Emotions can be hard for some men to deal with.
By Samantha Rodman Whiten
Written on Nov 11, 2023
Photo: Timur Weber | Canva
A reader recently wrote in asking me if I could write on why he, and many men like him, don’t enjoy couples counseling. When he attended couples counseling, he felt like the therapist and his wife were on one side, and he was on the other. Unfortunately, this is a common complaint of males in couples counseling, no matter what the gender is of the therapist. Here’s why.
Men are not as verbal as women, particularly about emotions.
Most men don’t meet their friends a cup of coffee and a long conversation. They meet to watch or engage in sports, or go drinking. Conversations may occur during these activities, but conversations are not the sole focus. This is always why men don’t usually call friends on the phone for a chat, but to make plans (this is when people actually used to talk on the phone. But I bet now, men text about less emotionally-focused topics than women do.)
However, in therapy, conversation is the entire focus of the session. The session is, in fact, one long 50 minute conversation.
Many men don’t thrive in this type of setting, and they often feel uncomfortable and frustrated.
Their wives, on the other hand, are often so starved for validation and verbal affirmation that they love therapy. They hate that their relationship has deteriorated to the point that therapy is required, but they really don’t mind the therapy itself. Here’s this person who is solely focused on you, and talks to you, and hears you. It’s like crack for women who have felt ignored by their partner for years or even decades.
Males also tend to be more alexithymic than women, meaning that they find it difficult to express their emotions verbally. Even when they are not as alexithymic as this article discusses, there is “normative male alexithymia,” which affects most men, and is why they don’t know the difference between “slightly annoyed” and “pretty annoyed,” or they pretend not to, which is another post. And, again, therapy is focused on verbal discussion of feelings.
If men aren’t used to analyzing and reporting on their internal world, they will feel like idiots when the therapist asks what they’re feeling and THEY JUST DON’T KNOW AND IS THIS WHAT I’M PAYING $200 AN HOUR FOR AND DUCKING OUT EARLY FROM WORK FOR AND LEAVE ME ALONE.
Men also tend to be problem solvers.
Before you interject that your husband sits on his butt and solves nothing, remember the last time you told him about your rude coworker and he told you to see if you could get transferred to another division? Yes, that kind of problem solving, the one that acts as an alternative to empathy.
A lot of therapy is focused on giving partners a chance to hear each other out and empathize with each other. Men think, okay, and then what? What about fixing things? How do I get to a place where she wants to sleep with me again and doesn’t look at me like I’m a piece of garbage that the cat vomited out? And the only answer is, she isn’t going to listen to me or any other therapist tell her to sleep with you until she feels that you understand her and care about her. And that, for many women, happens only via talking. A lot.
Also, men fear that the therapist will ally with their wives and say, “What an awful husband you have! You should kick him to the curb and find a man with a larger penis who loves to talk on an emotional level even before he’s had his morning coffee.”
Therapists wouldn’t say this because we’re not into feeding you a load of BS. Most guys are not terrible. Most marital problems are made by both partners, who are caught in a toxic and ever-repeating loop, like the one I discuss here, or here, or here. There’s no free lunch, you don’t end up with crazy because you’re totally normal. Crazy, if there even is such a thing, attracts equally-but-opposite-type-of-crazy; see this.
Men often express themselves non-verbally, and their love language is most often, you guessed it, touch.
Pouring out their deepest feelings to a therapist goes against their socialization, which is usually something like, “Men shouldn’t be wimps and talking about feelings is wimpy,” and their focus on proactive, concrete, goals-oriented endeavors. Therapy, where the process is as important as the end result, is not their usual MO.
If you have a husband who won’t go to counseling, keep all of these points in mind, and empathize with them before you say that your husband “just won’t try” or is “lazy.” Rather, therapy often goes against men’s nature.
It’s kind of like if your husband said that the only thing that could save your marriage is if you went to a tantric workshop. As off-putting as you would find that is as off-putting as he may find the idea of Western conversation-based psychotherapy. (And you know what, the tantric workshop would probably push your limits and widen your horizons as much as therapy would do for him, but if he brought that idea up in the context of a “marriage saving activity,” everyone would call him a jackass.) I’m not saying that your husband can’t or shouldn’t try therapy, but that he is much more likelier to try it and to actually get something out of it if you start off by understanding his reluctance and discomfort.
Reading The Five Love Languages can get you in the mindset of understanding how differently you two may be wired.
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Zodiac Signs That Are Terrible At Relationships (And Why)20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* LoveThe Perfect Age To Get Married, According To Science5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day
Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.
This article was originally published at Dr. Psych Mom. Reprinted with permission from the author.