Going Childfree

The decision to have a child, or multiple children, and to establish a family is no easy task. Assuming that you found a mate who wants the same things in life as you do, it can still be very tricky territory to navigate, especially if you are not quite clear yourself. Going childfree can be a very tricky and laborious decision, but it could be the right one for you and your mate.

The decision to go childfree, in my opinion, is a lot harder for women, but I talk with a number of guys who struggle with whether not to have kids for themselves. For a variety of reasons, not excluding the sheer cost of having kids, a lot of people are now opting to be childfree or to try to get their needs met in other ways rather than having kids.

I think it takes a level of sophistication (introspection, deeper communication with your spouse) to really challenge whether not you want to have a child, because we are inundated with so many messages about having kids, from parents, from our religious upbringing, our friends, our social circles, and the media. A lot of the times, kids are just something that have always been in the plan, but never really giving any consideration to anything other than that decision.

For many, the reality of our economic situations now, paired with the fact that relationships have become a lot more disposable, means that the decision to have a kid really is quite pronounced. Plenty of people are in quite a lot of debt these days, be it student loan debt, housing dad, our credit card debt, and it doesn’t become financially responsible to think about having more than one child, or any children at all. I think people, including younger people like millennials, are challenging tried and true ways of doing things from the past, and are doing it their own way. Many are opting out of having children, and are okay with it.

I do think it is critically important that if you want a long-term relationship, that you and your significant other are on the same page about whether to have a child or not. A lot of the time, couples don’t even talk about this topic, but when they do, it’s usually fighting or someone dragging their feet about it, not talking about it productively. They are often times not productive conversations, or no one has cared to ask or has been too intimidated to broach the topic early in their dating.

Sometimes, deeper into the relationship, whether to have a child or not becomes a severe relationship rift. One person wants it, and the other doesn’t, so this can often times be a dealbreaker for the relationship. It may inevitably end.

It’s important to start with asking yourself why you want a child in the first place. A lot of the times, we don’t really question the fundamental messages we have gotten from growing up, and from those close to us in our lives. We just take it for granted that we would have kids, or not to, but don’t really critically analyze it for ourselves. 

You have to be really clear with your own motivations, as well as confident about what you want, because it is obviously a very big decision to make. If your partner is not on the same pages you, it’s still important to hold to what you want, because if you’re acquiescing and giving in, you’re doing it out of obligation to your partner, and you’re going to carry resentment towards that person for the duration. And that does not make for a very healthy relationship, and your child would certainly pick that up from you.

If you choose not to have a child, it’s important to get counseling or therapy to help you deal with this, because there may be a lot of emotional attachments to wanting to have a child even if you don’t necessarily follow through with it. There may be expectations from your parents or family, from your religious background or association, or messages that you’ve been telling yourself about having kids and how you see your own life. If you really dig, you may find that you could also have a happy life without kids, as an option.

It’s also important to do some grief work around the kid or kids you end up not having. Just because we don’t have a child does not mean that we get rid of the emotional attachments or emotional residue associated with having one, so it’s important to find a professional that understands this and can work with you to help you work through some of that emotional build up. I think for many people, including women, the concepts of things like weddings, marriage, and having children have very strong, evolutionary response systems that need to be challenged, and if they turn out to be correct, then at least you’ve done your due diligence.

For men choosing to go child free, I think that there are other alternatives to getting the fulfillment that you might from having a child, albeit in different ways. I think you can certainly give that energy to nieces or nephews if you have siblings that have kids, or through volunteering. Yes, it’s not the exact same as having a child, but I think if there are needs going unmet for you, it’s important for you to recognize what are those unmet needs and how could you try to come up with a substitute to have those fulfilled.

You might start by really doing some deep introspection asking yourself why you want to have a child in the first place. What really drives you to have a child, or what drives you to not have a child? How can you recognize the imprinted messages that you’ve picked up over your life, and how can you strip those away and differentiate those from the voice that’s maybe telling you what you really want, and not what others want for you?

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How to Make Peace with Your Critical Self

People, including men, are notoriously hard on themselves, and many times have an adversarial relationship with themselves, which I refer to as a negative self-critic. They push themselves harder and harder to succeed, and then beat themselves up when they don’t.

Since we are really the only ones that we live with full-time, doesn’t it make sense to develop a better relationship with ourselves?

Starting to make peace with yourself means learning how to identify unhealthy patterns that keep you stuck. A lot of the times, we have a critical self that we’re not aware of, but that keeps us from living life that we should be living. We’re unconscious to this part of ourselves that is running the show from behind the scenes.

Identifying the critical self, and learning how to push him or her back, is fundamental in learning how to develop a better relationship with yourself. Just watch your mind and see: how often do you find yourself beating up on yourself, criticizing yourself, or reminding yourself of screw ups? Are you relentless and do you not give it up even way after the thing happened?

The problem is often not the actual mess up or failure; it’s what we do to ourselves after that that becomes the real problem. We may fail, miss out on something, or generally not perform at our best, which is one thing, but we are making it infinitely worse by beating ourselves up and not letting ourselves off the hook, and fall into this cycle of self abuse, negativity, shame, anger, and self deprecation that never lets us out of this vicious cycle.

What happens as a result is that we tend to fall into depression, despair, carry around anxiety with us, and stay stuck in stagnant in our lives. On top of that, we have to live with the guilt and the regret of not living the life that we wanted to because we’ve been so stuck and set in our self critical ways.

The first step to change this is identification. You have to realize just how much you are beating yourself up or succumbing to your personal critical self. In order to make peace with yourself, you have to learn how you’re at war with yourself. If you never really truly comprehend the degree of your self abuse, you will stay stuck and in the dark, constantly looking for solutions, avoidance strategies, or ways out.

