I remember sitting in a hostel in Portugal on the last night of my 18-month round-the-world trip. As I was scrolling through FB and seeing all the happy faces of the people I knew, I began to feel emotional.
The last few months of my traveling had been exhausting, lonely, and at times, scary. I had gotten extremely lost on my scooter in Vietnam (I did not have a working phone), I had crashed a motorcycle in Turkey (got scraped up pretty bad), and constantly felt uneasy on my travels through rural Morocco.
Along the way, I had met all types of awesome and interesting people, but we always had to part ways. I got really good at approaching new people, and we would often go out and do fun things or talk about our travels.
However, on my last night of the trip in the beautiful city of Lisbon, I could not wait to leave! Why? I didn’t know. Even though I had made this miraculous dream happen, I mostly felt flat and confused. It was at this point that I began to wonder, “What’s the point?”
Fast forward a few months and I’m back again in my now-home of Salt Lake City, living with a couple of friends and joining in on a Men’s group call that I had been away from for a while.
For the first time, I got to share the lows of the trip and not just the highs that I had been documenting in my FB travel journal. It felt so relieving and inspiring to finally get real about the struggle! It was so refreshing to open up about my authentic feelings and thoughts, in the moment! It was like a part of me, that I didn’t know was there, was finally free to come out into the world.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that without feeling, exploring, and sharing the negative, the darkness, the struggle, we are not able to fully feel the positive, the light, and the ease. We short circuit if we begin to hold in our authentic experience and we feel stuck. This is where we often get confused.
Joy. I like joy. Uh oh. I’m not feeling joy anymore. I must try harder to feel joy. I can’t feel joy. Something’s wrong. I’m confused.
Long periods of time go by as we desperately try to cultivate brief moments of joy and happiness through whatever means necessary. We begin to lose touch with ourselves and the pain that we are avoiding, grows.
We are usually very unaware that the way back to authentic joy and happiness is to experience our authentic sadness, anger, hopelessness, etc. With practice, we begin to fear these feelings less, and we begin to live more in the flow of life. We build this underlying space of “okayness”, even when life seems very much, not okay.
If there’s one thing that this trip and the years that have followed have taught me, it’s that I have to be honest about my real experience if I want feel connected to the world around me. Pretending doesn’t work. Struggling is okay.
“Hey…can we talk?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“It seems like we’ve been busy lately and it would be nice if we could set some time aside to go out on a date.”
“Yeah, sure. Just let me know when you want to go and what you want to do.”
“Well…I have a few ideas but, what do you want to do?”
“It doesn’t matter to me. Just tell me what you want.”
Now, there are a few things to note about this conversation:
#1 Even though I didn’t tell you who the man is and who the woman is in this conversation, you instinctively knew.
#2 If you’re a man, you probably don’t see anything wrong with this conversation. If you’re a woman, this conversation might illicit a feeling of anxiety, flatness, frustration, or loneliness.
#3 One person is doing all the emotional work here.
Many couples have conversations like this on a regular basis.
Typically, when confronted with a lack of participation, the man becomes confused and frustrated because he doesn't know what he isn't doing. He may say something like, “Just tell me what you want.” At this point, many women tend to get frustrated and confused as well because they don’t know what they want.
This is where people get stuck.
If we go back to the conversation, I can see why both parties are stuck. First of all, the woman is the one who had to generate the energy and vulnerability to ask for something she wanted. She even voices her emotion and desire by saying that it would feel “nice” to go out together.
What she’s met with is his deferment back to her. He provides no emotional response, no vulnerability, and no ideas.
When met with this, she tries again. She acknowledges that she has some ideas, but she is also wanting more engagement from him.
At this point, he doubles down on his deferment and even adds that he doesn’t care.
Now, this may not mean that he doesn’t care about her or that he doesn’t care about the date but, this is where she is again burdened with doing all the work of remembering, deciding, planning, and holding the excitement of the conversation.
It would be completely normal for her to think:
“Does he even want to go?”
“Would he remember if I didn’t bring this up again?”
“How is he really feeling right now?”
All of this could be going on in the background, without her having much awareness of it. However, what she does know is that it doesn’t feel equal, engaging, fun, or exciting to be in dialogue like this.
