Men who can’t

Men who can't, bordered(This is an updated version of a post I originally published in 2011.  It continues to get the most weekly hits of anything on Monkeytraps, and the problem it describes continues to emerge in sessions.  Hence this reposting.)     

Three times last week I gave my speech on Men Who Can’t Love Women.

Twice I gave it to wives of men avoiding therapy. 

Once I was talking to a man who’s a husband himself.

The speech I created spontaneously about six months ago, to address a relationship problem that kept cropping up in sessions.

It goes something like this.

I see this more and more lately: 

Men who can’t love women.

No, they’re not gay, impotent, or anything like that.

 They’re not even men who don’t want to love women.

Or don’t try to.

Usually they’re men who believe that they can and do love the women they’re with.

The women they’re with, sadly, tend to see it differently.

Because those women know there’s a fundamental truth about healthy relationships that these men simply don’t grasp:

Giving is getting.

These guys don’t get that.  They don’t see relationship as collaboration, where what’s good for you is good for me.  Instead they seem to see it as some sort of competition.  

They tend to act, often without realizing it,  as if relationship were a zero-sum game, where there’s only so much good stuff to go around, and where a gain for one means a loss for the other.

It’s as if on some deep level they believe, “When you win, I lose.”     

I hope (your husband, boyfriend, lover) isn’t one of these.

Because — due respect to the members of my gender – these guys can be damned hard to retrain.

The idea of giving-as-getting is something most women know in their bones. That’s probably because they’re socialized to value relationships in a way men aren’t.

We train men to compete, not to partner.

Worse, we also train them to work, not to feel.  Which leads to another missing piece in their relationships, something else that many men don’t get.

It’s the idea that love isn’t just an emotion —  it’s behavior.

Most of my male clients struggle with relationships with women.  And at some point I usually ask them, “Do you love her?”

They almost always say, “Yes.”

And then I ask, “How do you show it?’

And they stare at me as if I’ve just lapsed into a foreign language.

Some don’t understand the question.  “What do you mean,” one asked blankly, “by show it?”

Some shrug.   The shrug usually translates as, Hey, I know how I feel.  I assume she knows too.  Don’t women just know this stuff?

Others argue that they already communicate their love adequately.  I go to work, pay bills, mow the lawn, drive Jimmy to soccer practice, put up with her mother, even wash dishes occasionally.  Isn’t that enough?  Shouldn’t it be?

If I suggest otherwise, some get angry at me.

My work with these men usually heads in one of two directions.

Some men — usually those who’ve come close to losing the woman in their lives and come into therapy genuinely frightened — are able to face their limitations.  We then have a series of conversations about the nuts and bolts of loving behavior (ways of communicating acceptance, attention and affection), which they work to internalize and practice.  These are the lucky ones.

Others stand pat.  Hey, this is me.  She can take it or leave it.  Interestingly, it’s not that they’re less frightened than the first group.  They’re just more scared of changing than anything else.  Some stand pat all the way to divorce court.

Some stand pat through multiple marriages and divorces.

My heart goes out to these men.   They’re not bad guys.  They’re not trying to hurt anyone.  They’re just undereducated and overdefended.  (Also emotionally wounded in four specific ways, described here).

But the hurt happens anyway, and it can be devastating to all concerned.

So, some questions to chew on:

Have you ever known a man who can’t love women?

Have you ever been in a relationship with one?

Are you such a man yourself?

Are you sure?

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4 responses to “Men who can’t

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