First of all, it is important to understand that men are not “less emotional” than women; we are just inclined to keep those feelings to ourselves or express them differently. However, the feelings that we experience are influenced by our unique biochemistry and subtle brain structure differences. While men and women are far more alike than different, the differences can be confusing and unsettling, to say the least. One of these differences involves how we deal with conflict management and problem-solving.
Processing vs Fixing
One of the differences that stands out to most people is the tendency for women to prefer processing (discussing) how to manage conflict and problem solve whereas men tend to prefer just fixing the issue. This dynamic is by no means true for all men and all women, but on the average, it tends to be pretty accurate…and can lead to conflict.
Counseling feels like a process driven activity
Given that counseling tends to be about discussing conflict management and problem-solving, it may feel more natural to align with people that are more process driven. Yes, the process is aimed at resolving (fixing) an issue, but to men, it may seem more efficient to just skip to the solution; whereas, for women, the process IS part of the solution. You can see the rub.
“I don’t want to feel ganged up on”
Men have historically seen couples counseling as a place where the couples counselor and their wife formally gang up on them and tell them everything they are doing wrong, why it’s wrong, and how they need to change everything about themselves. No wonder men can be averse to couples counseling!
But it’s not true! A skilled couples counselor will certainly help both people see their flaws, but will not allow the process to be lopsided.
“I don’t want to get bogged down by just talking about feelings”
Another common experience for men is that we tend to think that counseling is only about discussing those mushy feelings and that if we don’t cry, then we aren’t doing it right. Again, this is simply not the case. A skilled couples counselor will make room for both emotional expression AND an intellectual discussion of how to fix things. If they don’t, it’s probably a good idea to find another counselor.
How to talk to men about couples counseling
As a Gottman Method Couples Counselor, I teach people the importance of being able to articulate the other person’s perspective before attempting to persuade them to change theirs. This is a huge part of talking with men about willingness to give couples counseling a try. To that end, here are a few suggestions:
- Begin by checking out what you think he is saying. In many cases, it is important to have a neutral, matter-of-fact tone, but you know your husband’s style.
- Simply summarize his perspective to be sure you understand him (remember, this is not where you tell him your opinion of his perspective–that comes later. For now, just summarize his perspective). Once he feels like he doesn’t have to explain himself again, that energy is freed up to listen to your perspective.
- Once he feels like you understand his perspective accurately, begin by describing what you feel you both are on the same page about in terms of having a healthy, happy relationship. “I know we both want to enjoy our lives together.”
- To discuss couples counseling, consider asking what he needs from you. Then you might be able to mention couples work to help you understand his needs and how to meet them better, and vice versa (but starting with the fact that couples work is helpful for you learning to understand his perspective).
- If he is concerned about being ganged up on, offer reassurance that you do not want a therapist to take sides either and that his concern makes perfect sense.
- Be patient and let him think about it for a bit. Trying to force a decision can shut almost anybody down. Keep the dialogue going.