Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Going For Counseling Is Both Manly And Courageous

March 23, 2003

A wife, with fierce resolve, issues her final ultimatum, "Either we go for counseling or I'm leaving." When faced with choosing between twin terrors, the husband's stiff back finally bends and he submits himself to the lesser of the two evils - counseling.

What is so fearsome and threatening about counseling, the mere mention of which strikes fear into macho hearts? Is counseling the ultimate in cruel and unusual punishment designed to strip away the last vestige of masculinity? Would John Wayne have sat by meekly while his marital manners were being discussed?

Misguided masculinity. If masculinity means having a license to be selfish, an excuse not to listen, a pedestal from which to judge, a privilege of being immune from error, an arrogance of not needing to learn from others and a right to use power arbitrarily, then it is a threat.

Some men have the distorted view that unless they present a strong unyielding stance and hide their own insecurities and self-doubts, they will not be loved or respected. Instead of winning love and respect from others, they attempt to wring them from others through sheer demands and strong expectations. With that understanding, one can see how such men would want to defend those exalted privileges and expectations to the bitter end.

A big bluff. A friend of mine commented on the fact that too many women come to view themselves as subordinates and are vulnerable to one-sided relationships.

He writes, "If they could become more assertive, most of the men would have to respect their ideas, their values, more than they do now. Because, after all; most of what these men have going for them now is a big bluff - they need the women as much as the women need them. But because the women are conditioned to doubt their abilities to survive without their men, the bluff works, and the men never have to take the women, or their ideas, or any ideas, very seriously."

The bluff has been called and counseling is the result.

Men eager to change. It is amazing to me how hungry men are at this point for new ideas on how to communicate, how to give and show love and how to enter a world of give-and-take relationships. The bad habits of a lifetime are willingly shed for the exhilaration of an equal relationship with a strong and assertive spouse. They are discovering who their spouse really is and are really listening to her for the first time. They are fascinated and they care.

The most tragic aspect of all of this is that many times, the bluff has been called only after a decision to leave has been made - sometimes years later than when it should have happened. Sometimes it seems there are too many hurts and too much skepticism to be overcome.

Once trust has been established with the counselor and fairness assured, these desperate and highly motivated men may come to view the counselor as an ally in their quest to improve their lives. The act of surrender and giving up control, both to their spouse and to the counselor, makes them willing students in taking a hard look at themselves and at new ways of doing things.

No matter how hard the initial protest, when a man sincerely goes to a counselor, he checks his ego and his need to control at the door. Honesty is the currency of counseling, not B.S. and self-exoneration.

A hard look at self. George Will said, "A well-lived life involves reversing the instinctive tendency to be subjective towards ourselves and objective towards others." With the entry into counseling, the gears are suddenly reversed with dramatic results.

The spotlight is shifted from the incessant glare of what others are doing or not doing to the personal uncomfortable truths, bad habits and honestly acknowledged responsibilities for past wrongs. Finally, the unhappy treadmill comes to a halt.

The process of learning "how" to talk about differences and problems is painful and hard. It is not easy. It is not easy to listen to pain and hurt - pain that he has caused. However, the excitement of the possibility of real love and closeness makes the risks and pain worthwhile. It is a new beginning. A man grows up.

Masculinity and love. The man, who would be a man, discovers masculinity to be more than being lord and master. Leaders do not command; they serve. A man who has the capacity to admit a mistake, appreciate the talents of others, puts the welfare of others ahead of his own and exercises loving patience has more strength than the bully with spurs.

The man who rides tall in the saddle also knows how to get down to wipe away a tear or shed one himself, to care for his horse, to turn back when the weather gets rough and to ask for directions when he is lost. If he doesn't learn it before, he still might after he has been bucked off.

When the circumstances are right, going for help is a manly and courageous thing to do. Going for help speaks well of men who care enough about themselves and their loved ones to take this big step towards growth and improvement. To me, they ride tall in the saddle.