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The Honor of Men
There's a haunting scene from the movie Good Will Hunting in which Will Hunting (Matt Damon) and his best buddy, Chuckie (Ben Affleck) talk in characteristically male style about an emotion-laden subject. In passing, Chuckie asks Will about how things are going with his girlfriend, Skylar. Tonelessly and abruptly, Will informs his friend that she's "gone." There's a pause. After a few grunts and monosyllabic responses, Chuckie uncovers the fact that Skylar left Boston for medical school in California—a week ago!
Taking in this information about the sudden, sharp turn in the relationship, Chuckie sips from his can of beer, raises his eyebrows a little, and observes, "That sucks."
The empty spaces in this conversation are deafening. It's hard to imagine an exchange like this between two best friends who are women—especially a week after a breakup in one of their lives! But while Chuckie may not have said much, there's a sense of shared, unstated understanding that resonates deeply. Despite the absence of words and explicit emotion, the audience watching this moment between these friends can feel all the solace and sense of connection being conveyed in the spareness of "That sucks."
When we learn to recognize and honor how men communicate their caring, we'll have a better shot at helping them get relief from unnecessary pain and be able to receive and give more in their relationships. When we respect their defenses, honor their intentions in doing the work, speak to them in Guy Talk, and engage them with therapeutic transparency and self-disclosure, the differences in treating men and treating women diminish dramatically.
As women who are in relationships with men who can reveal their vulnerability know so well, it's extremely rewarding to be part of the process through which a man opens up and finds that he still feels like a man, or even like more of one. A client recently said to me, "I think I'm getting the hang of talking about things I've never talked about before without feeling like a wuss." We can all get better at helping men get there, and it's so worthwhile.
David Wexler, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in San Diego and the executive director of the nonprofit Relationship Training Institute. He's the author of many books about men's issues, including, Men in Therapy and When Good Men Behave Badly. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.RTIprojects.org. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.