A couple of years ago I attended a workshop on relationship counseling. The room was packed with therapists looking to hear an esteemed author give his take on how to help couples reconcile their relational struggles. The ratio of women therapists to male therapists in the audience was about 80 to 20, women to men. The presenter at one point made a comment that made the entire audience laugh. “Hey, guys”, he said. “You know you aren’t a real man, right? You’re a therapist for God’s sake!”. Everyone laughed. I did too. Of course, he was being tongue in cheek, but it got me thinking. What actually defines a man?
How do you define a man?
Question. How would you define a woman? Maybe you’d say something like “caring”, “nurturing”, or “patient” to describe feminine energy or an ideal female figure.
But how would you define a man? We might hear something like “Well, a man isn’t feminine, he’s not a woman.” Ok, great. Got it. What else would define a man? “He’s not weak.” Ok. But what does this mean? What about this one. “A man doesn’t complain and gets the job done.” Slightly better, I guess.
The purpose in asking the question of “what makes a man a man?” is to point out we really don’t give men a whole lot to work with when it comes to self identity.
To sum it up, it seems in our society a man is defined more about what he isn’t, than what he is.
Where it’s starts
First, I’ll point out what I tend to see on a regular basis in my couples counseling. Men are relatively behind women when it comes to intimacy. This is because men are taught at an early age to control emotion.
- It’s not acceptable for a boy to cry
- It’s not acceptable for a boy to show vulnerability
- It’s not acceptable for a boy to show hurt or pain
But this isn’t just a problem for the parents who raise their sons. It’s a societal issue. No matter what a boy is taught at home, he’ll eventually run into social situations at school, for example, that tell him to not cry or to hide emotions. There’s peer pressure at an early age. Then there’s societal pressure in various forms as that boy grows into a man. Men can’t escape the message. “Don’t show your feelings”.
Let’s face it. The only acceptable emotion for men to express is anger.
“So what?”, you might be saying. “You have to have thick skin and be tough to make it.” Well, it might not be a big deal. But when it is, it usually shows up in relationships.
A problem in relationships
As I previously wrote in my article “The Lack of Vulnerability in Men and How We’re Playing Catch Up with Women”, I note the unintended consequences that the absence of being vulnerable in a relationship can create.
To be vulnerable means to be susceptible to being seen for who you are. To be seen for all of what you are. All the good and the bad. The strengths and the flaws. But relationships, if they are to meaningful and intimate, put people in direct position to be vulnerable.
However, it’s human nature to preserve our sense of self because we need that to maintain our feet on the ground. We need firm footing. Normalcy. But again, the consequence to not being vulnerable is to have a lack of intimacy and emotional connection in our relationships. I don’t have to state that it’s apparent that women have changed and their place in relationships has changed significantly over the years. Women are increasingly wanting men to be more available. They are wanting men to be vulnerable. They want more.
When men can’t give this increased emotional connection, the relationship, or marriage suffers.
A societal problem, not just a “man’s problem”
Have you heard the saying that “You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic”? This is akin to the stance that it’s a man’s sole responsibility to become more emotionally available. When I’m seeing couples I frequently hear women talking about wanting more from their partners emotionally. At the same time, these women balk when they’re actually faced with their man’s emotional states.
Of course, there is no excuse for unbridled self expression in anger, or raging. But once a man confides in his wife his insecurities and vulnerabilities, she has to embrace what she is really asking for. Intimacy and emotional contentedness is more than romance and good feelings. It’s everything. The good and the ugly.
Women need to step up to hold that emotional space of support for their partners when necessary. And when women have become accustomed to their partners holding that position of “being a rock” and being “emotionally stable” in their relationships, it can be a hard transition to reversing the role.
So, being more emotionally available isn’t just a man’s problem or responsibility, it’s a couple’s responsibility.
Here’s more on the woman’s responsibilities as written in the article “Surrendering to Masculine Energy”.
Defining a man
So we know what a man isn’t. But what about what a man is?
A man’s energy, or masculine energy is defined as:
Masculine Energy vs Feminine Energy
- doing vs being
- aggression vs surrender
- analytical vs intuitive
- concrete vs abstract
- impatient vs patient
- striving vs tranquil
- rushing vs nurturing
- assertive vs receptive
- left brain vs right brain
- thrusting vs receiving
- organization vs synthesizing
- logical vs creative
- busy vs calm
- hard vs soft
- controlling vs allowing
Now we’ve seemed to come full circle. Indeed, we have. It is natural for a man to exude masculine energy and there’s nothing wrong with that.
In terms of a relationship it is interesting to note the more feminine energy the woman puts out, the more masculine energy her partner will express.
But masculine energy is not all of what makes a man a man. A man is defined by both, wait for it, masculine and feminine energies.
- A man is focused and centered, but does have the capacity to express emotionally
- A man is process oriented and task focused, but does have the time to be present with his family
- A man is concrete and analytical, but does have the sensitivity to be a loving parent to his children
- A man is assertive and firm, but does have a sensitive caring side to be compassionate in order to care for and foster life
Just as women have tapped into their own masculine energies to become more assertive in getting what they want for themselves and for their relationships, men have a task to become more balanced. Men are being pushed into the realization that for them to get the fulfillment out of life and in their relationships, they have to uncover their own balanced energies and sense of self. It’s a tall order. But a necessary shift if we are to continue to progress as a healthy society.