Forgiving yourself or developing compassion for yourself are helpful to consider. It requires making peace with your critical self, or your negative self-critic. Sometimes, this requires a little bit deeper working more attention, such as one that you could experience in a therapy or counseling session. Sometimes recognizing your negative self critic is not enough; you have to actually find a trained professional to be able to help you to deal with it directly and experientially.

Learning how to re-direct your anger not at yourself, but towards other sources is also beneficial. Sometimes we learn as children to flip the anger on ourselves, which creates a negative or critical self, rather than ever learning how to successfully (healthily) put our anger back out into the world, or towards the people that have hurt us.

A lot of the time, because we can’t verbalize our anger as kids, it never comes across to the people that have caused it, such as our parents. Many times, the environment is not conducive to being able to get angry, because we have ended up stifling it as to play our unconscious games with our parents or surrogates. Again, in therapy, these are things that can be worked on so that you can learn how to more appropriately you re-channel or read direct your anger so that you don’t end up directing it at yourself. You have to become conscious or aware of your negative critic, and your anger, to be able to deal with it directly.

Meditation and yoga do help, and do assist, in terms of starting to recognize the self critic. They are not the end-all be-all solutions, though, so don’t mistake them as “things that I can do to fix my critic.” Men are notoriously bad at working through issues because they think that they can fix them, and on their own by themselves.

In meditation, it’s a lot easier to observe the negative thought patterns and look at how the negative self critic tends to go to work. In meditation, it’s about being observant, and not as surly giving in to the usual unconscious responses. Yoga has a similar effect, in that it promotes self-awareness through concentration on the breath and the body.

Simply giving yourself a break, or making a conscious effort to do so, does really help. Committing to this, or starting your day with that type of thinking, can really help. You can leave your self critic “at the door” For the day, and give yourself some time away from beating yourself up or coming down on yourself. If you can’t do that, just start journaling a recording how many times your self critic is active, and what he is telling you. Start to write down the actual negative thoughts, and come up with a thought log. Start to see the patterns and the consistencies between negative thoughts about yourself, And the events, people, or situations that trigger that response. Start to develop your own patterns and sense of their origins.

Once you start to identify your negative critic, you’ll be able to start to recognize that “this isn’t just who I thought I was,” and start to see the critic as a different entity. That’s a powerful shift, and one that counseling can better highlight for you. Give us a call for more information on how we can work with you and your negative critic – we know the terrain and would like to help you.

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Dealing with Sexual Performance Anxiety

Dealing with Sexual Performance Anxiety

When sexual performance anxiety is disrupting your sex life, is the problem physical, emotional or mental? Is is a combination of different things?

It’s hard to tell with sexual performance anxiety, because it’s usually a “chicken/egg” issue: the performance anxiety creates a snowball effect, in that the more you think about failing sexually, the harder time you have of performing sexually, or maintaining an erection.

It’s first advisable to consult your medical doctor with the problem first, because if there is a legitimate medical issue, they can diagnose the problem and work to create a solution for you. You may also need to consult a urologist if there are other issues, but please do this first to rule out any medical issues that may be problematic.

Having said that, many times the origin of the problem of lack of sexual performance lies in the mind and heart: emotions and thoughts often block our way towards good sex.

Sex, Anxiety, and Feeling Like a Failure

As far as a common concern that I hear when it comes to lack of sexual performance, fear of failure is one of the top ones. Men that I speak with tell me that they are afraid of not pleasing their partner sexually, or that they will not be able to have an erection when they need to. These guys spend so much time in their heads worrying about this outcome happening, that it actually does end up happening, in a self-fulfilling way.

Sometimes, the problem is as easy as diagnosing it; more often, it requires therapy to be able to dig in and unearth the problem from the roots. It could be that there are other issues, such as relationship codependency, people pleasing, issues with women and sex, negative or traumatic experiences around sex in adolescence or beyond, etc. There are plenty of things that could be driving the sexual performance issue, so it would be wise to consider that is may be more complicated that it looks.

As much as it’s helpful to be concerned with your partner’s sexual pleasure, also focus on your own. Communicate what you like sexually, and what you don’t. The more you focus on your own experience, the less you’ll fall into the trap of obsessing about pleasing your partner, and setting yourself up for failure. This doesn’t mean to exclude your partner and her wants; rather it’s balancing the two so that you don’t discount your own needs for the others’.

Sexual performance anxiety often points to fear, so diagnosing your fears, getting in touch with them, and dealing with them (therapy, better communication, journalling), can go a long way to work through them. What is repressed will stay that way, and grow, unless dealt with directly.

Dealing head first with our issues around sex and women may not be the quick fix, but it can help you work through and deal with surprise issues you didn’t know still existed, or inhibitions that therapy can help you conquer.

What Works Better? 

Communication will go a long way with your partner. If you’re clear about how to meet your partner’s sexual needs, and you both talk about it and exchange ideas, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding, as less room for assumption is created. You can try talking through your fears, of not being good enough, of not pleasing your partner, or of your feeling inadequate, with your partner if you feel the safety of your relationship.

Exercise and activities like yoga and mediation can also help training the brain and helping you become more centered in the “here and now,” so that your mind doesn’t wander into other places other than your sexual experience as it’s happening. You need to be fully present to experience all that sex has to offer, and to share the connection that sex brings with it.

Curbing your porn consumption could also help. When you watch porn, especially with regularity, your brain gets “flattened” to sex. Sex becomes an engagement of you and a digital screen, not exactly the fully-tactile and full-sensory experience of human sex. When you dull yourself to sex and dull your senses, you’re going to have a harder time exchanging sexually with your partner.

