Real Men Aren’t Afraid of Counselling

When I was growing up “real men” acted like going to marriage counselling was the same thing as volunteering to be castrated. I guess they thought it was better to be miserable, or end up alone, than to stoop to admitting they had a problem and getting help. 

Real Men Aren't Afraid of Counselling

It’s not quite that bad these days, but there still seems to be a lot of resistance. Perhaps it’s more an issue of underestimating the problem and thinking “We can deal with this on our own.” 

The problem is most of us had less than great examples of marriage growing up. Some of us had horrible examples, including one or more divorces for our parents. We are also surrounded by marriages that are mediocre at best. Many (most?) of us don’t have the tools to deal with marriages problems, and even if one spouse does the other may not.

Beyond getting help for problems, my friend Andrew has suggested every couple should have a “marriage checkup” with a counsellor every year. I love this idea because it makes it possible to deal with some things before they become a big deal. It can also find problems that the couple has not yet identified. And, it gives the counsellor a baseline to work with should there ever be any major issues.

Real men do whatever it takes to make their marriage great!


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29 Comments on “Real Men Aren’t Afraid of Counselling

  1. I’m going to be one of those men, and until I start seeing lots of reports of men saying that they found good counselors I don’t know that I’ll change my mind. What I’ve heard a lot of, and what I witnessed first hand, was the counseling being very one sided. Most of the problems were the husband’s fault, and so the point of counseling was to get him to see that so he can change and be more feminine. I’m sure there are good Christian counselors out there, but counseling certainly didn’t help my marriage. I recommend counseling for couples that are heading for divorce, because what have you got to lose. But, you won’t see me going voluntarily any time soon myself, and it has little to do with me not wanting to get help (although admittedly there is an element of that with most men).

    Maybe I’m completely wrong. Are there men reading this who have encountered great counselors who you feel really helped your marriage? I would love to hear your experience.

    • Counseling dramatically improved my marriage. I would not personally recommend a “Christian” counselor, I had terrible experiences with the ones we tried. Our counselor told my wife that my expectations for our sex life were completely within reason and got her to stop assuming the worst in every situation about my intentions. He called out where she was jumping to conclusions about things she believed I thought which were wrong but wouldn’t believe me on. He helped me understand what her perspective was, and helped us communicate a lot better. He got my wife to start intervening when her parents overstepped their bounds, instead of me getting mad and starting a fight because she wanted to avoid conflict.

      My advice would be to tell the guy to choose the counselor himself if he is concerned about it. If you got to one and they spend the whole time more concerned with your porn use than why your wife doesn’t want to have sex……you need to find another counselor.

    • I agree that many men are afraid of one-sided counsel – because that is so often what is portrayed in media. However, a few years back, my wife and I attended some marital counseling to help with some problems we were having. Our counselor (female by the way) was very fair, balanced and helpful!

      I wonder if some of the problem isn’t that we men tend to rush to judgment faster than our wives? Women tend to be more collaborative by nature, so the idea of receiving help is favorable. While men tend toward independence, so the idea of receiving help is almost insulting?

      Brian, I wonder, how did your wife feel about the counseling you received? Did she agree it seemed one-sided, or did she feel it addressed her needs to change as well?

      • That’s a good question. I don’t know how she felt, but since I was pretty much the only person who got asked questions and that he spent 80% of the time talking to I don’t know how she could feel that it wasn’t one sided. At one point he said that it was expected that sex would become less and less frequent in marriage and that was normal, and implied that my expectations for sex were invalid. When he said that sex right after getting married might be a “few times a week” (I wanted it every day or multiple times a day), my wife even commented with her head down that it wasn’t even that frequent.

        • Go see a secular counselor Brian. When ours told my us “well, you just have to figure out if this is something you are willing to end the relationship over, and go from there” my wife seemed to snap back to reality on how important sex was, and that I could end the relationship over the issue if I wanted to……and I wasn’t too far off from that at the time. Christian counselors aren’t willing to deal with stuff like that as bluntly. A whole lot of people that complain on this site, and others, would be a lot better off if they were willing to put ending the relationship on the table over fixing a dead bedroom. Also a secular counselor isn’t going to beat you over the head with morality about porn calling it cheating if your wife isn’t having sex, they might agree that porn isn’t the best idea, but they will tell her that it is absurd to expect your husband to live in a celibate relationship and then get mad because he turns to his computer.

