A running joke in our training’s is that the issue for men is not whether or not we can get into relationships. Men have no problem getting into a relationship! The real challenge is staying in relationships. And given everything we have been talking about up until this point it should be quite apparent that for many men there are a lot of forces inside of us that make it hard. Not impossible, not at all. But challenging. I have a lot of young male friends who pine for someone to love. “If only I could find someone, Dan” they say wistfully. I get it; I understand what it feels like to wonder if I would ever find someone I wanted to spend my life with. I also make it a point to let them know that the real work happens after you’ve found that person!
Staying in relationships is quite a bit tougher than getting into them. The men I have interviewed are the voices of experience, strength, and hope that need to be heard and honored.
Staying in intimate relationships requires us to face ourselves in a way that we are not used to. We may not even feel equipped to do so. The Rules have taught us how not to be in relationships. If and when we actually commit to a relationship, the Rules may influence us to feel miserable in that relationship, leading us to destroy it. A lot of men tend to be “runners.” At a certain point in a relationship our response is to shut down and walk or run away, to escape. Why do we run? Because we do not know how to handle the emotional intensity that comes from a healthy and intimate relationship.
Most of the men and women of my generation are not interested in the kind of relationships we watched previous generations have. These were usually relationships in which unresolved conflicts lingered, vulnerable thoughts and feelings were not shared, communication was like pulling teeth, and marriage was an obligation to be suffered through. Of course, if that is what we grew up with and we were not taught anything different, then what are the chances that just because we don’t want to do our relationships that way, we won’t have the end result? Not very good. Healthy relationships require dedication and hard work. We cannot learn to speak French fluently just because we want to. If nobody taught us French and spoke French around us when we were growing up, and we have had little practice in speaking the language, it will take a lot of work and discipline to become fluent. That is what it is like for men in relationships. People often expect us to speak French, and all we know how to say is bonjour, merci, and au revoir.
After years of working with men and having my own challenges with relationships, I am absolutely convinced that a lot of men leave relationships not because they truly do not love someone but because it gets too much. It’s overwhelming and a lot of work. It’s painful. It’s emotionally confusing. We leave in lots of different ways: we check out by hiding in the basement watching ESPN, get lost in our work, slowly checking out of the relationship emotionally, and many other ways. The main point is that staying in a relationship – and being truly present – is hard work. And men deserve to have all of the support we can get to be able to do the work – because the rewards are absolutely amazing. And that is something sticking around for!