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Who’s Wearing The Pants Now? Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I spoke about how the male gender is struggling.  Men in the 21st century are expected to not only uphold the traditional masculine stereotypes of self-reliance, restricted emotionality, and toughness, but they are also being asked to “embrace there feminine side” and be sensitive and emotionally available.  In other words, guys today are not only expected to climb over the competition on their way up the corporate ladder, but they are also asked to enjoy taking the kids to play group and watching Pride and Prejudice for the tenth time with the wife.

To make matters worse, men are expected to keep these aspects of themselves separate, because if the guys find out that you enjoy Pride and Prejudice, you can expect to have your “maleness” seriously challenged.  As a result, I think men, though well intentioned, often feel frustrated and inadequate to meet the various, inherently conflicting demands placed upon them, which in turn can lead to disillusionment and disconnect.  What can we men do?   And, what can you do to help the men in your life?  Here are a few ideas.

1)  We need to redefine what it is to be man.

Back in 1963, it was said that “there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports.”[1]  I think the same could be said for today, some 50 years later.  And, that’s a problem.

We need a clear and achievable definition of masculinity that provides the necessary flexibility for men to meet the demands of the 21st century.  Sure it’s ok to have any or all of the attributes listed above, but is should also be ok for men to be different…to lack confidence from time to time, to feel sadness or shame, to experience unemployment or find out they are impotent.  A man should not blush if he is NOT white, heterosexual, married, young, athletic, well educated, etc.  There has to be a way to keep what is good about being a man and add the attributes we need to adapt and achieve success in our lives.  Speaking of this…

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Married Men Have Better Sex

Finally, there’s some definitive evidence to suggest the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence.  There is a popular sentiment that married men feel stuck, unsatisfied and terribly jealous of their single friends, who seem to have all the fun.  This sentiment has been carried on by movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, and more recently by The Family Man or The Change-Up.  It seems as though at times married men question if being married is worth it.  Well, in a new article by Everyday Health.com, research suggests there are many ways men benefit from tying the knot, and some may surprise you.

Read the article.

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Who’s Wearing the Pants Now? Part One

To put it bluntly, the male gender is struggling.  Currently, for every two college degrees earned by men, women earn three.  The majority of the nation’s jobs are held by women, who have seen their overall earnings grow 44% since 1970.  Over the same period of time, men’s earnings have grown just 6%.   During this recession, three quarters of the jobs lost were by men, and of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the coming decade, only two are occupied primarily by men.  Most alarmingly, while only one in twenty working-age men were unemployed in 1950, today that ratio has increased to one in five.

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Ask a Therapist: My Hubby Won’t Take Financial Responsibility, Help!

Q: My husband hasn’t ever taken full responsibility for supporting our family Wasatch Family Therapy Couplesfinancially. He has had opportunities to advance in his career but won’t do what it takes to move ahead. I think he makes important decisions based on fear. His Dad and mine have been helping us financially for years. I work part time and recently took over ownership of the business and see it as our way to finally be self reliant. I feel some resentment towards my husband because he doesn’t work on most Fridays and spends those days as well as evenings with the kids while I’m working so hard. It seems like he’s always being bailed out of his responsibility and now I’m bailing him out by taking over this business. He seems fine with putting forth no effort. He’s been up watching sports games till 1 am while I’m up at the same time studying for business classes. I’ve lost respect and love for him over the years because of his lack of drive. My question is – How do I decide to be okay with his decision to pass of his responsibility to support the family when I think it’s totally wrong? Is it possible to live with this when it goes against everything I think should be important to a father?

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What John Wayne Left Out

Generations of American men have learned from “The Duke” that in order to beat the bad guy and rescue the damsel in distress, you have to be tough, brave and work hard. That’s all fine and dandy. Most men don’t have a problem with those things. We can work hard, act tough and sweep a woman off her feet. What most of us struggle with, however, is what to do next. Unfortunately, this is where John Wayne’s movies end. John Wayne doesn’t show us how to be happily married or provide a stable livelihood. We never saw John Wayne struggle with marital difficulties, much less manage a 30-year fixed mortgage, career changes, fatherhood, church service, etc. I guess those plot lines don’t make for good westerns.

With June being National Men’s Health Month, I want to focus on improving men’s emotional health by filling in one of the gaps left by John Wayne. Specifically, I’d like to address what men want in their marriage and give three suggestions on how we can attain it.

What men want in relationships is to love and be loved. Research shows men are happiest and healthiest when in a loving relationship. In fact, men in loving relationships live longer and are less likely to experience heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety or chronic pain than men not in loving relationships.

I doubt if there are any surprises here. After all, John Wayne risked arm and leg to win the affection of the woman he loved. What men struggle with is how to maintain a loving relationship once it’s started. This is where manly toughness ceases to help and instead hinders. Listed below are a few suggestions to help men get what they want out of their marriages.

1. It’s Not All about Sex

Our culture teaches men to express emotional needs physically. Boys are often teased when they attempt to say how they feel, especially when they convey a sense of vulnerability (e.g., fear, sadness or distress). On the other hand, boys are praised for acting out their aggression on a football field or holding in their emotions through statements such as, “Way to suck it up!” or “You are tough!”

When married, men are naturally inclined to use sex as a means to feel close and express love. I often hear men say to their spouse, “If you really cared about me, you would want to meet my needs.” My suggestion to men is based on the belief that love and closeness are built upon open and honest expression of emotion, especially those emotions that leave you feeling vulnerable. I know! What if you are not feeling anything? If that’s the case, then say that. Talk about how you want to feel closer to your spouse and the trouble you have expressing your emotions. Try it. On your next free evening, sit down together and open up without an expectation for sex. It may surprise you how good it feels.

2) No More Mind Games

Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind. Did you know your face can produce over 20,000 expressions? These thousands of facial expressions can then coincide or contradict the many subtle messages you send through your body language. How in the world, then, can your spouse know what you are thinking by just looking at you?

To avoid all the confusion, I recommend you share your thoughts and feelings with your spouse. As you do, remember to avoid saying “you”, as it can sound like you are blaming your spouse for how you feel. Instead, say something like, “I feel _____ when _____ because _____.” Saying “I” helps you take responsibility for what you think and feel. Again, you will be surprised by how good it feels to share your internal experiences and not have to wait for others to guess it.

3) Praise Your Spouse

Research finds that most men only have one close friend, their spouse. As a result, most of our emotional needs are placed upon our marriage. Also, men are exposed to countless messages from the media telling them their spouses are supposed to be passionate, sexual and emotionally fulfilling. Taken together, men are sometimes too quick to blame their spouse for any unhappiness.

I recommend making a conscious effort to praise your spouse. Tell her how lovely she is; compliment her hair or outfit; mention how much you appreciate everything she does for you. I suspect that once you start looking for things to compliment, you’ll be surprised by how many things you like about your spouse.

The take home message here is that your spouse isn’t perfect. Trust me, she knows that already. But, neither are you. You both are trying the best you can with what you have. It’s just that you will be a much happier husband if you focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. After all, happiness often isn’t found through focusing on your self. It most often comes from the sustained emotional investment in other people.

Focus on becoming a better person and partner and ask your spouse for help with this…

Todd Dunn

Dr. Todd Dunn

Dr. Todd Dunn is a Licensed Psychologist at Wasatch Family Therapy specializing in men’s mental health and relationships. To schedule a session with Dr. Dunn call 801.944.4555 or visit wasatchfamilytherapy.com.

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