This is the invisible work that creates a REAL struggle for both men AND women.
One day, during my sophomore year of high school, two kids that I hung out with got into a feud over something stupid. I was told that the bigger kid was going to fight the skinny kid so I we all met up outside the cafeteria. The skinny kid was obviously afraid, so he sat down on the stairs and refused to get up and fight. He was called every name in the book by the big kid and all the boys watching.
I froze in that moment, not knowing whether I should stand up for the skinny kid or jump in on the hazing. Within a few seconds, it was too late. The big kid walked up and sucker punched the skinny kid. He broke his nose in one punch. Blood and tears poured out over the kid’s face, shirt, and out onto the floor.
For a moment, time stood still and no one knew what to do. The skinny kid hid his face and quickly ambled towards the office. I mean, what else could he have done?
The big kid got suspended for a few days and the skinny kid got labeled a “rat” for the rest of the year. He showed up to school the next day, with two black eyes and a splint over his nose. I felt so bad for him, but I didn’t say anything. We still saw each other in shared friend groups and I witnessed how emotionless teenage boys can be, as they continued to prod him for his inability to defend himself.
I also knew what it was like to be them because I was one, too. I was always a little bit smaller than the rest of the boys, so I knew what I had to do. I fought my way out of getting bullied on many occasions and I even instigated some fights to proactively assert myself as a non-p$#%&!. I knew that, if I didn’t fight back at every turn, I was at risk of getting verbally or physically assaulted.
All of this was basically brushed over in my culture and upbringing with the phrase “Boys will be boys.” Looking back, there was always this sense that I had to be a certain way in order to earn respect from my peers and to impress the girls.
I’d like to say that we all grew up and learned to handle our emotions, but we didn’t. The markers we use have just changed forms. Instead of physically asserting ourselves, it’s now mostly done with money, possessions, and control.
Why do you think some men work countless hours and sleep with as many women as possible, while other men fall into disrepair, drinking, getting fat, and hating themselves? It’s two sides of the same coin.
And, of course there are the men in-between, who may not have polarized, but who are still unhappy. They work a job that pays the bills, they watch a lot of TV, and they try to pretend that they’re proud of their “dad bod”.
So, what’s it like to be a Man in the year 2019? Well, for those that buy into the system and continue their patterns without questioning, it’s anywhere from fine to numb to unbearable. Men may still hold much of the power over women, but we also kill ourselves and abuse substances at much high rates. There’s a reason for that.
I’m not comparing our experience to women’s experience because I don’t know what it’s like. This is just for the men.
If you don’t wake up, get some help, do some inner-work, and change your relationship with yourself, you’re going to suffer, bro!
Believe me! I know!
I suffered under this regime for most of my life and now I’m doing the work. I’m looking into my childhood, I’m crying, I’m talking about feelings with my partner, I’m taking care of myself, I’m voicing my needs, I’m facing my unhealthy behaviors, I’m asking for help, and I am past the point of no-return.
And now, I help men and women change the way that they relate to each other and themselves. And, I do that by changing the way that I relate to you and myself.
Men, we can do better and we must do better. All this war, fighting, controlling, faking, and aggression is not going to get us what we want.
If you’re a man like me, you may have been told, or felt, that you’re “emotionally unavailable” at times. Maybe, it sounded more like “I guess you don’t even care” or “What’s your deal?”.
This is a confusing situation for both parties involved. On the man’s side, it’s strange because, sometimes, we really are disconnected from what we’re feeling. Maybe, we are sitting down in front of a plate of food, fiddling with something, or watching TV and we literally aren’t aware of any undercurrent of emotion. And, for the women, it can be frustrating because they can’t get a read on what the heck is going on with their partner.
So, what can we do to bridge this gap, together?
First off, we have to acknowledge what is. If you’re man is emotionally unavailable, there’s a reason for that. He has probably dealt with things the same way for his entire life and he’s not going to change in one day. Don’t let his stoicism fool you. He needs some patience and gentleness, especially in his most stressful moments.
This doesn’t mean that you let him walk all over you. Taking care of yourself is just as important.
When you feel like you’re in a good spot yourself, be direct. We tend to respect straight forward questions and requests. However, most of all, we need to know why. Our logical brains usually need to be satisfied before our emotional brains will come online.