Real sex is not porn, so don’t confuse the two. I think porn deteriorates our ability to be sexual with another human being, and to be present to all of our insecurities, fears, hopes and apprehensions around sex that we don’t have to deal with if watching porn. Try taking a “porn fast,” and don’t watch or engage with porn for a week or two, and see how your senses can come back to you.

Anxiety around sexual performance is tricky, but hopefully some of these ideas will begin to allow you to consider certain pain points around sex and sexual intimacy for you, and your partner.

Posted in Mens’ Mental Health, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Be a Good Husband

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a better husband. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got it; other times I don’t. I wonder how other men deal with this, so I put some thoughts to paper to try to explore the topic of how to be a good husband to your wife.

Unfortunately, there are no set of instructions, manuals, or even education growing up. A lot of the time, guys get the wrong impression about what it means to be in a married relationship. They see their mothers and fathers messing things up, so they only have this dysfunctional relationship model to what it means to be a husband. Sometimes there are a lot of beneficial features to seeing our parents’ marriage, but often times our marriages get disrupted with our inheritance of their deficiencies.

A lot of learning about how to be a good husband is, in my opinion, trial and error. The most important part of this process, as I’ve learned, is to continue to put the work in and to show up. Once you’ve stopped putting the work in, or resigned or withdrawn for good, it’s really difficult to revive your marriage especially when it’s been stagnating for so long. If it’s needing certain life blood, and you’re not giving it to it, the chances for success are low and the chances for failure high. You have to put the work in to make it work, and can’t just fall back on laziness, thinking that “love conquers all,” lack of responsibility or expectation that your wife will carry the marriage herself.

Just being able to keep coming back to the table and talk about difficult topics with your partner is a learned skill that has to happen for a marriage to be healthy and to thrive. A lot of couples don’t get past the superficial, day-to-day conversation about kids, bills, trips, plans, etc.

You have to be able to dive deeper and have difficult conversations because friction will inevitably happen, and if you don’t know how to deal with conflict (or have never been taught), I would say that it’s so helpful to learn how and develop those skills, or deal with the fear of conflict. When issues in your marriage go unattended, they build up and become much bigger problems down the line. Deal with problems as they come up, and although it might hurt a bit, it’s nothing like the pain of a relationship or marriage ending because you never dealt with the issues in the first place.

I’ve learned just to continue to be available and present, and to be willing to put the work in. You have to really source that motivation within yourself to know why you even want to put the work in.

I mean, ask yourself these things: is your marriage worth it to you? Are you truly in love with this person? Why do you even want to put the work in to your marriage? I think really getting in touch with that motivation is key, because if you’re just going through the motions, or if you think that’s what you’re supposed to do but don’t really want to do it, it’s going to eventually come out. If your heart is not in it, why are you doing it? Is that worth it to yourself, or to your spouse, if you’re just feigning interest and don’t really want to be there? Do you really want to be in another relationship or another marriage instead of this one? The truth may be hard to face, but it would be liberating for both of you so as to not live inauthentically.

I haveI have found that being attentive to my partner’s needs is a must. I talk with a lot of guys that tend to put their needs first, before their wife’s/girlfriend’s/partner’s needs, and this is a fatal flaw waiting to materialize.

A lot of guys that I talk with don’t really know how to create mutuality in a relationship, or have never been taught, so they end up defaulting on solely worrying about themselves and their own needs, to the dismissal of the other persons’ needs. If you don’t truly consider that there is another person involved, and that they have needs that are different from your own, it’s going to lead to problems. It’s tricky to know how to work on this, but therapy can help you to begin. Empathy and understanding are two keys to apply here.

Further, not tuning into your partners’ needs is important to realize, but really being present to listen to what she is – and is not – saying is how you’ll fully understand them.

Can you be attentive even if she is not asking you directly what she needs? Are you able to anticipate her needs without feeling like you need to read her mind? Are you making up assumptions of what this person needs based on what it is that you want, and consequently think that they want? I think even if attempts fail at trying to meet your partners’ needs, at least you’ve tried, and at least if you show the effort, it does count for something. I think showing the effort goes along way, but the problem that I see with a lot of guys is that they don’t even try. With no effort comes no relationship or marital success.

Keeping your defensiveness, sarcasm, and anger in check are all really valuable things to promote a healthy marriage and to be a better husband. To really understand your feelings and be able to speak from them, including from your vulnerability, can really open up a conversation and change it to where it starts to melt upset feelings and transform your marriage in a positive way, rather than continue to disrupt it.

Holding onto bitterness or resentment can lead to a slow decline in your marriage if you’re not talking about the things that you need to. Just stuffing things and holding them in isn’t going to help, but may have long lasting negative effects in the end. Learning how to identify what you are feeling when you are feeling it is so important now for men, and there is pressure and emphasis on guys to learn how to do this right. Developing emotional  intelligence and awareness can mitigate this tendency to avoid our feelings and stuff them, where we can get into trouble.

I grew up learning that men need to be “mensches”: people of integrity and honor. This is a Yiddish word that has always stuck with me, even though I didn’t take to too many other Yiddish words growing up. I often ask myself: would a mensch do this or this? Is this the version of someone who is stand up? I also think about my father or grandfather who modelled many of these characteristics for me. I think we’ve lost a lot of sense of honor and integrity in our modern life, and that to display those features and to give relationships those things are valuable. Are you a stand-up guy, in every respect of your life, or can you model yourself against it?

To follow through with one’s promises is a form of embodying being a mensch. I think if you’re going to make promises to your spouse, you should be able to back them up. Follow through builds trust, and trust is one of the strongest pillars of a successful marriage. You want to be able to know that your spouse can lean on you and that you can support her, and I think that being true to your word and following through as fast as you can relate delivers that message home in a clear way.