          • @mykidsmademedoit – There are various schools of biblical and Christian counselling. I’ve had training in one I would never recommend! But there are also some that are very good.

            I do think the whole “You can’t divorce me” thing is sometimes a real block to a marriage getting better. I’d say sexless is a valid reaosn to divorce. Beyond if it’s okay to divorce, there is the reality most folks will do it right or wrong if it gets bad enough. (And BTW that could include women leaving over porn!)

            • Of course, anyone can leave over anything they want. If a woman wants to leave over porn she is more than able to make that decision, and for some women that may very well be the right choice. I would put it on a spectrum like refusal. I would tell the guy who is having sex once a week and who just had twins something completely different than the guy who’s wife just cut him off three years ago. The same would be to the woman who’s husband has an occasional dalliance with his computer after a month of no attention, vs the woman married to the guy who just watches porn all day. Any of the above can legally end their marriage for the reason, whether it is prudent to do so is a matter of discretion. I think I’m pretty clear that my experience with it has been that religious counselors draw a really hard line on porn, but are wishy washy on leaving your spouse hanging. And it doesn’t have to be about sex, it could easily be about your inlaws or money or gambling. Once you know that you are playing for keeps, I think people start taking other’s concerns more seriously. You know this, a lot of guys wake up when she walks out because he doesn’t communicate with her……a lot of women should wake up when he walks out because she doesn’t sleep with him anymore.

              • @mykidsmademedoit – I am more concerned about porn that you are, but I fully agree with you that much of the church has failed to teach what the Bible says about the importance of sex in marriage and the sin of regularly refusing sex.

                • You see porn as the problem, I see porn as the symptom of the problem

                  • I agree with you about porn not being the root problem, but just as heart failure might be a symptom, it has to be dealt with first and foremost in order to have a chance to deal with the underlying problems. Porn does make everything worse.

                  • @mykidsmademedoit – I think that is an accurate assessment.

                    Given that the vast majority of men come into marriage with an active porn habit, I don’t see how it can be a symptom of a marriage problem.

    • @Brian – There are certainly plenty of bad counsellors our there, but there are also many good ones. It’s human nature to gripe about things we dislike so you hear more about that than the good one’s. It’s also human nature to blame someone else, and I assure you some of men who complain just failed to follow good advice they didn’t like. Calling the counsellor bad because you were unwilling to follow solid, godly advice feels better than admitting you screwed up, but it doesn’t make that story the truth.

      ” I recommend counseling for couples that are heading for divorce, because what have you got to lose. ” – And they are often too far gone to get any help. Some men do the same thing with doctors, and it can cost them their lives!

  2. I was going to say the same as Brian. Real men are not afraid of GOOD counseling. The problem seems to be that most of it is not good. More along the lines of the Ken Nair model, where if your wife is mis-behaving like having an affair, it’s some failure on the part of the husband that drove her to betray him.

    I tend to trust counselors who follow the model spelled out by Dr Willard Harley, who learned that only about 25% of counseling was effective, meaning a full 3/4s of it did no good or even made things worse.

    Men are wise to avoid an ambush and to avoid bad counsel. If the counsel is in the form of what Ken Nair, a supposed biblical based counselor offers, which says if there is a problem in the marriage, it’s the man’s fault, then men should not walk into that ambush.

    After all, we keep hearing how women are better at relationships than men, which isn’t true. Women may be better at different aspects of a relationship, but there are other aspects where the man brings the strength. If both were the same, one would be redundant.

    Or we hear how the desires of men are immature, or shallow. Again, no more or less immature or shallow than the desires of women. But we never hear that.

    It’s my impression that there is more tickling of the ears in this arena than there is wise counsel.

  3. Please stop using the term “real men”. Men are not considered real or fake based on what they do or do not do. It’s a genetics thing. He may be a bad man, but he’s still a man.

  4. I actually think the reluctance is more about how most men tend to manage and process all emotions and problems, which is to say they tend to do so alone and in isolatuon.

    I think it is a lot more of a fear based reluctance than a macho one, but when feelings are involved, especially hurt, men resort to dismissing such things.

    I have been to counseling on a few occasions, and it is not a pleasant thing. Even marriage and close friendships seldom seem safe places for me to completely let my guard down. A perfect stranger would seem even harder, but I have found that sometimes that is the perfect place, but that is something I had to learn.

