© Jaime Nisenbaum, Ph.D. Posted with permission from the author.
There is a growing body of research showing how the process of socialization of boys in our society leads to severe relational deficits later in life. One place where this lack of relational skills shows up very prominently is in intimate relationships and marriages. In my professional life as a clinical psychologist, as well as in my personal life as a husband and a father, I notice how the internalized messages about what it is to be a man in our society gets in the way of men becoming more empathic, caring, loving, and engaged in family life with our wives and children. The same body of research that has identified these issues is also helping men and their families understand and eventually change these deep-seated patterns.
Research shows that, at birth, baby boys are more emotionally expressive than baby girls but by the age of 4 years old the effects of the socialization of boys in curbing that emotional expression are already clearly visible. At that early age, research shows that boys have already received conscious and unconscious messages from parents, teachers, peers and the culture at large that being in touch with vulnerable emotions such as sadness, fear, and healthy needs for closeness and affection are not acceptable for boys. By second grade, many teachers say that they can no longer “read” the facial expression in boys who have been “trained” to hide their emotions.
When boys begin to shut off those vulnerable emotions in order to fit into the “code of masculinity” -- being tough, competitive, aggressive, and avoiding anything that is labeled “girly” or feminine -- they start a relentless process of cutting off and disconnecting from these essential parts of themselves. By the time men get married, they have been through many years of practice in severing their connection from these vulnerable and vital parts of themselves.
The negative consequences of that process on men’s mental health are devastating and range from chronic anger, anxiety, substance abuse, and violence towards themselves and others to apathy and depression. Man men also suffer from an apparent “lack of empathy” that trouble many marriages and relationships that come to my office for help. I usually explain to the men and the women in my practice that given what men are required to do to be “men,” how could it be otherwise? Empathy requires that we have access to our feelings so that we can resonate with the feelings of others. If men are taught to cut off from certain feelings, how can we expect them to be able to resonate with the feelings of others? While this explanation is no excuse for any kind of abuse, it gives a starting place for men to start re-thinking whether they want or not to continue to live up to the mandates of the “code of masculinity.”
Unless men resolve to address their internal state of disconnection, they will repeat in their relationship with others what they learn to do with themselves: to dismiss, ignore, and avoid the “troubling” vulnerable feelings and live their lives as divided and un-integrated selves.
The “code of masculinity” is maintained by both the men and women in our culture and both men and women suffer from this state of affairs. But I believe that it is incumbent on men to realize what they have been “programmed” to do and finally decide to do something about it for their own sake, and for the sake of their relationships.
About the author:
Jaime Nisenbaum, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and professor who specializes in men's issues. He has a practice in Berkeley and San Rafael, CA. For more information about him, visit his web site. www.jaimenisenbaum.com
In every interaction we have with our partner there is the opportunity to heal. I guess that is truly what love is, a dynamic powerful healing agent. We, especially partners, are deeply connected and attached to each other. Science tells us that the way we communicate can impact each other's brains, for good or for ill. I guess we can build each other up or tear one another down. I image just like me, you too desire to do good. In this video, we get some tools for creating and maintaining love and secure attachment.
The 4 Mantras:
1. Darling, I am here for you.
2. Darling, I know you are there.
3. Darling, I know you suffer and that is why I am here for you.
4. Darling, I suffer. I do my best to practice. Please help.
Listen to this great video for a deeper understanding and advice on how to love.
David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, Indiana: A Challenge to our Day-to-Day Way of Thinking.
My husband passed this really great video along to some friends and me. Pretty inspirational and challenging! In therapy we often look at a person's automatic thoughts and core beliefs, which can fuel negative feelings such as depression, frustration, anger and anxiety. In this speech, Wallace reminds us of the importance of being intentional about what we think, believe, perceive, and ultimately feel. A great way to reminds us to pay attention to what is really going on inside. Easier said than done but very worth doing. Click for "This is Water" by Davis Foster Wallace.
Yahoo posted a nice summary of the research on relationship enhancers: The 10 Ways to Improve your Relationship.
1. Solidify your friendship.
2. Appreciate each other.
3. Concentrate on the present to ensure a future.
4. Don't Distort.
5. Share power.
6. Find common goals.
7. Understand anger.
8. Break negative cycles.
9. Focus on what's fixable.
10. Accept the unsolvable.
As the title of this suggests, most of this is based on John Gottman's research. Any of his books on relationships will give you detailed information on how keep on enhancing your relationship. It is good stuff. Common sense but important to be reminded of as we live our lives in this very busy complicated world. We need our partners now more than ever. But for various reasons, creating and maintaining a safe and secure attachment can get blocked. Use these principles to open up the flow between you and your lover.
Depression is a serious problem affecting many people. Having a supportive and loving spouse, in my opinion can help in recovery. I want to say I think depression is complex and probably caused by many factors. Relationship quality perhaps being one possible factor affecting the sufferer. NPR notes some research around this. Something to reflect upon.
Evelyn Schmechtig -Cochran