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Your partner wants you go to therapy. Here’s what to do.
I get that you’re hesitant. But as a therapist who works with many men in your position, hear me out.
It’s happened to me too. An ex-partner all but forced me to go to therapy.
We’d been fine in a lot of ways. We’d laugh together regularly and bond over cooking, exploring nature, and debating art and politics. But we’d rarely talk about our long-term plans as a couple, and we’d been having less and less sex. Something was missing.
“Maybe you should talk to someone about that,” she said, after I’d complained about my parents. Now that I’m a licensed therapist who helps men solve relationship issues, I see what she really meant: Maybe you should talk to someone about us.
After hesitating for months—avoiding the elephant in our relationship and focusing on work and other stuff—I saw a therapist. But I wasn’t really committed. I went to one session and thought I’d learned enough to figure things out myself.
My partner wanted me to keep going, but I hesitated again. Soon it was too late. Too many years of ignoring issues and dodging uncomfortable conversations had passed. She ended the relationship a few weeks later.
Ultimately, the heartbreak made me stick with therapy. “I’m going through some uncertainty in my relationship and need some help,” I emailed the therapist the night of the breakup. Part of me was continuing therapy because maybe—just maybe—my partner would notice how I was changing and take me back. She never did, but within a few sessions, I was hooked.
My therapist helped me not only process the heartbreak, but also identify the causes of the stress I’d been experiencing for years. She taught me skills like meditation that I continue to use today. I became more productive at work. I changed jobs to a less stressful but more fulfilling career—and eventually became a therapist myself!
I also figured out what I truly want in a relationship, ultimately meeting the love of my life, who I’m about to get married to.
I get that you’re hesitant, but hear me out
If you’re reading this, you likely feel hesitant about therapy. I’m going to help you understand what’s in it for you and how to find a therapist you vibe with.
Here’s my pitch: You probably know the partner, dad, friend, and/or human you want to be. You probably want to change things about your life. You probably feel like something is missing. But you also probably don’t know what’s getting in the way.
You probably have a story about what needs to change. Maybe you think you don’t work hard enough. Or you need a different job. Or you need to wake up earlier. Or you just need to hit the gym and lose a little weight. Or you need to get your diet in check. Or you just need the right supplement. Or you need to stop drinking so much. Or this or that.
It’s tempting to think that what’s holding us back is something external. Our job, our health, our routines and habits. These undoubtedly make a difference. Especially the job, since we live in a society that overemphasizes work. But you’re putting the cart before the horse. You’re trying to push open a door that needs to be pulled. You’re focusing on the wrong end of things.
I see it in so many men who come to me for therapy: What’s getting in the way of what they want is a lack of skills in identifying and communicating emotions.
Don’t take that the wrong way. It’s not your fault. Those of us raised as boys weren’t taught how to recognize our feelings, let alone talk about them. Our parents, babysitters, teachers, and other adults sent us messages that it wasn’t safe to express how we truly feel inside. They either explicitly said so, through words or even violence, or they implied it through their judgements and reactions. It’s not their fault either. They were trying to prepare us for a culture with a specific role for men. But now that role is increasingly becoming outdated.
The first few hundred years of capitalism forced men to focus more on work and career than family and relationships. The types of jobs men were pushed into tended to be more physical and intellectual than emotional and relational. The last few generations of men didn’t need to be skilled at relating to and caring for others. This has shaped what we think of as “traditional masculinity.” Research has found that men, at least in the U.S. and Europe, express fewer emotions than women. We also cry far less often. And we seek therapy and other forms of mental health support far less than others.
But things are shifting fast. The economy is no longer built on the one breadwinner model. Nearly a third of marriages today have no breadwinner. And in an increasing number of heterosexual couples, women out earn men.
Us men have to put in the work to make up for our social conditioning. Again, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a skills problem. And that’s where therapy comes in.
Therapy is a safe place to practice
One way to think of therapy is that it’s practice. It’s practice for learning how to recognize, feel, and communicate emotions.
Much of what I do as a therapist is guessing what my clients are feeling. “Sounds like you’re angry,” I might say, after a client tells me about a passive aggressive email from his boss. “What I’m hearing is that you’re sad,” I might say to a client who tells me about his mother passing away. First, I’m helping my clients see that they are feeling something. That whatever they’re telling me about isn’t just a set of cold, hard, logical facts. Second, I’m helping them put a name to the feeling, so they can become familiar with it.
Over time, once they’ve practiced enough, my clients often start opening up even more about their feelings. I help them notice where the feelings show up in their body. Anger might be tension in the face. Sadness might be tenderness in the chest. Together, we explore the feelings and bodily sensations, getting to know the parts of themselves that hold their different emotions.
Then, clients often begin to talk about memories, usually from childhood. I help them trace emotional patterns back to these early experiences. A client might learn that he suppresses his anger and tries to be the “nice guy,” because it used to keep him safe around his volatile father.
Or another client might learn that he drinks alcohol just like he used to play video games to numb out the loneliness he felt in middle school.
Or another client might learn that he can’t stop focusing on work and struggles to be present with his family, because he got messages as a boy that being productive made him valuable and worthy of love. (By the way, all of those are me.)
This self-knowledge is powerful. It allows you to stop beating yourself up inside for patterns and behaviors that once served you. It allows you have compassion for yourself, which is the biggest step toward growth and change.
As the pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers once said, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”
Long story short, men today face an uphill battle. We weren’t taught the skills needed to thrive in an economy where we need to offer more than just our ability to protect and provide. Therapy is a structured, safe place to practice. Therapy doesn’t have to be about checking a box and pleasing your partner. It can be about you and your journey toward becoming who you really want to be.
How to find a therapist
If you’re ready to give therapy a try, here’s what to do:
Visit psychologytoday.com and type your ZIP code in the search bar.
Click the drop down for “Issues” and select “Men’s Issues.” Also, narrow your search by the type of health insurance you have. If you’ve got a busy schedule, you might also look for therapists who offer online therapy.
Click on a few therapists and read their profiles. Don’t settle until, while reading a profile, something inside of you says, “Yes.”
If you can’t find a therapist who takes your insurance, make sure you can afford their “out-of-network” fee, which is listed on the right side.
Click “Email Me” and send a message asking for an initial call to learn more about their approach to therapy.
Set up a 3-4 of these brief calls, and when you’re on the phone, tell the therapist what you need help with. They will usually tell you how they work as a therapist (the types of therapy they use, etc.). Wait until something inside you says, “Yes,” before choosing who to go with.
Most therapists don’t require you to make a commitment. Try therapy with as many therapists as you need before something inside of you says, “Yes.”
If you need help finding a therapist where you live, email me (email@example.com)!
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