It may sound something like:
“Hey honey, I want our relationship to feel better so will you set some time aside to talk today?”
“I’ve noticed that you may be feeling stressed. I’d like to hear more so that I can help.”
“I hear you saying you want some space. For me, I need to know exactly what that looks like so, let’s sit down and make a plan.”
Odds are, you will probably get a lot farther using these exact scripts then saying what you’re used to saying.
And, if you don’t get a great answer, try giving a little space. It doesn’t mean that you have to do this forever.
Many men have a complicated relationship with intimacy. In some ways, we may try to show it through hard work, physical touch, or fierce protection. In other ways, such as sharing how we’re feeling, we may have little to no experience. It can feel very threatening to be asked what’s going on inside that thick skull of ours.
So, bottom line, try some new ways if the old ways are not working. If you’re used to shrinking and dancing around the subject, stand up tall and be direct. If you’re tired of chasing him around…stop. If you are in a constant state of blame, look at your part and own it.
1. Don't schedule it - If both of you are often too busy or tired for sex, try putting it off until...whenever.
2. Watch TV in bed - Let's see what's on Netflix.
3. Don't talk about it - If you've gotten used to not bringing it up, it's going to be much easier to keep it that way.
4. Complain/ Blame - But....you....never....😫
5. Bargain - Okay, we can do it if you go visit my family with me. "Perfect! I'll get my coat."
6. Watch a lot of porn - Nothing can kill a sex life quite like fantasizing about other people, erectile dysfunction, and compartmentalized sexuality.
7. Don't get help - Have you tried crossing your fingers or wishing upon a star?
In couples work, people tend to come to us after things have really gone off the rails. The story is almost always the same. One person is fearing that the relationship is failing and the other is avoiding facing this fact. Basically, one partner feels like they’re chasing after love and the other seems to have lost it all together. Usually, the Avoider is caught up with work or family and is feeling overwhelmed and the Anxious person is feeling very alone. Sound familiar?
It’s rare that both people are willing to step up to the plate, at the same time and with the same level of commitment. And, if they are in that place, it’s usually because they’ve already done some work to lay the foundation for what’s next.
So, if each partner is in a different place, this is where things get tricky. This polarization gives each person ample evidence that the other is the problem. The Avoider gets to say that they are feeling overwhelmed because there is so much being asked of them. They may be the one who works long hours or piles on innumerable responsibilities to avoid being without something to do. When their partner asks them for more time, connection, or affection, they point to their schedule and say, “Don’t you see how busy I am?”
The Anxious person may also be busy, but their life consistently revolves around what their partner or they're family is doing. They carry the emotional weight, they try to make the plans, and they are the ones who appear to be the most disappointed when things don’t work out. These are the folks that are most concerned about the survival of the relationship and these are the people that we get the calls from. They get to point at their partner and say, “I’m trying so hard to make this work and they don’t seem to care like I do.”
Left alone, this partnership could still last a lifetime. The Pursuer-Avoider dynamic could evolve into an Employee-Boss, Boss-Boss, or Employee-Employee relationship. This automated type of partnership would require that each person fall into a designated role and stay there. Even though both people may not like how it feels, they will choose to stay in the relationship because it is less scary than questioning it and possibly ending up alone. This doesn’t tend to feel good when it is brought into the awareness. However, no awareness, no problem.
An Employee-Boss relationship will require the employee to give up more control to the boss, in exchange for the connection. As this happens the boss will relax some and they will begin to organize things in the way they want them. They are afraid to lose their autonomy so they agree to take on the burden of the work or decisions in exchange for connection. Both people do get some of what they want, but they are also required to take on or give up something in return.
Odds are that they come from families where both the boss and employee roles were treated as necessary and noble. This tends to run across gender lines with the older population, men being the boss and women being the employees. They can be one of the easier types to deal with, if they operate out of respect, because they can use each other’s strengths and triggers to come deeper into alignment.
The Boss-Boss relationship will be noticeable from a mile away because this is the type of couple that is often at war. This battle requires that both sides keep score and do their best to never get down too many points. Both parties live with a lot of fear and they get barely enough crumbs of connection, notoriety, or self-fulfillment to keep the partnership afloat.
