spouse and family aren’t stupid – they notice that all is not well!
3. Connect with just one key person
It’s the quality of our relationships that matters, more than the quantity. Many men rely on their wives/partners to do the emotional and relational work and so come to rely on them for feelings and sensing how the relationship is going. But this has long-term dangers, as emotional intelligence (awareness of the inner workings of oneself and of others) is vital for everyone. Additionally, placing all the emotional emphasis (pressure?) on your wife is not always healthy. For these and other reasons it’s very helpful to have another man with whom we can share our thoughts and feelings.
4. Learn to invest in others
One of the key signs of maturity is a consistent focus on others more than self. Our culture encourages self-focus (“What’s in it for me?”), but this is often very damaging. The healthy approach is to look towards others’ needs first, whilst not neglecting self-care. As we saw in last week’s post, being a father is a good illustration. It’s hard work bringing up children, but brings huge rewards, and matures us too.
5. Be both a be-er and a do-er
Men very action-focussed, fixers. They like to do things, either alone or with others (just think of team sports), especially when there is some risk attached (think adventure). It’s as if men prefer being shoulder to shoulder with others, facing outwards while doing some activity; whereas for many women, there is more of a face-to-face dimension (a generalisation, I know, but there’s something in it). Take a look at “Men in sheds” (http://menssheds.org.uk) and you’ll see what I mean – how many women would join such a group?
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Far more women than men seek help from their GP or a counsellor, but many men who do so would say that it really made a difference because it broke into the vicious circle of silence and loneliness.
7. Become part of something bigger than yourself
It’s easier to take the focus off yourself if you’ve got something else to put that focus on. Research shows that people who volunteer and do acts of kindness towards others become happier and more satisfied with their lives. What possibilities are open to you? They could include volunteering in the community or in hospitals or old people’s homes…and a myriad other ways.
Three ways others can help them
1. For partner/close friend: listen
Men are known as “fixers”, jumping in with solutions for their partner’s problems. How often do we hear the woman say, “I don’t want you to give me the answer – I just want you to listen!”? But this can also be true the other way round. Men are often slower to open up, but once they do, they also need to be listened to. Perhaps the need is even greater for men. So find ways to draw the man out and then simply listen to him. It sounds simple – but if it is, why don’t we do it more?
2. For friends: keep in regular contact
Busy-ness is part of today’s lifestyle. It often leaves little time for genuine face-to-face contact. Social media keep us in touch but cannot provide the deeper human contact that we all crave. Taking a little time to text, phone and then sit down with your male friends may well turn out to be a life-saver!
3. Find things to do together
Many men enjoy doing things together, rather than just sitting and talking. So thinking up appropriate activities are likely to help glue those relationships. This could be as simple as going for a walk together, or having a drink in the pub, but of course there are loads of possibilities. The key word is “together”.