I also think that respecting yourself and others is also part of what it means to be a mensch. I think to respect yourself around others and to stand up for yourself, whether that means being assertive and speaking up for yourself, embodying certain values that you hold dear and that you live by, or that you know the difference between right and wrong, are all certainly versions of respecting yourself.

Women also need to feel the love that we feel inside ourselves from them, that often goes unexpressed. Men need to express this more, and verbalize it. This is something that I remind myself frequently about. It’s not enough to have the feelings about our partner – they have to actually know about our feelings, no matter how uncomfortable. It requires vulnerability and courage to be able to share our inner self with our partner, with the prospect that it can deepen our marriages or relationships. To live a life without authentic expression is to live a life setting oneself up for regret, and it takes risk to be able to put yourself out there with your authentic self.

Posted in Healthy Marriages | Leave a comment

Real Communication Strategies For Men

The older I get, the more I consider how critically valuable the art of communication is for every aspect of my life, from marriage to clients and business, to working with service providers. It’s impossible to underestimate the power of the verbal word, especially when it is on target and delivered in a way that the person not only understands, but that facilitates openness, agreement, and cooperation.

We are going to discuss several aspects of healthy communication in this blog post today. I’ll touch on a variety of things to consider when you want to develop your communication skills for greater success, and better relationships. Communication strategies for men aren’t hard, they just take a lot of willingness to look at what’s not working

The Tried and True “I” Statements

One of the clearest and most basic ways to communicate is speaking from “I” statements, rather than talking about the other person or referencing them when it comes to issues or problems. People tend to feel attacked, judged or criticized when you are talking to them about something that you’re needing from them or are having a hard time with, and it helps quite a bit if you can speak from your own perspective using “I” statements.

For example, instead of continuing to rely on things like, “you do so and so that is an issue for me,” try saying something like “I have a reaction to this behavior that you’re doing.” People are quick to feel judged or criticized when you make them the subject or object of your issue, but if you try to share your own perspective with them, and your emotional reaction to it, they are more likely to be able to hear you or act accordingly for what you need or want.

Knowing Yourself, and What You Want/Don’t Want

Another critical aspect of good communication is knowing what you want, and saying what you want. A lot of times people that I talk with don’t really know what they want or need, so getting clear about those things is an important first step to be able to communicate it clearly and directly to someone else so that they understand it.

If you don’t know what you want or need, how well will others know and be able to help you? I hear time and time again from people that don’t know them selves, and don’t know what they need/want in the world, be it love, respect, help around the house, more time, less stress, more vacation, more sex, etc. Really getting in touch with yourself and knowing yourself, your interests, your likes, your turnoffs, your needs, your feelings, etc. will go along way into being able to communicate this to others in your life. Others aren’t in the position to read your mind.

Now comes the ‘saying it’ part. Just as hard as knowing what you want is actually saying it out loud to someone who can help you. Sometimes there’s a huge disconnect between knowing what you want, and being able to say it. People get scared to say what they want or need, out of fear that others will have a reaction to them, judge or disapprove of them, or flat out reject them.

A lot of times this relates to our growing up in our families of origin, where our needs were repressed, not accepted, or flat out denied by parents who could not hear us. Therapy is really good for helping identify these blocks and being able to work through them so that you can support yourself, and communicate yourself to those close to you, rather than shying away out of fear of rejection or of disapproval.

Men Hide and Run Away, Not Communicate

For men, shutting down or withdrawing is very detrimental to their communication process. If there’s one communication strategy for men, I would say that to just stay present and not run and withdraw would be up there on the charts. Men tend to withdraw, hide, or shut down in intimate relationships rather than sticking in it and communicating themselves directly. I find that this sets up other problems down the road in a marriage, because it ends up making your partner the “pursuer”, which creates resentment and anger additionally.

Men who tend to withdraw, avoid, or shut down need to learn how to take the risk of staying in the game and communicating themselves. Sometimes, the comfort or security of shutting down is more important for protection than the actual ability to stay present and communicate, and this is something that a lot of guys could benefit from learning and undoing.

I think that for women, the worst thing is male avoidance or withdrawal, because a lot of wives or girlfriends that are left to making up certain stories about them and their role in the relationship, like how they are not loved, not cared for, or not important to their guy. Quite the reverse, for men it’s usually about self protection, rather than communicating their lack of love for their partner, but again, this does not get communicated and gets lost in translation. Rather than a conversation about better communication, it can get taken onto a new plane of meaning – about the marriage or relationship itself, rather than as a situational problem with communication.

Vulnerable Men are Not Weak: Being Vulnerable is a Communication Strategy for Men

Another aspect of good communication, especially in an intimate relationship or marriage, is the ability to be vulnerable. I think this is uniquely difficult for men, but difficult for people in general. For guys, not having grown up without any of the intimacy language, many are forced into trying to become emotionally vulnerable or disclose their innermost life when they don’t know how to do that at all.

Part of becoming vulnerable is learning how to take risks to be authentic and genuine with people who you have learned to trust. It’s difficult to do those things, especially when you grew up in an unsafe or hostile family background, where the prospect of opening up and sharing your deepest emotions, thoughts, and experiences was on supported, or dangerous in fact. It’s harder when you and your partner have a strong “negative cycle” that keeps you from connecting and sharing your innermost self.

Dealing with fear is also a part of becoming vulnerable. Learning how to identify what you fear, and challenging those beliefs to see whether they are irrational or rational, also helps in promoting better communication. I have found that there can be a big difference between what we think is going to happen, and what actually happens, when we take a risk to reach out and communicate ourselves honestly to others. I think learning how do identify and deal with those fears is like removing barriers to deeper and more genuine communication.

Contact me for more information about learning how to better communicate with your wife, girlfriend, partner, or others close to you. Here’s where we can help. You can learn how to speak your mind in a clearer, more decisive and open way with your mate.