They are both the independent type and they may come from homes where there was a fight for attention, autonomy, or general survival. They can be a very difficult couple to work with because both may have hair-triggers around letting their guard down. Trust is of the utmost importance in dealing with these types and it can take a while to build assurance within the Coach-Client relationship and, especially within the partnership itself. Although difficult, this type is also more likely than the employee-employee to reach out for help because controlling and fixing are correlated with getting support and that’s what is most on both people’s minds.
The Employee-Employee relationship is often the most difficult to spot because it can look so much like a conscious partnership. Both parties somehow find a way to subordinate to each other and it’s almost like it’s a race to not score any points. Neither one wants to win for fear of upsetting the other so they constantly tip toe the line between getting “just enough” while also making sure their partner is happy.
Employee-Employee relationships are usually looking for a boss so they are more likely to subordinate to an authority like a church or an organized group where they are told how to be. They could also just fall into a role of how they believe their family or community believes they should be, without explicit direction. These couples are probably the least likely to reach out for help and they can be the most difficult to work with. They may never reach the point where they are open to questioning because they develop such complex strategies to keep the real stuff hidden.
Usually, it takes a big wave, in the form of a major life disturbance, for either one of them to reach of for help. In working with them, the first order of business is usually to poke around until someone can begin to access their anger or sadness. This is tedious work when someone has spent a lifetime sweeping those feelings under the rug.
They often come from families where there was a similar dynamic or, more often than not, a huge loss of connection through divorce or trauma. To compensate and to keep things safe, they will seek out a partner who agrees to said conditions. This requires them to trade in their authenticity for connection. Again, these couples can go on to raise beautiful families and have laid back households.
Bottom line, there is nothing wrong with these dynamics and they tend to stop feeling good. The work of the conscious person or couple is to begin to question where they are and where they want to go. When this is clear, the actions tend to arise organically and you are on your way towards showing up more authentically.
Our brains tend to process our reality based on a combination of what is happening now and the scattered memory of our life. We rarely think back to what it may have been like for our parents, our parent's parents, or much beyond that. It’s difficult to see any link because we have a difficult time contemplating anything beyond our own existence.
However, our DNA and our psychology go back millennia. We are the culmination of all of our ancestor’s biology and experience. Therefore, it’s important to explore not only what is happening now, in this life, but what has shaped us throughout time. Let’s go back to the beginning.
According to the earliest fossil records, most scientists believe that we (Homo Sapiens), have been on Earth for about 200,000 years but, we didn’t fully transition out of the Stone Age until about 5,000 years ago. Prior to this, we mostly lived in very small communities while adhering to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
To put this in perspective, if we were to say that the average age for reproduction of our ancestors was 25 years, we are looking at only 200 generations between now and the Stone Age. Isn’t that crazy?! If you were to line up your ancestor’s shoulder to shoulder, you could potentially be talking to a Caveman in no more than 200 conversations.
So, why does this matter? It matters because we haven’t had much time to figure out how to adapt to the complexity of modern life. We now live in a world where we don’t have to struggle to survive, where our partners are looking for more than just “food on the table”, and where we are told to prepare for things like retirement, owning a home, and “our child’s education”. WTF just happened?
This is why the old saying, “All a man needs is sex and a sandwich” makes so much sense. For thousands of years, our job was to go get food and reproduce. That’s it. But fellas, I believe that in this day and age, not only are we capable of more but, that we truly do want more than our antiquated, uneducated, barbarian predecessors. Here are the 4 struggles of the Modern Man.
👨💼 Comparing to Others 👨💼
In our earlier years of existence, we lived in small tribes where the hierarchy was simple. The bigger, stronger men, caught more of the food, mated with more of the women, and beat down anyone who challenged them. If you wanted to move up, you basically had to kill or severely injure your opponent while risking your own life in the process. As we became more sophisticated, the struggle for power became larger and battles were fought, not by one man, but by armies. Still, the results were the same. You had to fight for your place or you risked losing all your freedom and possessions.
Today, there are still parts of the world that work like this but, not in the modern-day society that we live in. However, we still tend to think and behave as though everything we value is attached to our social status. Having the big house, nice, car, and “trophy wife” are stereotypical desires that underscore much of how we function as men. Let’s be honest, we are constantly comparing ourselves to the other men around us. We are “comparers” by nature.
