|Mary Jo Barrett Etienne Wenger Couples Brain Science Alan Sroufe Mindfulness Clinical Mastery Linda Bacon Diets Trauma David Schnarch Challenging Cases Mind/Body Symposium 2012 Clinical Excellence Attachment Ethics Wendy Behary Future of Psychotherapy William Doherty Community of Excellence Narcissistic Clients The Future of Psychotherapy Men in Therapy Anxiety Great Attachment Debate Attachment Theory Couples Therapy CE Comments Gender Issues|
|Lions Without a Cause - Page 6|
To Love Big, Think Small
Most of my work with couples centers on helping men come up with ways to approach expressions of emotional support and compassion as a form of protection. We start with enhancing a man's daily awareness of how his desire to protect his family gives meaning and purpose to his life. He signs an agreement in therapy to remind himself every day that the primary reason he does most of what he does is to protect his family.
My experience in working with men has taught me not to be misled by the interest they might show in therapeutic topics during sessions. They're often curious about patterns of behavior and communication, as well as family-of-origin issues. They're also capable of impressive catharsis during sessions. Typically, however, their curiosity and catharsis won't translate into sustainable behavior change, as 20-plus years of doing regular follow-ups with couples indicate. For all its repetitive tedium, behavior rehearsal is more effective with men in the long run than insight and catharsis.
That's probably because men are creatures of habit, who generally don't like surprises or departures from routine. They tend to be less tolerant of interruptions in their relatively rigid daily regimens—eating the same thing for breakfast every day, brushing their teeth at the same time and in the same direction, putting their keys in the same place at the same interval after they arrive home. Because routine is paramount for most men, behavior change based on insight and catharsis eventually sinks beneath the grind of daily habits. But if their routine incorporates small behaviors that enhance their relationships (by increasing their sense of protectiveness), change is likelier to endure.
Early in therapy, I ask men to come up with some brief, symbolic rituals that will build an awareness of the meaning and purpose of their role as protector into their daily routine. A few of my favorites include lighting a morning candle, posting "I love you" notes, putting a flower petal on his wife's breakfast plate, sending affectionate text messages, and writing one line of their favorite song every day. To increase the chances of compliance, the rule for the small rituals is that they're spread throughout the day and take less than two minutes total to enact. The goal is to build a mentality of caring over time.
Although men in treatment almost invariably buy into compassion as a deeper form of protection, there's one aspect of this important bonding emotion that's hard for both men and women to grasp: true compassion is giving what the other person needs, not necessarily what you want to give. The kind of protection men want to give often comes off more like control than the help and support their partners desire. It's easy for any of us to confuse control with support when we feel protective of loved ones. If you doubt that, just ask your children. What seems controlling to them, you feel you do out of concern and protectiveness. I use several techniques with couples to convert control into support.