    • I would agree with this. I think process problems and emotions very differently. Sitting and talking about it is rarely something that comes naturally to be.

  5. First off, Paul, thanks for the callout!

    My feeling is that you can only get out of counseling as much as you’re willing to put in. Taking a challenging attitude of “Well, SHOW me what I’m doing wrong!” dooms the process. We’re all doing something wrong, or at least could be doing better, and accepting the criticism that ‘my best self’ isn’t what I think it is, that can be hard.

    And yes, men are often wrong because women are generally better at relationships…with the proviso that it’s ‘better at a relationship as defined by that particular woman.’ My wife had a very clear idea of what she wanted our marriage to look like, and while I listened, I did not understand what she was saying. I didn’t even remotely share the paradigm. It took a divorce, remarriage, and lots of counseling to understand the plain fact of her HAVING a vision, and I’m still trying to come to grips with what it is.

    None of that would have been possible without counseling. My view as one-dimensional; I needed someone to shine a light onto that which I could not see, AND explain to me the utter unfamiliarity of that which I beheld…a woman’s heart and mind.

    • @Andrew Budek-Schmeisser “My feeling is that you can only get out of counseling as much as you’re willing to put in.”

      Pretty much truth for all of life.

      I love your promoting of the idea of counselling because you so very much a “man’s man”. You are not a touchy feely wimp, but you are man enough to do what it takes to make your marriage good. You are my hero!

  6. Another thing to realise here is that a good counsellor knows how far they can push each spouse. Push either one too far and the whole thing falls apart.

    So if they are mostly dealing with the man that could mean three things:
    1) The counsellor thinks it’s mostly the man’s fault.
    2) It really is mostly the man’s fault.
    3) The man is more willing to face and deal with things than the woman and the counsellor hopes that getting him to make some changes will motivate the wife to deal with her stuff.

    I’d say that third one is a factor in the majority of the couples we work with. Sometimes it’s the man who is more willing, sometimes it’s the woman.

    • I’m 95% sure that it was because he thought everything was completely my fault. Now, much of our issues were indeed on me, but many were not.

  7. I must be the odd man out. I was the one who sought out the counselor, both for depression and for marriage. It’s been my experience that my ex-wife wouldn’t even go, and my current wife ended the sessions when she had something hard to do.

    Even took our daughter for CBT to deal with her anxiety and learned a fair bit myself.

    It sounds like you are making the case that it could be that (some) men are more willing to make changes and hear hard truths than (some) women.

    But that runs out of steam as if only one person is making changes, but it doesn’t get better for them, will they remain invested or see a return on their effort?

    I.E. if she says she wants him to be more romantic, but then discounts his romantic efforts, does she really want him to be more romantic? The empirical evidence often points to no.

    • @uniballer1965 – Those who don’t want to change resist counselling. It’s not the only reason people resist, but it’s a big one. And yes, it can be women too. There was a time when Lori and I have a long string of couples where the woman was more the problem and less willing to work on it.

      Unilateral is always a gamble. I think it’s 99% effective IF the person can do it long enough. I just read a story in “The Kindness Challenge” about a mother-in-law who did a sudden about face after five years on the receiving end of kindness! But few of us can do that year after year without seeing any change, especially in a marriage situation.

  8. I have been in and out of counseling since my early teens. Some great some completely crap. You keep searching til you find one you can work with. I my case on who says the following, “I hear what you are telling me now let’s cut to what is REALLY going on.” We are all great at excusing our own behavior and focusing on what the other person is doing “wrong”.

    Thankfully my hubby is, as you stated, “a real man” and not afraid to seek counseling when needed. He had a couple MAJOR issues to deal with. These drove me to counseling also (again). We had separate counselors in the same office. They were given permission to confer when needed. They called us together I think twice the year and a half we saw them. My counselor usually validated my feelings but turned it back to me, my expectations, and what I could do to improve the situation. Even though she only got one side she NEVER assumed it was all the hubby. As my hubby says, she has saved many lives ;). He is quick to suggest counseling to friends facing rough patches. He has sought counseling since for an unrelated issue with much success.

    • @Awife’sperspective “They were given permission to confer when needed.”

      That’s really important. It allows both of them to see the fuller picture.

      Glad your husband is encouraging others to do what worked for him!

  9. If you agree to counselling, it’s critical you participate in choosing the counsellor ….. and you’re both comfortable working with the counsellor from the onset.

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