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How to Take a Break (A Real One)

Taking a Break (A Real One)

Ask yourself this: Would you know if you’re exhausted? Do you have an accurate internal gauge or barometer to honestly track your level of burnout or exhaustion? Do you find yourself getting to the point just after exhaustion when you end up doing something about it – reactively rather than proactively?

When we get caught up in the day-to-day flow of life, it’s hard to see that those things in our life, and stress, have a gradual effect on our well-being, be it emotional, psychological or mental. We’re usually forced to attend to what’s right in front of us, and often neglect or overlook what’s happening inside of ourselves while we’re attending to everything in our lives, until we find ourselves in an exhausted state of being. So many of us are so out of touch with our bodies, that we don’t know how stressed we are until some stress reaction happens, or our body starts to push back in the form of pain or other chronic issues.

Dealing with Exhaustion

Sometimes, exhaustion is there, lurking under the surface, and gets neglected in the day-to-day hubbub. To admit to yourself that you’re tired or exhausted means to actually stop in your tracks and connect with yourself and your experience, which is hard for a lot of people.

It’s not weak to be or feel exhausted. For a lot of guys, they feel the eternal need to push through stress and exhaustion to get things done, or to be productive. Dealing with exhaustion is actually generative, meaning that if you fully attend to it, it can restore you back to your previous levels of energy and health. Sometimes we have to let ourselves fully rest and renew before we’re back to functional levels in our lives, and allowing ourselves to just be exhausted and really rest is one way. It’s no different than getting the sleep you need, or keeping your body fed.

To overlook it and to “man up” through it, there will be negative effects – maybe not today, or tomorrow, but at some point down the line. Maybe your marriage starts to erode over time, or maybe the relationships with your kids suffer because you’re working too much or not available physically or emotionally. Maybe your health starts to worsen over time, or creates chronic stress-induced problems. To nip those things in the bud before hand, and be proactive about your stress and exhaustion, is a way to prevent those things (or their severity) from hitting you later on.

Turning work off when you’re not working (e.g. not worrying about work when you don’t have to) is something that’s important in terms of being present and managing stress. If you’re trying to be present and fully enjoy yourself with those you’re around, it helps to not have other things, like work and what you need to be doing, on your mind. When you’re in your head worrying about work, you’re just adding more stress to the mix, and you’re not being available to the things and people you need to be there for.

Finding Real Rest

Do you know how you really – and truly – find relaxation and rest? Do you know how to identify and find the things that help you feel revitalized and filled up? Some guys don’t know this about themselves, and don’t know how to find the things, activities and people that can help them deal with exhaustion and stress. It’s critical to create an arsenal of those things so that you have them to fall back on when you need them – when you’re needing to deal with your stress and exhaustion. Some examples of these things are: yoga, meditation, nature walks, friends, confidants, exercise, eating well, simply not doing or planning anything, talking through your stress and exhaustion, doing deep breathing exercises, planning a chunk of time out of your schedule to do nothing, or do something fun, etc.

The opposite idea of that is also to try to minimize the things, situations and people that drain your time, spirit, energy and life. I think being able to say ‘no’ or negate these energy drainers is important, even if you can’t get away completely from those things, events or people. And, it’s also about stepping up and changing those things if you can’t avoid them altogether, like setting healthy boundaries with others, changing your relationship or thinking to the stressful event/person/situation, or finding some better way to communicate your needs and feelings so that those things can possibly change for you.

It seems as if our culture is making it more and more acceptable to work 50 and 60-hour weeks, and making that a cultural badge of honor. We work so much and are neglecting other areas of our lives that are equally – if not more – important, and I think that needs to change, and something’s gotta give. If we can help it, it’s not healthy, productive or responsible to contribute to that cultural expectation, and if you are, ask yourself why you’re contributing to it in the first place. We’re sacrificing ourselves, our health and our relationships to more stress and exhaustion, so how good are we for the extra time we’ve got? Considering the role of stress and exhaustion in your life, you might be motivated to take some action and make some changes in your life to mitigate those things as best as you can.

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Why I Work With Men in Counseling

As a counselor for men, people ask why I do the work that I do. For me, it’s personal, because I’m a guy and I have dealt with a lot of the things that guys have dealt with.

Therapy is still stigmatized for many men, and this stigma prevents guys from getting the help that they might really benefit from. Although I think it’s changing a bit now, especially with younger guys who are more willing to seek out therapy, a lot of men still hide in the shadows when to comes to seeking out help of any kind, let alone counseling or therapy. They would prefer to “do it themselves,” and find the solutions that they need – or think that they need – rather than asking for help from a trained, unbiased professional like myself. Men in counseling can benefit from support of a different kind, not just the limited opinions of biased friends and family.

I think especially now there are there are a lot stronger forces at play that challenge men than have in the past: demands of work, challenges of new marriages, difficulties in parenting children in a more complex world, and general lack of stability across the board. I see a lot more unhappiness in people in modern living, especially because of those traditional roles that have been challenged, compromised or subverted. Because life is a lot more complex, a lot of people don’t have the skills or resources that they need to cope, or even thrive, in this ever-changing world, so they navigate through it with the limited skills and resources that they have, and that they know. Unfortunately, many don’t work, are outdated, or are tools that our parents used that are just as equally unhelpful to our own lives.

As far as relationships go, many men don’t really learn the right skills, be it communication skills, conflict resolution, or ways to treat a partner, and these deficiencies end up causing relationship or marriage problems along the way. Part of what a relationship counseling for men helps with is to build these skills, tools, and resources to be able to succeed or improve difficult relationships. Sometimes, it’s also unlearning certain problematic or unhelpful behaviors that contribute to overall relationship or marital strain.

