BEing in a Relationship
The focus in this blog has been on men in the context of the significant relationships in their lives. I also do some couples therapy. A lot of calls I receive are from women seeking couples therapy with the aim of getting help for their male counterpart or men asking for therapy at the behest of their girlfriend, fiánce, or wife. Sometimes men come into therapy blind, not really understanding what portion of the problem they are bringing to the table, but do sometimes genuinely want help despite not understanding. This week I want to elaborate on the differences in how men and women think, stereotypes and stigma that plague men in relationships, and an expanded version of CBT may shed some light on these issues.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) sees humans in three domains: thoughts, feelings, and behavior. CBT can be helpful in understanding and cutting through symptoms, refocusing the way you think that could be creating unnecessary suffering, and even lead to greater synergy between your thoughts and feelings which will result in taking the kind of personal action in your life that leads you to feel successful.
One important area in life that CBT does not cover is the state of BEing. I would add that humans THINK, FEEL, DO, and BE. The way life is socially constructed currently makes it very challenging for any of us to slow down enough and just BE. The blistering pace in which we live our lives and are expected to be productive makes it nearly impossible to find time for what has become a luxury, and this lack of time spent BEing is a source of suffering for our generation. Research is pointing us back to what seems completely obvious: how essential it is for us to drink water, for example, and nowadays we have to go to a yoga class to be reminded how to breathe! It is utterly ridiculous when you really think about it.
Generally women are much better at BEing than men. Stereotypically men are DOers. Men tend to be more logical and goal oriented. Women tend to be FEELers, though obviously these stereotypes do not always hold true. FEELing is a more direct path to BEing than is DOing, and especially THINKing. It is not so cut and dry; DOing can provide a pathway to BEing, just as FEELing can also block BEing when emotions become too intense. Likewise, THINKing can easily attain the status of a disease, but some of the great THINKers of our time have attained the status of BEing through THINKing. It takes a healthy balance between all four domains to lead a happy life, and problems arise when a person becomes over-involved in any one of the four domains.
The essence of BEing in relationship is connectedness, vibing, and resonating. These are characteristics many women feel are missing from their relationship. This makes sense with those men who fit the stereotype as DOers, as such men locate, situate, and apply themselves in a very linear fashion. To me this desire from women clarifies what they may have really meant for the past 30 years when they say they want a man that is “more sensitive.” The myth that women love a man who is “in touch with his feelings” has not really proven universally true. Sure there are women who enjoy a man who can cry. Unfortunately I have been witness to men being ridiculed by women for being emotional as being “weak,” “acting like a woman,” or even pushed around to the point of abuse in relationships because they did not fit the stereotype of the strong male.
I have seen this on such a scale that I do not really believe that women want a man to be very emotional in relationship (If you don’t believe me just go onto the OKCupid website and read how woman after woman answers the question about what they think about a man who cries at movies). I believe that women do want to know what a man is feeling at times, and in touch with his feelings enough to communicate them to her, but not to be emotional. Men do experience intense emotions, and many men are really in touch with their feelings, but it has not really felt safe for some men to openly express all of the emotions they are experiencing in relationship. Men do need a place where they can talk about their intense emotions, somewhere outside of their relationship at first, and hopefully work toward a place where they are able to do so with their partners.
I want to suggest a different interpretation for the men out there as to what their partners are asking of them that may serve as a good starting point. From my experience working with couples I believe what women are really asking men for is that he be able to simply BE with her. Let’s look at the classic example of the woman complaining about a problem, expressing intense feeling, and the man responding by telling her all the things she should DO to solve the problem. In this stereotypical example them man gets frustrated she is not DOing anything to solve the problem and tries to insist she DO it his way, and then the woman gets annoyed because she’s not looking for a solution, but just wanting to vent her feelings. In a state of BEING love is unconditional, and all that is really being asked of the man in this situation is that he be able to maintain his presence when she’s emoting. DOing, in relationship, can bring a level of competitiveness into the relationship that is not healthy. Men do not need to get lost in the matrix of emotion in order to successfully navigate this situation. All a man needs to do is to BE present and just listen, maintaining an unwavering presence. That is all.
Men do not have to be the same as women in order to have more vibrant and connected relationships. Get comfortable with just BEing. When you are truly comfortable with who you are, you will be at ease, and not always feel like you have to be DOing something, or offering solutions to appease people’s FEELings. This goes back to understanding YOU ARE ENOUGH!
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Email Dan Bolton, LMHC at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt (Pink Sherbert: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/317804279/in/set-72157610551917961)