A Man’s Guide to Sitting in a Counselor’s Office

It’s been my experience that women enjoy the counseling process more than men. Guys often feel out of place, freaked out at the thought of talking to a stranger, and wary about getting ganged up on. “I don’t need anybody telling me how to live,” is the frequent complaint. While some men eagerly welcome a neutral coach giving both parties pointers on increasing joy in their marriage, many would rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Many guys enter my office like Indiana Jones waiting for a rock to crush them.

To help dispel the fear of counseling here’s what typically happens.

Your wife calls and sets up the appointment. You agree to go because you don’t want to fight and she threatened to divorce you if you don’t.

You arrive in the waiting room a few minutes early to fill in some paper work (name, phone number, medical problems I should know about, names and ages of your kids).

I enter the waiting room and we introduce ourselves. You and your spouse enter my office and sit in comfy chairs from Ikea.

I ask if you have any questions about the paper work and I remind you that what we talk about is confidential with only a few exceptions. I then ask, “How can I help?”

You say, “She dragged me in here; let her answer.”

She then describes her concerns while I take notes.

When she’s done I ask you, “How can I help?” Many guys use this opportunity to express their concerns, complaints, needs, frustrations, and anger with eye rolling and a grunt.

As we talk I’m trying to figure out some things:

  •         what relationship skills are lacking?
  •         how volatile is the relationship?
  •         is the anger so high I need to hide the sharp objects?

By the end of the session if I think I can help I’ll invite each party to return alone for a private session so I can learn more. After those two sessions are done the three of us meet to work on goals, build relationship skills, and create a safe environment where issues can be addressed. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about childhood issues unless there are personal pains to work through. Instead, we talk about the future and what will make it better. I’m eager to get the best results in as short amount of time as possible. If after six one hour sessions we’re not making progress we reevaluate our goals and my role as coach.

A good marriage counselor creates a level playing field, doesn’t take sides, and helps the couple communicate so they can resolve their problems on their own. I’m like training wheels on a bike; useful while learning but eventually removed.

In the spirit of full disclosure, here are the most common skills couples need help with.

I help clients describe and put into words their feelings. Bottling stuff up inhibits healthy relationships.

We explore distorted beliefs that trip us up. Jumping to conclusions, anger, defensiveness, mind reading, and conflict avoidance are usually the result of “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

We discuss ineffective attempts to avoid troubling experiences—drinking, gambling, porn, drugs, TV addiction, sloth, affairs, fantasies, or computer games. These solutions have become the problem! It takes more than will power to eliminate bad habits. We look at the underlying pain that feeds these escape plans.

We look for patterns, those “here we go again” moments where dysfunctional roles are played out, where actions lead inexorably to reactions.

We discuss the difficult task all married folks face: how to balance “I” with “We.” If I were to name the number one cause for unhappiness in a marriage this would be the culprit—feeling smothered or abandoned. We focus on the skills necessary to be both an individual and a partner.

We address the mine field of contribution in marital discord. The partner who blames their mate while denying any personal role in the marriage conflict is living dangerously. As Carol Tavris has written, “Self justification is the prime suspect in the death of a marriage.”

These are the subjects most couples need for a marital tune up. There’s no judging, no ganging up, no telling anybody how to live. I simply help couples see the dilemmas they’re facing and suggest pointers on how to resolve them.

And no rolling rocks. I promise.

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