For example, a lot of guys have never had “relationship training,” be it how to talk with a woman, how to empathize, how to have a healthy sexual relationship, how to deal effectively with conflict, and how to be a good mate or relationship partner overall. So, what happens is, relationships fail with the lack of these skill sets, and are replaced with maladaptive or dysfunctional ones. I think a lot more is demanded upon of men in this modern age, like romance, emotional availability and intelligence, and “soft” skills that typically women brought to relationships.

In addition to these demands, technology has become a profound disruptor in a short amount of time and, in my opinion, has actually eroded personal relationships and the ability to connect with live people, not devices. It becomes harder and harder to relate to people, let alone enhance an intimate relationship, so I think people aren’t used to what it means to have full contact relationships with others, be it intimate or not. I think this contributes to our overall sense of isolation, loneliness, and depression, and then we choose out the same maladaptive coping skills or hiding places that we’ve known to protect us further, isolating ourselves even more.

What we work with guys to do to improve the relationship is to support what they are doing, and work with them to consider other options that they haven’t yet learned. A lot of the time we learn these maladaptive or dysfunctional patterns growing up from our families of origin, so we work with guys to take honest and direct looks at those behaviors, see what’s not working, and through better awareness and insight, evolve or adopt those things so that they create more relationship success for themselves. Through experiential learning and awareness – and often times helping guys get out of their heads – they can tap into deeper information and understanding that can change them in very profound ways.

Men also deal with self-esteem issues, which can affect their lives in different ways. Usually if we don’t like who we are, can’t support ourselves, or are actually at war with ourselves, it makes it difficult if not impossible to experience happiness and joy and develop the kinds of relationships things that we want in our lives. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others, and we end up undermining or sabotaging relationships often as a result. I work with a lot of guys who have a strong negative self-critic, which is constantly reminding the m of their inadequacy, failure and worthlessness. If this critic has control, it is few areas of life that aren’t negatively affected, including work, marriage, parenting, friendships, mental health, and physical health.

We don’t just help men have better relationships, but we help them live more fulfilling lives, in their work, in their friendships, in their relationships with their kids, and in their skin. We try to create a safe space conducive to men who want to take a leap of faith, and explore aspects of themselves that are blocked, stuck, problematic or just plain not working for them, and help them come up with the solutions that they want (although not always in the way that they want!). Contact us today at 602.309.0568 for more information about we can help you, or your loved one.

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When Your Spouse Starts Acting Erratically in Your Marriage

Often times right before a separation or divorce, I’ve noticed that a lot of wives and spouses of guys I work with have this tendency to fall into bad behaviors or regress to an almost “teen” state of being: going out partying, being irresponsible, sometimes being defiant against the “bad parent” in the other spouse. I’m interested in this phenomenon, since it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident, and seems to represent certain things happening.

What I know is that, in situations like this, is that this “bad behavior” is the result and accumulation of a long time of avoiding and not attending to marital issues when they needed to be. Sometimes, when a partner isn’t getting what they want or need from the other marital partner, they can start finding alternative outlets for themselves, which may or may not include extramarital partners. Sometimes, they carve out lives outside of their marriage where they can find the fun, fulfillment, freedom and lack of responsibility that they feel that they need.

One theory is that when couples get together in their relationship or marriage when they’re young, some don’t have the opportunity to “be young,” and explore their adolescence and young adulthood, which is a problem because later, when those partners are unhappy and stuck in their adult relationship, they feel denied from that growing up period, and often want to try to gain those experiences back by going out with friends, staying out late, drinking more, experimenting more with sexual partners, and any other number of other things that are detrimental to their current relationship or marriage.

I think this is equally true, if not moreso, for women, if they get into a marriage early and start to create their sense of identity around being a wife, and then a mother. If they haven’t had a chance to develop themselves as people outside of the primary relationship, and then fall into these roles without any exploration of themselves, there is the possibility of later-life exploration, which may appear sometime in the marriage or relationship, or towards its end.

Again, I think the search for self and lack of a structured, stable identity might account for this. When people start to explore different activities, or start acting erratically in a situation that calls for consistency, it leaves me to wonder whether or not they’re trying on different identities, like changes of clothing, and exposing themselves to people and experiences to figure out who exactly they are.

I’ve heard guys tell me that they’re wives tell them that “this is who I really am” – the new, “independent” woman that she might not have been able to be in the relationship/marriage previously. I’m not sure I quite understand this, and think that it’s more of a situation of “taking the bull by the horns.” Anytime I see erratic behavior or people acting out, it’s never sustainable, and if there are issues that weren’t worked on before, they surely haven’t gone away just because the behaviors look different. They’re still there, but harder to see.

For the guys/husbands that I speak with, this can be maddening, confusing, terrifying and angering all in one. A lot of the guys that I talk with who are in this position are powerless to see their wives start to act out, and don’t know who their wives have “turned into.” They’re not the some women that they married, many say.

I try to encourage the best communication possible, which sometimes is challenging to do when your spouse doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say, or do what you want them to do. Sometimes, the power/control dynamic in the marriage has hit a point of no return, meaning that the spouse acting erratically may have felt controlled by the other spouse for so long, that they have no intention of turning the power dynamic around once they’ve seized it.

I would try to get clear about what your spouse wants from the situation, what they want from you and the marriage, and tell them your feelings about their impact on you from their current behavior. They need to know that what they’re doing is having a negative impact on you, and to give them the opportunity to stop it. I would also tell them that you care about them and the marriage, and that you’d like to get marriage counseling to try to identify and sort out all that’s happening in the attempt to get things back to how they were.