❤️ Romantic Relationships ❤️
Way back when, emotions were not of much use to men. Our job was to feed and protect and that was it. If we fed our family, fought for our women, and taught our sons a few things about being a man, we were successful. Women were in charge of raising the children and tending to their emotional needs. As many of the women tended to group together to raise their offspring, they inevitable began to learn tools to support each other emotionally. This dance has been going on for thousands of years.
According to an article published in Psychology Today (Who is More Likely to Leave a Bad Relationship by Elizabeth McClintock Ph.D.), women end marriages in about two-thirds of divorces. Deeper research suggests that men are more emotionally dependent on women because women give more emotional support than they receive versus men who receive more than they give. Women tend to have other people in their life who support them emotionally while men often rely solely on their partner.
It’s not that men are just selfish, emotional leeches. We often aren’t parented in a way that supports emotional growth and our culture certainly doesn’t support emotional sensitivity in men. Even our cartoon superheroes tend to “go at it alone”, pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and portray immense physical and emotional durability. Many men’s emotional growth is stunted at childhood and we are left with mad, good, stressed, and sometimes sad (if it’s bad enough). We tend to deal with things on our own and through distraction. Porn, sex, alcohol, nicotine, eating, and raging at the gym can usually get men through most situations in the short-term.
🤷♂️ Finding a Purpose 🤷♂️
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the pyramid is built from bottom to top as follows: Physical, Security, Social, Ego, and Self-Actualization. In our earlier years of development as a species, physical and security needs took up the majority of our time. Our purpose was essentially to stay alive and the reason could have been as simple as us wanting to avoid the pain of starvation and hypothermia. As our society grew, it became more complex and we started to have more time to explore social, egoic, and self-actualization needs.
We already have several purposes in life. That’s what gets us up in the morning and drives most of our daily activity.
However, why do we fall into anxious and depressive cycles if all of our external needs are being met? It’s because our need for creativity and self-development is not known or being honored. Whether we are “successful” or not by society’s standards makes no difference if we are not feeling fulfilled and purposeful. This can start to affect us at any stage of our life and it usually shows up most in our career, relationships, and health. If we discover what we truly want in each of these areas, we will begin to live a life full of purpose.
🙋♂️ Asking for Help 🙋♂️
Surviving the plains of ancient Africa with only rocks and sticks was no small feat. There was no 911, Google, or assault rifles. We were left all alone to protect our tribe and ourselves. It was a kill or be killed kind of world and it came from all angles. Between our neighbors, apex predators, illness, and the weather, just about anything could take us out. Only the strong survived and there wasn’t anyone around to ask for help. Leaders emerged and they were worshipped for their ability to solve problems and take care of themselves.
This is still much the attitude of the modern man. If you are hurt, if you don’t know something, or if someone else needs help, you are supposed to figure it out. If you don’t you are weak, stupid, or selfish. You are not a man.
Ironically, feminine insults are often implicated as a way to demean and belittle ourselves and our associates. If you ask for help then that means you have given up and that any newfound success cannot be owned. It is somehow honorable to carry our burdens with us through life as if we are a martyr for this false identity of manhood.
Maybe, it was my parents coaxing me into therapy or drug treatment in my teens, but I at least had somewhat of a positive experience with receiving emotional help from someone else.
It seemed like I was “all good” in my early 20's and I even remember convincing one of my girlfriends to go get some relational counseling....without me. That seems laughable today as I could have used therapy or coaching just as much as her and it's no wonder it didn't work out.
Now, being on the other side of the room much of the time (and still in the client seat at least once per month), I'm perplexed at how resistant men are to getting help.
Of course, not all men. Sometimes, they are the ones that call us first. However, most men are happy to invest $100's or $1000's on their hobbies, yet a whopping $0 on their relationship. Many men balk at the idea of ever getting emotional support at any point in their life.