As difficult as it is to do, I also encourage men/women to stay with their feelings and experiences, and really watch and be mindful of acting erratically themselves, which could do a number of harmful things. First, it may unknowingly trip the marital dynamic more, which may see your spouse dig in an continue to act in the same way. If there’s a parent/child dynamic in your marriage, you’re inadvertently steeping back into the parent role – which makes your spouse be the defiant child who acts against you. So, don’t do it if you don’t want the situation to get worse.

If worse comes to worse, and your spouse doesn’t stop the behavior, you may need individual counseling to help you better cope with this distressing situation. You may also need to seek out legal counsel to help you understand your rights in your marriage, or with your children, if the situation won’t change with your intervention.

This type of situation is tough, because a marriage may be degrading to the point of ending, and you’re not aware of what’s happening as it’s happening. It may be confusing to see your wife or spouse engage in behaviors or hang out with people that you haven’t previously been used to. It may elect some strong emotions in you, which you may be tempted to act on the “right the ship” and get your spouse back. Hang on, because it’ll get better, eve if it’s not now. You can survive this, even if your spouse is gone for good and doesn’t want to work on or help repair the marriage.

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The Pros and Cons of Porn

I’m going to approach the topic of porn from a neutral position, even though it’s a loaded topic, and some may think that there are no ‘pros’ to the topic. I think the whole issue of porn had changed and infiltrated men’s lives in a way that pales to how it used to in the past.

First off, it’s amazing that smart phones can offer a wide variety of things, including porn, and are accessible at a moment’s notice in unlimited variety. I’m sure we’ll be looking at smart phone porn and online videos in the future in the same way we look at “brown bagged” porno magazines of the past when the era of robotic sex surrogates and VR porn sees it’s heyday in the near future.

I’ve talked with some guys that use porn casually, and others that abuse it. Most men that I work with say that porn has become abusive, and some spend hours on end clicking through and watching videos, much like flitting away hours on the Internet or on video games. It’s funny to me how we’ve digitized the hell out of sex and death to the point that we – as a society – have in many ways anesthetized ourselves even more against those two power life experiences.

I think porn becomes an issue when the relationship or marriage has an issue with it. I don’t think porn is an automatic relationship-ender, nor do I think that it can’t have it’s place in a sexually-healthy relationship or marriage. It’s when it starts to get hidden from sight or not communicated that it has the potential to damage the relationship or marriage. It’s when it becomes fully illicit and starts provoking shame, concern or trust issues that damage starts to be inflicted.

It’s a double edged-sword: guys want the illicit quality that porn brings, which heightens the sexual excitement value, but it also can harm the primary relationship if not discussed. It wasn’t a big deal hiding porn magazines from your Mom growing up, but it’s a different ballgame with your wife or girlfriend, especially when they have certain sensitivities against this, or have sexual wounds that you may be unknowingly triggering with your porn use.

The main problem, as I see it, with porn, is when men use it to hide and escape into a fantasy world – not unlike alcohol, gambling, sports, video games, you name it. Often times, porn becomes a surrogate for sexual contact with a real woman, and what drives it can be multiple factors.

Porn won’t reject you, it won’t make you feel like a sexual failure, it doesn’t require that you communicate and it probably won’t elicit your unconscious and unresolved issues around sex. Those are the benefits. It’s a escape with a million varieties of pleasure, and it’s not reality. Young men who grew up on online porn, think that trying to mimic the sexual positions and mistreatment of women in porn videos, become stunted in their sexuality and don’t know how to engage sexually, emotionally or otherwise with real women. They have a hard time understanding that being sexual with a woman is a difficult thing, and not represented by the porn images immediately impressionable and accessible to them.

Porn can also help distract from sexual performance issues occurring in the bedroom, which may or may not involve erectile dysfunction issues. Often times, when I hear guys escaping to porn continually, they are avoiding dealing with sexual performance issues which can manifest in a number of ways, like fear of having sex, lack of initiation of sex, inability to talk about sex, erectile issues, or generally other sexual apprehension.

Endless variety is also another pro of porn. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and caters to every taste and preference. It can be instructional for a guy if he doesn’t know what he’s doing in the bedroom, and can be used as a guide if he understands that a lot of porn is fake and not what a lot of real sex entails. Sure, there are ways to experiment, but ultimately, if a guy isn’t trying to mimic or recreate scene by scene a porn video he’s seen, it can have benefits of some “sexual guidance” in the bedroom for real sex.

Knowing that porn is not real, and it’s an escape, can help to prioritize real sex with real women who are infinitely more complex than the fantasy woman on the porn screen. There are real feelings, thoughts, desires, inhibitions, fears, etc. when you deal with having sex or making love to a real woman, not to mention all of those things within yourself.

The main problem with porn is that it detracts from men having healthy sexual relationships, or healthy relationships in general. It gives men wrong ideas about sex and relationships, and helps them avoid dealing with the very complex, intricate and sensitive details of having a sex life with someone, and carrying on a relationship with them outside of the bedroom, as the latter affects the former. I believe it also “flatlines” or numbs a man’s brain when it comes to sex, and detracts from his ability to be “into” the woman who is is having sex with.

We have so many inhibitions linked so sex, from the messages that we learned growing up from our parents and friends, that ultimately affect the way we relate to sex. If we don’t work through those issues themselves, we’re limiting our ability to have healthy and open sexual lives with our partners.

Dealing with those issues sometimes means getting therapy to work through blocks within yourself, or doing it as a couple. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a man if you have sexual fears, inadequacies and inhibitions. Our culture is distorted when it comes to giving men healthy models of sexuality, and for a lot of guys, they lack the resources growing up to know what they’re doing. Many fathers of men also don’t have the knowledge or courage to talk with their boys about sex, so boys are left to their own devices, and come up with their own versions of sexuality, which are often very different from healthy models.