This excerpt from the American Psychological Association explains a lot. It reads:
The first hurdle some men face is that they may be so out of touch with their emotions that they do not even realize that they are, for example, depressed. American Psychological Association President and Nova Southeastern University psychologist Ronald F. Levant, EdD, has coined the term "normative male alexithymia"--literally "without words for emotions"
The first thing you’re going to have to do, before we get started, is to leave your ego at the door. That’s right. If it wants to come back in, you need to kindly ask it to leave. If it still won’t leave, you need to forcibly remove it off the doorstep and kick it’s @ss to the curb. Does that sound like something you can do? If so, read on.
The second thing you’re going to need to do is to play along. I say play because this is supposed to be fun, easy, and light-hearted. If you’re going into this with a poor attitude or a chip on your shoulder, your wife is going to see right through you. She’s probably pretty good at that.
The third thing you must do is to stick to the game plan and follow a few simple rules. It’s totally possible that you could get 1 minute into this and completely lose your composure. That’s why we need to set some ground rules.
🚫 DO NOT 🚫
Try to fix
Make it about you
Just don’t do any of these things for 5 minutes fellas! I believe in you!
The last thing you have to do if you want your wife to fall in love with you in 5 minutes is…pay attention to her. I mean really pay attention to her. Pay attention to her as if it’s the last time you may ever get the chance to hear her speak. Pay attention to her as if she is the most important and most interesting person in the world. If that’s too difficult to understand then pay attention to here like you used to when you were both in love.
Do you remember when you couldn’t wait for the next time you got to see her?
Do you remember what it was like when you couldn’t get enough of her weird dreams, her work stories, or her friend’s drama because you just enjoyed being in her presence?
Pay attention like that.
Guys, she wants your attention.
She struggles when she doesn’t get it.
She does want to give you attention, too.
She needs your attention in order for her to feel safe.
And, she may have to leave you if you’re not willing to try.
It’s time to step up your game like I know you can…
What if we knew how to be completely honest about our motives, feelings, and behaviors?
Jenny and I often practice trying to own exactly what’s happening for us and it’s incredible how vulnerable, yet freeing, it can feel. I’ve come to find that honesty is not so black and white. Sometimes, I’m literally believing my own BS and I am unable to step out of blame, delusion, or defensiveness.
We also help clients do this and it’s amazing how the strategies to avoid ownership come bubbling to the surface. There’s no need to beat ourselves up. We all do it and we probably always will, on some level. However, when we shine the spotlight of awareness on our true nature, the drama, discomfort, and fear tend to slowly dissipate over time. In fact, what begins to arise are feelings of compassion, love, and humor for our shared world and experience.
Here are some examples of what honest communication might sound like:
“Hey honey, I’m feeling extremely tired from work so I’m going to eat as much food as I can and sit in front of the TV for the rest of the night so I can avoid feeling the fear that I feel trapped in this unfulfilling job.”
“Will you please stop leaving your dishes out? I woke up with anxiety about money, business, and our relationship and I am avoiding feeling it. I’m hoping that you get defensive so that we can play out our drama and I will have more evidence that you are the problem.”
“What’s up? Do you want to make fun of the opposite gender and talk about how immature and stupid they are? I’m feeling insecure in my ability to form a real partnership and putting others down temporarily helps me avoid owning that.”
“I’m feeling afraid of you so I’m going to walk on eggshells and not tell you, so that I can avoid conflict. Later on, I’ll try to pretend that I ever felt that way.”
“Is it cool if I pretend that I see a future with you, even though I just want to hang out with you occasionally and have sex?”
“Hey FB friends! I’m posting something my ex did without acknowledging their side of the story. I’m hoping that you will co-sign my BS and tell me that I’m right so that I won’t have to take responsibility for my feelings, my decisions, and my fear of doing inner-work.”
“Hey sweetheart, I’m going to keep the fact that I watch porn from you so that I don’t have to deal with your feelings around it or confront my own compulsion. In my head, I will create a story that it doesn’t affect anyone, everyone does it, and I need to watch it in order to get my sexual desires met.”
“Who wants dessert?! I’m trying to ramp up the excitement for sugar and normalize the fact that many of us are overweight. While we are eating, we can talk about how we usually eat healthy so that we feel better about our choice.”
Any of these sound familiar?
To be fair, I picked up most of these from my own life so, the joke’s on me!
Have a good laugh, but also take some time to question and contemplate.
What is really happening?
What am I really feeling?
Where am I avoiding taking responsibility?
The Truth will set you free…