Sex is complex, and I think porn can often times complicate it more so. Learning what your relationship is to porn, and considering it’s role in your sexuality is important, whether or not you’re in a relationship or marriage at this point in your life. If you are partnered, communication can help you figure out the role porn plays, or help you to deal with some of the sexual issues that will inevitably materialize if you’re with your partner for an extended period of time.


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Considering Divorce: Things to Think About

If you’re considering divorce, I want to present several things to think about that may or may not be factors in your decision to do so. Divorce is not an easy decision, especially if you have a long marital history or have kids to consider, but it’s possible.

Dealing with your mindset or psychology: Getting to committing to divorce is the hardest thing, in spite of all of the other decisions you’ll have to make.

I usually help people come to that conclusion for themselves, because if you’re not there in your mind, your actions and apprehension will manifest in a number of different ways. Apprehension will make you drag your feet, give mixed messages to your wife and family, and generally brew frustration and resentment in you which you can’t outrun. Having an affair can also be an expression of divorce apprehension or be a passive-aggressive or conflict avoidant way to deal with (or not deal with) ending your marriage.

Dealing with guilt or obligation is important, because those are experiences that will keep you stuck in a situation you might not otherwise want to be in. You may want to preserve a marriage that isn’t right for you, or that isn’t making you happy, because you feel too guilty to end it.

I talk with a lot of clients who feel overly emotionally responsible for the spouse that they will be divorcing, and this responsibility can co-exist with guilt or obligation. Hanging in there because you feel too badly about hurting the other person, or because you think that they can’t handle it or can’t bounce back from divorce is your issue, not their’s. It’s most likely a way to assuage your negative feelings about divorcing your spouse, as much as the impact on their lives will be real, and in some cases, immediate.

Don’t cheat: If you’re considering divorcing, don’t cheat on your wife or spouse. It’ll make everything infinitely more complex. Get the counseling assistance to help you divest of your marriage before you start another one.

You may not have gotten certain things from your wife in your marriage, but seeking them out on the side does no one any good, and only adds fuel to the fire. You’re hurting your mate if you’re doing that. Try communicating with them about what you’re not getting in your marriage, and if need be, seek out a quality marriage counselor to talk through those marital barriers for yourself. If those things ultimately don’t work, going into divorce head-on is the best option because although it may hurt, you’re not adding insult to injury with an affair.

Some guys don’t know what they’re not getting from their marriage or their marital partner until they meet someone who has those qualities and that person. Then, that person “just happens to fall in my lap,” or I hear, “I didn’t mean to meet anyone – it just happened!” Not really. You may be unconsciously looking, or putting out signals to potential affair partners. In some way, you’re projecting some sexual or emotional energy or desire out into the world that you’re not directing towards your wife or marriage, and if that new person comes along, they’re going to pick that up and possibly send it back your way.

Working on your marriage – yes or no? This is the ultimate question – do I want to work on my marriage, or not? Do I want to stay and work out the problems between us, or do I want to find my happiness somewhere else?

It’s important to know that if you’re staying for the kids, your marital history, your lifestyle, your finances, your family, or any other reason other than your happiness, you may want to reconsider.

Many individuals – and couples – who are unhappy, and don’t have a marital foundation, find themselves staying together for those reasons listed above. I think marital happiness is something that has surely evolved over time, whereby marriages in the past were for different reasons, like bringing families together, financial or social reasons, etc.

Now, you don’t need to do that. Your kids probably already know that you and your spouse are unhappy, so you’re not fooling them. If you’re staying for your kids, ask yourself – and your spouse – if you’re doing it just for them? Ask yourself: are you willing to sacrifice yourself, and your lifetime happiness, for a marriage that makes you unhappy? Even if you want until your kids are age 13, or 18, are you willing to forego those years of being in a relationship that might work a lot better for you because you feel overly responsible for the welfare of the children?

Other factors can impede one’s decision to divorce, including religious beliefs (marital “vows”), family suggestion, fear of being alone, fear of paying for two households, fear of not finding someone else, fear of being “too old” or fear that they will lose relationships other than the marriage, including with their children (or that the relationships with the kids will be altered for good).

Thoughts on separation first: Many couples opt for this as a precursor – or trial run – before divorce, and I’ve never been sure how this helps, or if it helps, couples in the way that they way. I think couples think that if they “have space” or “perspective” away from one another, that they will be able to find clarity or will become more comfortable with their decision or thought process one way or the other. I have some differing opinions about this.

I practice Emotionally-Focused Therapy for Couples, and one concept incorporated with this style of therapy is that there are often one or both partners that “withdraw” or disconnect from their marriage or their marital partners, usually to protect themselves emotionally or from attack or pursuit from their relationship partner. To this degree, I think separation mimics this withdrawal pattern, so a partner who typically withdraws (I work with men, and see this a lot with guys) is unconsciously “activating” the couple’s dysfunctional relationship cycle.

Although it seems like a good idea on paper, it can actually – and unintendedly – do a lot more damage to the marriage, or never give the marriage a fighting chance to repair. Good marriage counseling can help you address these cycles of conflict, and see how the role of withdrawal may be contributing to your marital problems, and need for separation.

The idea, ultimately, is to create a safe environment in your marriage that’s conducive to communication – speaking and being heard – so that you and your spouse can learn how to work through the difficult and often times painful experiences you will share as a married couple. Separation doesn’t allow for that repair, let alone a chance to better understand your negative relationship cycle.

These are some initial ideas to keep in mind if you’re considering divorce for yourself. There are others, and there will be more to come on this blog, but I think that these are some of the more important ones to consider. Most importantly, coming to that decision for yourself, and hopefully a mutually-agreed upon divorce, would be ideal, but life doesn’t always work that way.

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